Recently, as Sara traveled to Arua for the ECHO conference, I traveled to Kabale to lead a When Helping Hurts Training. Sara had 2 days of driving each way, and so did I. We went together to Kampala then she went all the way to the North-western corner of Uganda, while I went all the way to the South-western corner. To make the travel more tolerable we treated ourselves to a nice dessert. Now you have proof that we don't live only on termites and maize. (We were travelling with some World Renew colleagues).
This training was a bit tougher for me. Besides being tired from so much driving, I was extremely cold in Kabale! They live in the hills/mountains and in my room it was around 63 degrees during the day (not a heated room) and colder than that at night. I wasn't warm enough even with my fleece! February in the US is going to be a rude awakening. In addition to being cold, I had a cold. It's not fun to lead a training when your body just wants to sleep and you blow your nose all day. But God gave me strength and it was a successful training.
Here is a video of worship:
Every day when I looked at the participants I chuckled a bit. I was in Uganda, and yet everyone was wearing sweaters, coats, and scarves. It's what I would imagine Soroti would be like in winter if we had the seasons of the US.
I had to change some of the examples in my training manual. In the manual we discuss how we would appropriately offer help for a famine in Karamoja (the region next to Teso where we live). So for this training in Kabale we discussed how the local churches might help the Batwa people, using principles we learn in the training. The Batwa are pygmies and live nearby in the Kabale area and are perhaps one of the most marginalized peoples in Uganda. They are by tradition a forest dwelling people, but they were evicted from their lands when the government created a National Park, the Bwindi Impenetrable forest. They suffer regular discrimination and oppression and their rights are not recognized. I learned from the pastors that some NGO's and missionaries work with the Batwa people. Honestly I haven't researched what projects the NGO's are doing there so I cannot make a true judgment. But the pastors told me that much of the work is being done without really partnering with the people and consulting them for their ideas. For example, they said that an organization built for the Batwa a bunch of houses, but the people didn't want houses built like that (with metal roofs) so they don't live in them but use them as kitchens and storage rooms. If this it true, it is another reminder to all of us that it is so important that we work WITH the people we are helping and get their ideas and wisdom! We don't just go out and start doing stuff for them when they weren't involved at all in our planning meetings, whether they are a tribe in Africa, or the poor family in our church who needs help.
One discussion that usually comes up during these trainings is: "is it really okay to say "no" to people when they ask us to give them things? Didn't Jesus say to give to whoever asks from you?" This is a really good and important question. It's one I've wrestled with a lot. But I am at peace and don't feel guilty when I say usually "no" to people on the street who ask me to give them things. While there are many Bible passages that command us to be generous, to give to others who lack (1 John 3:16-18, Matthew 5:42), there are also Bible passages that tell us not to give in certain situations (2 Thes. 3, 1 Tim. 5). Are they at odds? No. I don't think so. God wants us to be generous but also to use our minds and wisdom when giving so that we truly help people be who they were created to be. We have to take all of the Bible passages and apply them at once, not put them at odds together. Should we always be generous? Yes. Should we sometimes not give? Yes. Sometimes not giving is the more loving thing to do, but we don't then turn away from the person, we figure out the better way to help them that will usually be more difficult and time consuming. For example we might help them out of an alcohol addiction, or we might help them find meaningful work to do to earn their own income. One pastor disagreed with me, and said we should always give when people ask, to obey these Bible passages. One reason I like these trainings is that we can disagree openly at times, but still remain brothers and sisters in Christ and learn from one another.
As per usual, people had a good time drawing pictures of "community development" and evaluating them with a lot of laughter. In the photo you can also see some of what I wrote for people during the training on the big pieces of paper. I'm amazed they can read my terrible writing!
I don't remember how it came up, but we discussed the problem of how many NGO's and missionaries pay people to come to trainings. This creates so much dependency. What development workers sometimes fail to realize is that doing this is a way to treat poor people as if they are helpless, inferior, powerless and can contribute nothing to their own development. It's one more way for us to indirectly hit home the false point that they are way different from us, and inferior to us. This is a big problem all over Uganda (and I'm sure all over much of the world). The result of this practice is that people go to trainings as their livelihood in some cases, rather than focusing on developing their own gardens or businesses. It also prevents real development from happening in places where this practice has gone on, for people will no longer attend good trainings, even ones that would benefit them, unless they are not only facilitated to come, but paid for their time while there. Reflecting on this problem caused me to recently post on facebook:
Please missionaries, NGO's, development organizations, please please stop paying people to come to your trainings. This is happening in so many places even by big organizations that many of you in the US support financially. Such practices are ruining any chance for development and change in Africa. I'm not trying to be harsh, but this is a serious issue that needs to change. The more we keep treating the poor as helpless and unable to contribute, the more they will listen to us and feel helpless and unable to do anything on their own, thus such practices are keeping people trapped in poverty. It's much more affirming to have someone encourage you that you CAN do something, you can contribute, you can grow and develop. That's when real change begins.
I humbly suggest you do some research on the organizations that you support financially, find out if they are doing this, and please don't support this harmful practice. In many ways it is the exact opposite of development. Last, in case you are curious, this is how my trainings work (as well as Sara's). I pay for my own fuel and accommodation and time (well actually YOU pay for those). The participants pay for their own transport, their manuals, their own feeding, and usually my feeding as well. It's a true partnership with everyone contributing what they are able to contribute!