Better Than a Handout?

What’s better than a handout?  Some would say free stuff is the greatest.  But what is the real cost?  There is one, you know.

When it comes to helping the poor, there is an axiom:  “not a handout, but a hand up.”  When we see people in desperate situations, our hearts break.  We often want to “fix” the problem quickly.  Turning our eyes toward our own abundance, we want to give whatever we can to help the poor.   Usually we want to do this without damaging any of our own net worth.  A picture of this might look like a man standing on top of a plateau, with a pile of money.  He looks over the edge to see the poor at the bottom of the hill and readily picks up some cash and tosses it to the people below.  They scramble for the coins like revelers at a Mardi Gras parade scrambling for beads and doubloons.  The money can be used for anything.  The man at the top of the hill feels good that he gave something, but knows not how the money is used, and only vaguely wonders about it.  He may even be proud of his generous gifts.  The recipients may fight over the gift, use it unwisely, or use it as an excuse to not work for any lasting improvements.  People get dependent on the handouts.

So we say a “hand up” is better than a handout.  Yup.  Well, a picture of this looks like the same man, still on top of a plateau, this time reaching his hand down the mountainside in hopes of reaching someone trying to get up the hill.  He will only reach the ones who are almost up anyway, but he feels good because he can now see someone making it to his level.  Someone is pulled up out of poverty.  He hopes, of course, that that person will reach down and pull up the next one, and so on, so that eventually everyone will be brought up to the same level. But he really doesn’t know what’s going on at the bottom of the hill. And he has yet to take any significant steps toward understanding the problems faced by those at the bottom. And he is still on the top himself.

There is another way to help the poor.

If the man on the higher level will walk down the hill, go into the villages, listen to the needs of the poor, and work with them to find a way up, together they will bring the whole community out of poverty.  This is the best way to help. And this is what World Vision does.

We recently took a “Vision Trip” to Africa. Our eyes were opened to the best way to help the poor. One experience highlights our perspective shift.

We visited a new “Milk Collection Center” in rural southern Rwanda.  We saw the neat new bulding and met the proud workers in white coats and white rubber boots as they accepted the milk the local farmers brought in that day.

Testing for purity and freshness.

Testing for purity and freshness.

They showed us how they test the milk for purity and freshness, measure the quantity, and collect it in large stainless steel vats that keep the milk at constant temperature.  It is a nice operation.  Mostly the locals bring milk to the center in yellow gerry cans, but there is also a small “pick-up motor bike”

The pick-up motor bike for local milk collection.

The pick-up motor bike for local milk collection.

that can get to some of the farms that are a bit farther away.  Still the capacity of the collection vats is much greater than what they now process.

cooling tanks only 50% utilized.

cooling tanks only 50% utilized.

The local farmers receive training in how to keep their cows healthy and how to increase milk production.  In addition, malnourished children in the area are given milk daily and their health improves dramatically.  We met one child, Moses, who was near death, who after  12 months of “milk therapy” is looking really good!

Moises, the little boy in red, was malnourished, near death when he received milk therapy.

Moises, the little boy in red, was malnourished, near death when he received milk therapy.

The milk is sold to schools and the nearby refugee camp, and the farmers who bring the milk are paid twice a month.  The head of the dairy talked about needing a truck so that milk could be collected from farms further away each day and so that their equipment could be used to full capacity.

My husband and I immediately thought about how we could get them a truck.  It seemed like a need we could help with.  No sooner did we express this thought to the National Director of World Vision Rwanda, George Gitau, than he shot it down.  “We don’t want to GIVE them the truck,” he said.  “They are learning how to get a loan, and they will be able to buy the truck themselves.”  “This way, they are learning business skills, and they are very capable of choosing a truck that will fit their needs.”

They need a truck!  Can we buy one for them?

They need a truck! Can we buy one for them?

Wow. He was right.  Our first inclination is a handout.  But so much better is the way of World Vision. They are on the ground, making strategic investments to get businesses started. Then they train the individuals and community members on what they can do to thrive.  The Tare Milk Collection Center is a small clean building that World Vision provided.  The building is the hardware.  But World Vision does not stop there. They work on the software as well – the people.  One woman described how her cow produced only 2 liters/day until she was taught how to give her cow better nutrition, and now it gives 10 liters/day.  Farmers are expected to only sell milk that is beyond what their families need.

We saw so much hope, not only in the community benefiting from the dairy, but in other areas where a vocational school has now graduated well-trained carpenters, electricians, and plumbers. We saw a seamstress who plans to build a factory in her back yard with a loan from the Vision Fund. We met a farmer who has learned ag skills that help maximize his investments, and who uses bio-gas to cook with.   Sustainable sound development.  That is how to help the poor.

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