So you’re interested in working in your community… As you begin, consider the following insights from those involved in community development work.
Before you dig into this session, please ensure you have read part one in this series: Working In My Community; Part One
Part Two Focus: Let’s find our way forward carefully, and make sure we do no harm.
The Oath for Compassionate Service
- Listen first.
- Never do for another what they can do for themselves.
- Limit one-way giving to emergencies; then stop. (Sustained one-way giving creates a dependency; often diminishing a person’s capacity)
- Strive to empower the materially poor through employment, lending and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
- Keep your self-interest secondary to the needs of those being served.
- Listen closely to those you seek to help
- Above all, do no harm.
(Provided by Robert Lupton in Toxic Charity)
DO NO HARM
“Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.”
Research from around the world has found that shame – a “poverty of being”- is a major part of the brokenness that low-income people experience in relationship with themselves. …low-income people often feel they are inferior to others. This can paralyze the poor from taking initiative and from seizing opportunities to improve their situation, thereby locking them into material poverty.
At the same time, the economically rich …also suffer from a poverty of being. In particular, development practitioner Jayakumar Christian argues that the economically rich often have ‘god-complexes,’ a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority in which they have achieved their wealth through their own efforts. …the way that we act toward the economically poor often communiicates – albeit unintentionally – that we are superior and they are inferior. In the process we hurt the poor and ourselves.”
When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
Consider these three levels of help we can provide.
The urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering.
Giving a sandwich to someone who is hungry; taking someone in out of the cold, or calling an ambulance for someone injured.
Restoring people to the positive elements of their pre-crisis conditions.
Assistance finding housing, or a job and reconnection with their family.
A process of ongoing change that moves all people involved to right relationships to ourselves, to others, to God and to the creation.
Helping someone find a supportive community, belonging, purpose, mentoring, healing from trauma and addictions.
*Warning: Hurt comes when we apply the wrong intervention.
Example: Sustained one-way giving (relief work) creates a dependency; often diminishing a person’s capacity. (points one and three in the oath of compassion.
Most people in North America are capable of participation in the improvement of their lives, so we should always be doing development work. “Let’s figure this out together.”
To watch for along the way…
- Look for systemic issues and then also focus on advocacy. [ie. working (helping yourself) while on social assistance means reduction in benefits.]
- The design, implementation and evaluation should be done by all participating.
Here’s a great Edmonton example of community development:
The Riverbend neighbourhood is home to a pocket of affordable housing in a community called Brander Gardens. A circle of local organizations including the school, churches, the library, the community league, and local sports programs came together to develop an outreach program called Brander Gardens ROCKS! that provides all kinds of different opportunities for the kids and families.
Riverbend United Church has been a strong partner from the beginning, opening up space for programming, and providing volunteers. Every year, they host a community meal inviting the broad community including some Syrian families. But rather than just having church volunteers provide lunch for the community, they chose to invite BG Rocks families to participate in every stage. So these families help plan the meal, do the shopping, and cook the meal with the church’s volunteers. This shared effort makes for a wonderful and special event that is rewarding for everybody.
BG Rocks families gathering with Riverbend United Church members