Transforming lives on four continents

Creating dependency?

Posted by Alan and Megan Barker at 14:20 on 2nd August 2017

We have now been back in Nepal for 8 weeks and are feeling more at home again now. Life, language and culture are beginning to feel ‘normal’. The visa process is still dragging on but there is gradual progress along the various stages that it needs to go through – some positive signs!  As we consider our working roles and the effect we can have on others around us, we were reminded the other day how complicated that can be, even when things seem so simple on the surface.

Let me set the scene. We were walking down the road on the way to do some shopping. Ahead of us there was a young boy, maybe eight or nine years old, in his school uniform playing some game in his own world, chatting to himself and occasionally jumping or running for a short distance. He stopped for a while to examine something on the street which meant we caught up and began to pass him. As we did so he noticed us going by and his whole demeanour suddenly changed. He clasped his arms across his stomach, bent forward and began to make a quiet groaning sound, accompanied with a pained expression on his face. He came up behind us and, between groans, said in broken English, “Give me money, I am very hungry.”

And right there is a constant tension for us. He saw a bideshi (a foreigner) and immediately thought we were easy pickings for a few rupees. Although his uniform was a bit scruffy, he didn’t look so poor that he needed to be begging on the street, plus he had passed some Nepali people before he saw us and had ignored them. It would have been easy to confirm his idea that ‘bideshi = money’ because comparatively we are better off than many Nepalis, and a few rupees wouldn’t have hurt us. But maybe it would have hurt him by reinforcing two stereotypes: 1) that foreigners are all rich and have money to give away and 2) that Nepalis can only receive.

In our work too we have that same tension. In my (Alan’s) work in donor relations, my job is to ask wealthy bideshis (in my case donor organisations) for money to help with INF’s work among the poor and marginalised. Our work with those people, however, is to help them become independent by giving them the ability to make their own choices in addressing the issues that are keeping them in poverty, not to keep them there by just giving handouts. Megan’s work too is in helping disabled people to move from being dependent on others to living independent lives.

Many people have written about this tension more eloquently than I can and I would especially recommend one book if you would like to think a little more about what is good and what is bad ‘giving’. “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, is essential reading for anyone who has ever given to the ‘poor’.

We didn’t give anything to the boy. We’re not saying we were right but what would you have done? If you would like to get back to us with any comments please feel free!

 

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