Partner, not parent: Current foreign aid system needs fixing

As Christians, we are called to love and support fellow humans and allow for the space and environment in which they may reach their fullest potential. This perspective recognizes that each human has the strength and desire for change within themselves. Everyone has gifts and resources to offer.

This strength is drawn from varied sources but the desire may be blocked by the lack of opportunity.

In the documentary Poverty Inc., the issues of misplaced love and support are explored through the examination of several case studies in places experiencing extreme poverty such as Haiti. The primary wake-up call of the film is that poverty has become an industry in which those who experience poverty are often treated as objects to be charitable to and not those who ultimately have jurisdiction over their own lives. This mindset has developed due to the western notion that those experiencing poverty are incapable of helping themselves. The solution that has arisen is to give charitably and in large quantities in order to supply those experiencing poverty with food, clothing, money, education and healthcare. While on the surface this may seem a noble and Christ-like way of giving, it has ultimately become harmful.

Humans operate within a framework of life that has been set up by others before them and those with greater power. Some are able to navigate this framework through connections, inherent privilege and access to resources while others are stuck in a maze designed to keep them from success. This design may be intentional or may result from the world view of those in power with the intentions to “do what is best” for the greater good.

The difficulty with the latter arises when those in power think they understand what it is like to live without resources, connections and privilege. This misunderstanding creates systems such as the current parental foreign aid system. This is a system that gathers resources and dumps them on “needy” areas of the world, calling it charity. It is an arrangement where poverty stricken economies are excluded from a global system of partnership. It is a combination of short-term mission trips, food drives, Tom’s shoes “one for one” and monetary donations that attempt to solve poverty but end up perpetuating it.

Too often those experiencing poverty are seen as lacking the material resources to provide for themselves, when in reality the true deficit is in the underlying issue of global market exclusion. This perceived lack of resources results in long-term aid of varying mediums that are ultimately damaging to receiving economies and the mindsets of receiving locals. It is a parental system of dependency that results in the lack of opportunity or desire of independence in the long run. Charity is defined as “benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity” in the MerriamWebster dictionary but has transformed itself in the current aid system to mean help for the needy and weak, creating a mindset of superiority and inequality.

The message of the film was not to stop giving, but rather to be conscious about how you give and the message that is sent in the way you give. Giving can be positive when supporting organizations that empower those experiencing poverty. This encourages them to stand for themselves, while advocating at a domestic and international judicial level for inclusiveness, equal access and opportunity. Aid and charity are not inherently bad, but blind aid and ignorant charity can create systems of dependence and inequality instead of the desired partnership and goodwill. The documentary, Poverty Inc., calls each of us to become informed about what happens after the initial donation of time, money or resources and to move toward partnering with those in poverty instead of sustaining the situation of exclusion.

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