When Helping Hurts

It is human nature to want to help those in need. We see help in the forms of sponsorship, donations, outreach trips and so on.  However, it is important to understand that despite good intentions, not all forms of charity fit the needs for specific areas and situations around the world today.

An action that has good intentions, but that can create adverse results, is the over shipment of donated clothing to various parts of Africa. These clothes can have a serious impact on the business owners of the area, something that is not necessarily taken into consideration prior to shipping.

One of CCI’s partners in Uganda, Robert, recently started a small business of shoemaking and shirt sewing, in order to give young people in the area a place to work.  So far, he has employed 2 young men, an intern, and a disabled man and his wife. These citizens would not have adequate work without this opportunity. This is a project CCI is happy to invest time and resources into. Creating a sustainable work environment for citizens in this area, to be employed, and be able to provide for themselves, is an example of good development. However, if a sudden influx of, say, old, brand name t-shirts arrived via donations to the surrounding areas of this business, people needing shirts would choose those at no cost, and this business venture, and the need for it, would simply dry up.

Without a market for the product, there is no longer opportunity for our partner, which would lead to the closing of the business and the immediate loss of 5 jobs. The donated shirts, while likely helpful to some, would create a butterfly effect that could end up substantially hurting the people they were intended to help.

Another example illustrating this point is when a specific area receives donated shoes. The shoes that are sent are often not suitable for the day to day life of a student walking to and from school; long distances over rocky roads. These shoes wear down quickly and often become quite harmful to a child’s feet. Many of these shoes simply become “Sunday shoes” for church and after a short period of time, would leave the children without adequate shoes again, and this time, without a local shoemaker to provide them with new ones, because the shop owner has been run out of business.

CCI understands how help can sometimes not really be help at all, but rather a hindrance, even with the best of intentions. It is with this understanding that our projects are meant to sustain and grow, rather than to be a stop gap solution. CCI’s initiatives focus on providing students with education, health and wellness so that they themselves do just as our partner in Uganda has done – start to provide for themselves, their families, and those within their communities. Helping has to be done the right way, or it really isn’t help at all.

So, what can you do to make sure that you help in the right kind of way? Several things!

  1. Do your research. Especially look at the circumstances – is it a short-term disaster in need of immediate relief items such as clothing or a long-term project that is in need of continued support?
  2. Focus on the needs, and not the wants. Donating a pair of shoes or a nice hat might seem like a great idea to make the children happy, but for the same cost, you could buy schoolbooks or pay for a medical clinic visit (or several!). The key is to provide opportunities for growth, education, and, ultimately, a better overall quality of life.
  3. Understand that ‘Not for Profits’ who know good development, are prepared and ready to respond.