Readnponder's Reviews > When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself

When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett
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May 14, 2010

really liked it
Read from May 14 to 28, 2010

I read this book in connection with my church job. One of the co-authors came and spoke to the congregation. All too often, well-meaning people try to help the poor but in a way that backfires and actually perpetuates poverty.

The authors distinguish between "relief" and "development". Relief is appropriate after a natural disaster, for example, when food, clean water, medical care, and shelter are the immediate needs. But for long-term poverty, development--not relief--is the better way to go. Yes, it sounds like the old saw about give a man a fish versus teach a man to fish. But this is presented in a way that brings dignity and worth to the poor. The authors recommend canvassing the population being helped to see what resources (not necessarily material) they already have. Incorporate those skills into the overall plan. Involve the people in the decision-making process. Build relationships.

There is a good chapter on the microfinance movement and self-run savings & loan credit unions in poor communities that make loans of as little as $5.

A totally new thought for me was how middle-class Americans define poverty versus how the poor define it. To middle-class Americans, poverty is the absence of material things. In a study done by the World Bank, the poor in developing countries around the world include "shame" as a component of poverty. They experience an emotional aspect that Americans are unaware of. This is a book I think I will come back to often.
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