Attacking Poverty Through Relief, Rehabilitation, and Development

In a previous post about When Helping Hurts, I summarized the definition of, effects of, and solutions to poverty. As I continued reading from this book, I realize that I need to be able to determine what solutions are truly needed.

Chapter 4 of When Helping Hurts is titled, Not All Poverty Is Created Equal. Corbett and Fikkert advise, “A helpful first step in thinking about working with the poor in any context is to discern where the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development. In fact, the failure to distinguish among these situations is one of the most common reasons that poverty-alleviation efforts often do harm.”

Development Over Relief

When it comes to poverty alleviation, relief is often our primary method. And in situations of crisis, relief is usually what is needed.

However, for long-term help, we need to move from relief (doing things to and for others), to rehabilitation and development (doing things with others). And at all costs, we need to:

“Avoid Paternalism. Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves.”

Bernard Kabaru, a local leader in Kenya, taught on some dangers of Western missionary mindsets which foster paternalism. As a better way forward, partnerships should be characterized by:

  1. Self-sufficiency in Christ
  2. Self-propagation
  3. Self-theologizing
  4. Transforming

So, if development and partnership are so much more important and crucial than relief, why do we default to providing relief?

Relief Is Easy

Many service organizations (including churches) have a material definition of poverty, which leads that group to focus on physical relief. Furthermore, providing relief is quicker, easier, and more simple than long-term development.

Corbett and Fikkert explain,

“It is much simpler to drop food out of airplanes or to ladle soup out of bowls than it is to develop long-lasting, time-consuming relationships with poor people, which may be emotionally exhausting.”


“It is easier to get donor money for relief than for development. ‘We fed a thousand people today’ sounds better to donors than ‘We hung out and developed relationships with a dozen people today.'”

But we don’t need to focus on quick and easy results. We need to aim for results that will endure and be sustained.

A Personal Note

I’m not going to lie. The concepts presented in When Helping Hurts (and Toxic Charity) have been really challenging to me. I’ve wrestled with and questioned our mission, our ultimate purpose, and our methodology in Allendale.

Should we be starting more programs? Or is that too close to paternalism?

Do we need to look for immediate results, both to satisfy our innate desire to achieve, and to “look good” for our supporters? Or will that hinder our goal for long-term change in Allendale?

How effectively can really we build relationships? Even living here for 18 months, we often still feel like outsiders in Allendale, and we realize every day how little we know about this community.

We are learning and growing through this. We understand that this adventure is not our story at all, but God’s story. But it’s tough. Not only do we have external hardships, but we often have doubts and discouragement. Not all the time, but regularly enough.

And just when I get down, God (either directly through the Spirit or through community) picks me up. He reminds me To Walk and Not Faint. He opens my eyes to how He is working.

And He shows me that we are doing some things right, and some things we mess up. But most of all, He reminds us that His love and grace are not dependent on our performance, good or bad.

Related Links:


Tags: , , ,

2 responses to “Attacking Poverty Through Relief, Rehabilitation, and Development”

  1. Jeremy Myers says :

    That is a GREAT book. I read it a while back as well, and it really challenged the way I view helping others, and especially missions trips.

    I just heard about a local youth group that is going to take 10 young teens to Africa so they can “interview” the missionaries. That is the extent of this missions trip. I suppose there are worse things that could be done with the time and money, but there are also way better ways to interview missionaries.

    I believe that all “missions pastors” of churches need to read this book

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: