How Much Is Too Much

August 2013 

At the heart of our mission at CARE for AIDS is our desire to help do for people what they are unable to do for themselves. Not indefinitely, though. We do address immediate, short-term crises relating to health and hunger. But simultaneously, we want to promote long-term solutions to solve the root cause of these problems such as lack of education and isolation from community. This creates families that are independent, sustainable, and empowered. If we were doing for people what they could already do for themselves, we would only be creating dependence and entitlement. My team member, Molly, will unpack this idea more next week.

I give that preface because over the years, I sometimes fail to recognize where our services need to stop and where the Kenyan community or church needs to step up. It is a fine line to walk, but it is one that I am more aware of than ever before. Let me share two stories to illustrate.

When I was in Kenya last month, Patrick, one of our workers at Kiganjo Deliverance Church, told us this story. One of the ladies was distraught because she was about to have a baby and couldn’t afford the clothes she needed for the child. At hearing that, the other mothers in the program collected all the old baby clothes they had and gave them to the mother. As Americans, with all generosity and the best intentions, we would have rushed to the closet to fill a bag of old clothes and send it via FedEx to this young mother. When, in reality, the best solution we could offer this mother was to facilitate a community, like the one at the CARE for AIDS program, where she could meet other mothers who can do life with her and help her shoulder the burden of parenting her new child. By having her need met within community, the community is stronger, more unified, and more invested in their collective success. We do these people a disservice when we meet a need that could have been solved within or by the local community.

Let me illustrate this idea another way. For years, we’ve been wrestling with if and how to ask our partner churches in Kenya to make a financial contribution to the CFA program. Many of the pastors don’t even draw a salary from the church, so we didn’t want to place yet another financial burden on them. Instead, we have just asked them to give of their time, leadership, and facilities. Then, recently, we started our 15th center in partnership with a church in Manyatta slums in Kisumu. Cornel asked the pastor to decide what the church could invest financially in the program on an annual basis. They surprised all of us when they came back with a pledge of $850 per year. That is an astronomical amount for any Kenyan church, especially one that currently meets in a tent. However, they believed in the vision enough that they were willing to give sacrificially. I also believe that the pastor understood that his congregation would be more committed to love and serve these people because they were invested in the process.

This partnership would never have reached its full potential if we had not said, “Here is what we can do. What can you bring to the table?” Even if we still contribute 95%, we cannot overlook the value of that other 5%. That buys engagement and ownership that is crucial in the process of development.

 

Therefore, let’s remember to ask, “What can we uniquely do for these people or this community that they cannot do for themselves. For those things that they can do for themselves, how can we facilitate that?” We want to complement, accelerate, and strengthen the work of the church around the world, but we don’t want to undermine or underestimate the impact of the local community.