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Picked up a really good book at mom's last weekend: Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) by Robert D. Lupton.

Lupton works to improve inner city communities but says that too many of our charity and mission work has become about 1) making our sunday school class feel good 2) taking the easy road and not thinking. The end result is that we hurt the people we're trying to help.

There are some bad things going on. Religious tourism is popular... 15 kids raise funds to go to mexico to "help". They show up and are told to paint a church, because that's what Missions-R-Us or whatever has arranged forthem to do. Of course, the church just got painted a month ago by another youth group, but they screwed it up because they didn't know a damn thing about painting. Oh and those guys lined up outside the church gate are unemployed painters. Oh and no one ever really uses this church anyway, and the church leaders are almost broke from buying paint this month, but they know some money for the stuff they really need might come in if they can provide an "experience" for the mission trip. Meanwhile, this church thinks they're helping.

The book criticizes local efforts too, even stuff like food banks and angel trees for kids on Christmas. The people setting them up start to get jaded, seeing the same families line up week after week, so more rules are put in place, which the recipients learn to get around because that's their role in this whole game. The Christmas toys just end up teaching kids that the good stuff has to come from rich white people, and teaching parents that they'll never possibly be able to buy what we can get for them.

Instead, he says a lot of churches are turning their food banks into food co-ops, where members pay $3 a week for $30 worth of food or something like that but they're involved. Making decisions, seeing what it takes, there's no wedge between the "givers" and "receivers".

And really that's what the book rallies against... the wedges! The mission trips that descend upon the poor people of distant continents to do things FOR them, not with them. The giant complexes that we build over what could have been cool historic housing, but now just draw drug addicts from the entire city in for treatment. We measure our charity efforts in "stuff we gave away" but is that the end goal? Aren't we trying to really improve things?

The thing to do is listen to a community, no matter where it's at, and learn what its strengths are. Then build on those strengths. Microlending is good because it helps someone expand a skill they already have into changing their lives. Community organizing is good, encouraging neighbors to make the places they live safer.

And sure, sometimes you have to just hand stuff out, when it comes to disaster relief that's the way to go because when a problem suddenly happened over a few days or weeks, you have to act in a few days or weeks. But when problems have been building for years we can't just go with our "I love short term thinking" instincts, we need to listen and do some research. Make sure we're not doing things for people that they could have done themselves, stop marginalizing entire communities and thinking they're totally different from us.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
lilac_ribbon
Dec. 8th, 2012 06:41 pm (UTC)
Totally agree. It's like when people go volunteering and help out at schools and orphanages, they try and make a connection with the children, because that gives them a good glow about helping, and then they just leave. And this happens over and over again. Massive abandonment issues.
chezmax
Dec. 8th, 2012 08:13 pm (UTC)
That idea of a food coop sounds awesome.
mrs_dragon
Dec. 20th, 2012 05:55 am (UTC)
I need to print this out and paste it liberally around my workplace. There has been so much "giving" this season (much of it "strongly encouraged") and it's been grating on me. I knew the mandatory feeling was pushing my obstinate buttons, but there was more to it than just that and you nailed it. Back to Alphie Kohn, we need to DO WITH not DO TO.

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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