Thursday, July 18, 2019

when helping hurts

When I returned from my Australia trip, I noticed something new on the walking path that leads from Barra de Navidad to the main highway.

Three exercise stations. All designed to build upper body strength.

I have seen similar stations elsewhere. Like these, they are usually stationed on the edge of walking or jogging paths to set free the inner athlete that hides in each of us.

A young Mexican runner was looking at the stations. I asked him how long they had been there. He responded, two or three months. He was not certain.

When I asked who had installed them, he shrugged and said he did not know. Then, I noticed the Rotary gear prominently posted in front of the chairs. When I pointed it out, he shrugged and said he did not know what that was.

I was impressed with how the chairs had weathered our entropy-charged climate. They certainly had survived better than the colorful Barra de Navidad sign that had to be removed from its home above the beach because of rust and corrosion. The chairs were almost pristine. But not for long.

A few days later, while walking past the chairs, I saw three young boys who were whacking away at one of the supporting posts with sticks and tree limbs as if they had encountered a wounded iguana. Having not yet fully-learned the lesson of minding my own business, I called out "Hey!" -- as if that was going to mean anything.

The boys stopped and looked over at who I assume were their parents, sitting on a bench. When the parents did not respond, the boys continued their Spanish Inquisition of the post. Because, of course, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

It turns out that the exercise stations are quite durable. After all of the banging about, the only damage was a severe crease in the finial.

Rotary's kind donation reminded me that five years ago I mulled over some ideas on the process of charitable giving in our communities -- thanks and giving.

The church I attend here has a very active community service committee. The committee is also wise enough to realize that our activities may fit our own needs to give rather than the true needs of our neighbors.

As part of our review five years ago, we read When Helping Hurts: Alleviating the Poverty Without Hurting The Poor ... And Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  The authors, who have worked in Christian charitable organizations, point out that the church has an obligation to help the poor -- no matter where they are located.

But they also discuss how a large portion of charity not only fails to help the poor.  In some instances, it leaves the poor in a worse position.  Rather than have churches abandon a core part of its mission, the authors provide strategies that have succeeded in different parts of the world -- strategies the church can use to assist the poor in empowering themselves.

OK.  I know that sounds like something out of a United Nations brochure.  That is because I am trying to reduce some very complex ideas to a few sentences.  I was impressed with how the committee took the strategies to heart. At least, intellectually. In practice not much changed.

But I am not surprised.  Like most people involved in charity, their hearts are almost always in the right place -- wanting to share God's love with others.  But, we are never quite certain what our role should be.

What we do know is that relationships are far more important than handing out material goods. 

When I was board chair of the Marion-Polk County Salvation Army, we were awarded one of about a dozen Kroc centers that were created in the will of the widow of the man who created McDonald's. Joan Kroc had endowed a recreation center in San Diego to assist children of limited income to meet their dreams of being Olympic athletes -- or to be as good as they could be.

In her will, she decided to extend that largess across the country. I cannot recall the amount of money awarded to build the center. But I do recall her wisdom. The bequest was to build the facility. But she required the local community to match the grant with a capital account that would ensure the centers could actually make a go of it. It also required the local community to have some skin in the game.

I point out that experience because it seems to be a step that is missing in local charity. I do not know who paid for the colorful Barra de Navidad sign. But I do know that no one set aside any money for the inevitable associated maintenance. As a result, the sign sits in a shop waiting to be repaired -- as if it were a kidnap victim.

Because Rotary is a large organization with an extensive history in charitable giving, I would be shocked if there is not a maintenance fund set aside to repair the attempted Marie Antoinette of the finial -- and the corrosion that will soon overtake the metal.

Charity is a very complex issue -- so complex that I am almost doing a disservice to raise it in such a limited fashion. But it is also important.

Finding the right mix is one of the details where the devil sets up housekeeping.


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