This year, our staff committed to reading Toxic Charity by Dr. Robert Lupton as a team. In his book, Dr. Lupton reveals the shockingly toxic effects that modern charity has upon the very people meant to benefit from it. Toxic Charity provides proven new models for charitable groups who want to help - not sabotage - those whom they desire to serve. The focus of the book is to steer our hearts and minds away from an immediate relief-based charity model and move us toward a long-term development model. We believe this read is insightful for any business, church, or organization with a heart for helping others.
Empowerment versus Dependency
A few months ago, some of our staff members were having a conversation with a woman named Erica* about her transportation to Oasis, our weekly dinner and Bible study with the women in Created Care. Our staff and volunteers usually provide transportation for women to get to and from Oasis, as the buses do not consistently run at night in the areas that the women live. When we offered to pick this woman up from her home and take her back after Oasis, she politely refused. Perplexed, we asked her how she was planning on getting to our weekly gathering if we did not pick her up. While she did not have a car, she was insistent that she take the bus from her home to Oasis and only needed to have someone take her home after Oasis was over.
This situation reminded our team to observe a highly esteemed mantra from Toxic Charity: "Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves... To do for others what they have the capacity to do for themselves is to disempower them" (Lupton, 2011). You see, women in Created Care who do not have their own transportation receive a monthly bus pass from us as a means of getting to and from their appointments and meetings. Because Erica was capable of getting to Oasis using her bus pass, she did not want us to inadvertently take that opportunity for independence away from her by picking her up at her house and driving her to Oasis. While we thought that offering her a ride was a way to love and serve her well, Erica saw it as another way she had to depend on our program to simply go where she needed to be. She had the complete capacity to make it to Oasis on her own. For our team to take an opportunity away for her to do something for herself, we unavoidably would take some of her dignity along with it.
Establishing a Framework of Development
Shifting away from a relief model can be challenging for all types of service organizations, especially when those being served do have relief needs. We meet some women coming right out of sex trafficking and exploitation with nothing other than the clothes on their backs. These women need urgent medical care and emergency housing, which we do our best to collaborate with our local partners in providing. However, we meet other women that have been "out of the life" for weeks, months, or years, but have yet to adequately deal with their trauma and need support. How do we provide care for women coming from such various backgrounds with an equally diverse amount of needs? We look past the short-term goal of betterment and fix our eyes on the long process of development.
Defining the differences between betterment and development challenges us as a community to look at what our current focus is versus where we want to be in the future. Both hold an important role in loving and caring for people well, but far too often we (communities) stop at betterment and miss the opportunity to build a legacy of ability, strength, and dignity that will live on for generations to come. Empowerment is at the center of development and focuses on assets and building upon what is already present. Development requires collaboration at its core in order to be effective, and what better way is there to bring a community together?
"Betterment programs do make a difference. Yet, as important as these services may be (essential, some would say), serving people is distinctly different from developing people.
With the establishment of a long-term development model, our core values are exemplified. We have hope that the women we serve will have the empowerment and ownership needed to reclaim their lives and, through collaboration in our community, build legacies that break the cycles of poverty and exploitation for future generations.
Lupton, R. D. (2011). Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It). New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Name of woman has been changed*