Sunday, October 10, 2004

Charity work in Belize :: Who are we empowering?

Charity work is a minefield. How do you help people and empower them at the same time? How do you prevent the person receiving your help from becoming too dependent on you? And how can you stop that person from becoming lazy and from expecting something for nothing all the time? It is a really tricky business. I have been helping our local community by getting sponsorship for their children’s education and, on top of that, the sponsorship money pays for the school transport for the children. But yesterday I nearly canceled the whole deal.

This is what happened: I agreed to pay $150 a week for transport, but the driver wants us to pay $200, so all the parents agreed to pay $6 a week themselves (per family) to cover the extra $50. Anyway, people just weren’t paying on time & it was starting to become a problem, so I called a meeting yesterday afternoon. And guess what? Hardly anyone showed up, but when I had called meetings before (about paying the children’s schoolbooks) people had been coming out of the woodwork, with children I’d never even seen before. And now, no one showed up. I got really angry and told Tella (our cleaning lady) that I was just going to stop paying for the transport. I told her that these weren’t even my children, why should I be the one sorting out these problems? I couldn’t sleep last night, because I just didn’t know what to do anymore. Should I just take the sponsorship money and spend it elsewhere? Or was I being too hasty? Well, this morning all the parents showed up at my house and we all had a really good chat. We spoke about the sharing of responsibilities, about working together as a group and how we could solve certain problems. The parents all came with suggestions and as a group they came up with a plan on how to proceed from here. We have agreed that I am stepping back from the whole process and that, from this moment on, the parents themselves organize everything. All I will do is give the $150 every week. So anyway, I feel really good now. Because I feel that these families are now going to take charge themselves. They will (hopefully) no longer just look at me and ask me to come up with the solutions to their problems. So hopefully I am achieving my aim of helping people to help themselves.