This past weekend I watched a documentary called Poverty Inc. It spoke of the problem of charitable organizations, extended crisis relief well after a crisis, how economy suffers from free charity, and the problem with orphanages in impoverished nations. Although it was not condemning any charities, the evidence was damning. Outside of immediate disaster relief, charity and free stuff from rich countries does no one any good. In Haiti, there is an established company on the ground that makes solar powered streetlights, among other things. When the earthquake happened in 2010, well-meaning Americans sent hundreds of solar units, never once considering that there may be someone on the ground who could provide the same thing. These altruistic Westerners nearly put this man out of business. A person who not only was hard-working, but employed at least a dozen people in the impoverished nation. But they were just trying to help, right? Sure, but the problem was that it didn't even occur to them to find people already in that country to help.
The first time my church went to the Dominican Republic, we carried all the medication with us from America. Along with toys, dolls, clothes, glow sticks, etc. What we learned was that the medication was considerably cheaper there except for parasite medication and it was better to buy it there. So we did the following year, and every year since as far as I know. When we talked about buying mattresses for the kids at the orphanage, we bought them there. We also bought all the materials needed to make mattress covers (to keep bed-wetting from ruining the mattresses) and it was the men at the halfway house we worked with who sewed them. Those men stayed up for two days sewing mattresses for kids they had never met and then two of them got to go with us when we gave them to the pastor of the church. That felt good. Through the years, the church has continued to partner with that church and orphanage, providing more than just a bunch of free things.
BUT, and this is a big but, they also still hand out beanie babies and glow sticks. They still offer to pay for things and come down and do the work for free rather than giving the money to that Dominican church who can then pay a local to do it. In the end, despite their well-intentions, they are still part of the problem. If you, as a Christian, want to make a difference in the life of poor people, then you need to stop giving them free stuff. That applies to everyone. Don't give them a shirt, give them a sewing machine, training, and some start up capital that can be repaid through a micro-loan.
One of the things that really struck me is the way orphanages work in many third-world countries. The parents are still alive, but can't afford to take care of their children so they give them to an orphanage. A place where their children are fed, clothed, and educated. And some are adopted and taken far away, even though they are not in fact orphans. Even though their parents, given some kind of support, would take their child back in a heartbeat. Instead of adopting children from those orphanages, perhaps instead we should be asking how we can help support those parents and give them job skills so that they don't need to send their children to an orphanage to be fed. That is beyond sad. In America, we try to help those people by providing those kinds of families with food, healthcare, free public education for the child, daycare assistance, and sometimes shelter. We live in a society where women can go to college and work. That doesn't exist in many third world countries. Why aren't we pushing that? Why would a person rather spend $50,000 on adopting a child who has parents and who could easily support that same family and let that child live with their family, which is where, no matter how altruistic you are, they should be. In Malawi, the average daily pay is .13 in US dollars or $3.90 a month. Let's increase that to say $30 a month. $50,000 would support that family for 138 years. Now, I am not saying throw money at a problem, but surely that money can be put to greater use to keep families together.
Surely, we can do better.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.