Monday, October 21, 2013

Giving, generosity and causing more harm than good.

Last time I was in Lormoruchabi a group of ladies asked repeatedly for skirts and clothes. I know these women by their shirts because they each only really own one thing to wear. Their clothes are tattered rags but they are all they’ve got. They live a hot, tough, 9 hour round trip walk to the nearest place to purchase clothes and even if they went, the need for medicine, food and soap is greater than the need for a new, used skirt. But I live in Soroti where I can get clothes easily and I am enormously wealthy (compared to these ladies).  So I understand why they ask me to bring them things. I could get a bunch of skirts and shirts ( I estimate I could get 20 “outfits” for about 30,000/=, or $15). But there are probably 60 women in the village. All would like new clothes. Honestly most NEED new clothes. On top of that there are roughly 200 kids who also need clothes. I’ve gotten to know Joseph. He is a 9 year old kid who owns an old, tattered, filthy red coat. That is all he has. No pants, no underwear, no shirt. He spends all day in the coat, then at night he zips it up and pulls his legs up in it because he doesn’t have a blanket either. (Or a sheet or a mattress but that isn’t any different from any other kid in this village.)

But back to the ladies. They had given me a nice necklace that they had made, clearly in hopes that I’d bring them some clothes. And I really want to be generous. I’d love to come in like some silly female Santa Claus and give everyone a gift from my giant bag. But I don’t really think that would be right. There is often in the back of my mind, the principles of “When Helping Hurts”. That we are only increasing dependency and in the long run we are harming people when we think we are helping. Over and over in Karamoja I’ve seen the damage done by well intentioned NGOs giving away free stuff. It was described to me this way: Great harm can come from the best of intentions when done without wisdom and discernment. It seems like a paradox but kindness and good intentions can be an insidious path to destruction. The following parable, though obvious and over simplified helped me understand the problem the k-jung are having.

“Say a person hurts their leg. You bring them food while they heal. After time they still don’t wish to get up because it hurts at first. So you continue to be kind and bring them food. Over time their injured leg develops contractures from lack of use and it is even more painful to get up so you continue to bring them food. In the end they are permanently bedridden, unable to walk again because of your kindness.  Goodness brought significant harm. 

The k-jung have become so dependent on others for food, goods and seeds, help, everything, yet their lack only fuels their anger at the outside world. Generosity and very good intentions have encouraged laziness and a feeling of lack of personal worth creating a whole tribe’s indolence. The more help they receive, the more help they expect and think they need, the more they hate. As long as the kindness is so open ended they don’t gain discipline, dignity or self-reliance. Our kindness actually impoverishes their humanity!!

Ugh, all of this struggle over 60 ladies who would like some second hand skirts….

What do it do?

I’m headed to Karamoja in an hour. I expect to be back at the end of the week.


Sheryl Maat said...

Jennifer, I appreciate your wisdom in the work you do in Uganda. We think & talk about you often :) We'll continue our prayers.

Rachael Scholten said...

Jennifer, this post reminds me of the conference we went to in Kentucky. It seemed to be one of the main focuses. Any way, I just caught up on your blog. Thank your for sharing all of your trials and triumphs. You are inspirational! You give a whole new meaning to living a challenged life.