In April shortly after the La Soufrière volcano erupted, I was cleaning in front of the church one day, and heard a woman begin walking up the street shouting very loudly. At first I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but as she came closer I recognised the same words were being repeated over and over again.
She was an evacuee staying in a nearby resource centre who got in trouble for leaving without permission, and going to get a bag of bread. Her words actually haunted me because I knew many of the people in Barrouallie were saying the same thing.
They may not be shouting it in the middle of the road…
But they were still hungry
Lack of consistent day to day jobs means parents (usually the father) try to do enough odd jobs in order to buy food for that day. Vincentians aren’t malnourished, but getting money for the food can be a struggle.
The initial response to this problem is feeding everyone we possibly can, but that actually creates more problems .
In 2014, Steven Corbett and Brian Fikkert wrote a book called “When helping hurts.” It is without a doubt the best book I’ve read on the subject of poverty. Their main point is that relief should equip the poor to do work, instead of building dependence.
Relief can easily become a vicious cycle were individuals come for help whenever there is a need. Obviously in a time of great need we should help, but this can become a habit so when a financial need arises instead of trying to meet it themselves, they come to us. In extreme cases, this creates a sense of entitlement where individuals feel the deserve relief, and are upset if they don’t receive it.
Instead of creating a cycle that makes us their “saviour”, relief should be a reward for their effort.
This morning I met with an older man who asks for money every time he sees me. Because he spends all of his money on rum, I refuse to do so. Friday I made a deal with him, if he sat down and read through a psalm with me, I would give him a bag of rice (enough for one meal).
He was standing at my gate early this morning ready for his bag of rice! But after I reminded him of our deal, we went down to the church, and spent some time reading through Psalm 91 which describes Gods as our refuge, and stronghold. At the end I explained how God would meet his needs if he gave the Lord control of his life.
He left very happy (with a bag of rice) and promised to be back next Monday to study another Psalm (and get more rice)
Later this morning I gave some money to three men at a local shop so they could buy chicken to enjoy for supper later that day. In return they promised to help me burn a huge pile of brush in my backyard (we cut back some bushes recently).
In this way the relief encourages and builds them up. Because this isn’t simply charity, but recognising hard work that they are doing for me.
It is true that in times of extreme need we give relief……
But most of the time what people truly need is a reward after a job well done