Sunday, May 15, 2011

When Helping Hurts... Introduction

I'm joining a group of people over at This Grace In Which I Stand and blogging our way through the book  When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett.

Given that I was gone all weekend and only just got back to blog, this will be unpolished and rather stream-of-consciousness. I did read it earlier and think on it, but I'm only just now writing.

So, apparently each chapter will begin with an exercise to get you thinking and making it personal. I was super intrigued by it.

The tsunami that hit Indonesia in December 2004 wiped out many of the small businesses. These small businesses are owned by poor people and serve as their primary source of income. Most of the shops, equipment, materials, and inventory were destroyed. four months after the tsunami, your church has decided to send a team to assist with the restarting of these small businesses. 

Ahh... this was good. Make it personal and practical. It also makes ME look better than I actually am at this sort of thing, because it just so happens that the example here is where I grew up. So... I have a leg up. Isaac and I actually almost quit school that semester and went to help with the relief work after the tsunami, but ended up not being needed. My brother and my parents went, though.

So, lets say this is the situation I'm in, and my church is going. What would I do to plan and prepare for the trip? Well, again, I've got a bit of an advantage here. I would immediately connect with anyone I knew who might know people working in the relief work, and see if they were working on rebuilding and small businesses. Partnering and seeing what's already being done is super important. I'd be immediately in contact with the Indonesian embassy to work on visas and passports and tickets, all of which have to come through before you know if you can even go. I'd be gathering the group or potential group going and holding planning and strategy meetings.

What resources will you bring with you? 
Nothing other than what we all need for ourselves. If we have to bring materials from out of the country, the businesses will not be sustainable. Everything has to be available locally for it to be practical. If we were business experts and could start an ongoing business idea, that'd be different. As it is, though, we're restarting businesses that were decimated, so clearly the materials are available. Plus, the area that was decimated in the tsunami was on the coast. If you go back into cities in the center of the island, everything is the same and you'll be helping their businesses by buying materials from them to take to the devastated coast.

Whom will you choose from your church to go on this trip? 
Hmm, this was an interesting question. I think the initial response is generally... experts. Business experts, highly educated folks, right? I'd say... no. In actuality, American business is nothing like the small businesses in Indonesia, and forgive me for saying that often the experts are the most spoiled. The people I want to come to a devastated area are the people that are most flexible, patient, and passionate about people. Those are the ones who will do the most good when they end up in sweltering heat, dealing with the Indonesian "rubber time" and discovering  that nothing ever happens as you want it to.  I'd look for people with international experience, people that have traveled (outside of snazzy hotels) and know what to expect in the developing world. Of course anyone with experience in Indonesia is helpful. In this situation I think people with carpentry and design ingenuity could be very helpful.

What will your team do once it gets there? 
This is where I get stuck. In my head as I thought about this, I pictured the small businesses I saw in Indonesia. Small kiosks selling chips and soda and water and candy. Motorcycle taxis. Little carts that are wheeled around town selling snacks, or that will be set up at night and make fresh hot food. How do you restart these businesses? Thing is, we could build the carts and stands and bring in new motorcycles, but what then? How do we know who had these things beforehand? Or... are we intending to simply find those that are deserving and able to run these businesses and thus we'd have to have a filtration process to find the right people? Or are we planning on doing a sort of small loan to those who want to buy these "small businesses"? It's at this point that I start to feel muddled and confused and I'm just not sure what's best.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I LOVE that you can answer the questions with personal experience and insight! :) I also love your answers. We talked about a lot of these same things the other day when we had our discussion. And I definitely got stuck on that last question too. I agree that I would first contact people there and find out what was already happening. And I would want to hear from locals what they think will help them. I don't think I could say what we would do once we got there without first knowing those things. All of the questions you pointed out do make it very challenging. I hope we get some good answers as we read through the rest of the chapters!!! :)