Toxic Charity

In the fall, I had the opportunity take Dr. Turner’s International Social Entrepreneurship class. At first thought, one may ignore the “social entrepreneurship” part and think strictly on international business practices. This could not be further from what class taught me. I can’t say it was a happy and make-you-feel-good class. It was challenging and made me really think and evaluate how the world gives and how I give to charity. Our class read When Helping Hurts (WHH) which touches on several of the points from Lupton’s Toxic Charity (TC). I must say both of these books served as quite the eye opener for myself and the rest of my classmates. 

Prior to reading WHH and TC I had honestly not given any thought to what my contributions to charity actually did. Charity is supposed to make you feel good! And it is supposed to make a difference in the lives of those you are helping and of course make the world a better place. From these two readings, I learned quite the contrary. Helping those who can help themselves actually hurts. When you give handouts to those who are in need of development, you can being to create an entitlement within them and a dependency for your aid. The people receiving the help seldom will create opportunities for growth and improvement for the self because they simply do not have to. One story that stuck out to me was the need-based relationship between Janice, an out of work mothers living out of a shelter with her children and Ann, a compassionate women who was naive in her relationship with Janice. As the story goes, Ann sympathized for Janice and her two children and wanted to help them get back on their feet. She paid for Janice’s new apartment, food, and even bought gifts for her little girls. During Christmas time, the truth of Janice’s dependency on Ann was revealed when Ann encountered several other people giving to Janice and her family. And Ann realized quickly she had unfortunately been hustled into giving freely to Janice, instead of helping her develop herself. 

There are many more stories in TC just like Ann’s. Her help did not actually help. This leaves someone like myself wondering if it is worth it to give back at all? It is easy to see that if one truly wants to help you have to immerse yourself into the lives of those you are helping. This is not a simple task for the average American looking to give back in an easy way. It is so much simpler to take some old jackets or canned food to your church than to genuinely help develop those in need in your community. 

It is also important to take note that to help people in a community you must help the entire community. Tap into their knowledge and get to know their leaders. Give them the resources they need to implement their ideas. They know best what to do to grow their communities. While we may think we know best, it is most often that we do not. 

One of the main questions we kept coming back to in my class in the fall was, is it worth it to give back at all? Or after hearing about all the negatives from our giving, is it better to do nothing at all? While it is discouraging to hear about all the negatives that come out of our reckless giving, I still think it is better to do something than nothing at all. If you don’t feel comfortable giving handouts then volunteer to mentor local children or through development based giving. I have enjoyed these books very much and feel they have opened my eyes to problems that I have never even considered problems! I have forwarded them all to my dad who I know will take them apply them directly into his practices in his work. I am looking forward to how they will alter my perception during our trip in South Africa. 


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