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Are you unintentionally robbing someone of their self-worth?

Written by Erin Boutros





​I’m sure you have seen photos of people living in poverty. It’s likely you saw a picture of a sad looking group of people wearing worn out and dirty clothes, living in broken houses with no clean water or food – and it probably made you feel awful.

Instinctively, as citizens of the first world, photos like this make us want to fix the problems we see. At first glance, the obvious solution is to provide all the things that are missing from the photo, such as food, clothing or money. That should fix the problem… right?

The truth is, a lack of resource is a symptom of poverty, and not the root cause. There are so many invisible factors that have contributed to creating the one moment you are seeing. How do you photograph an unjust legal structure or a broken economic system or an experience of trauma? – the things that really hinder individuals and communities from moving forward? A photo just doesn’t tell the full story.

Throughout my time working in the development sector, I’ve visited communities very much like the ones we see in the poverty photos and what shook me the most was how wrongly I had perceived the situation from afar. I had often ‘put myself in another’s shoes’ and thought about how horrible it would be to wake up and not know if my family would be able to eat that day. But I never once considered how it would feel to constantly rely on help from others to survive.

By getting to know the people in the photos and listening to their stories, I discovered that handing out resources such as food and clothing sometimes did more harm than good. We were stripping people of their dignity by unintentionally sending the message ‘we don’t believe you have the capacity to look after yourself’. We were taking away their right to take care of their own needs. These are people who have abilities, giftings and motivation to work, what they often lacked was the opportunity to do so!

Now sometimes food, homes, water etc are immediate needs that we meet in order to help people get to a place of health. This kind of help should only ever be short term. Supporting people to move towards self sufficiency should be the goal.

So, you’re probably wondering what will actually help? How can we make these photos right? What you can do is:

1. Fund projects that create opportunities for people to become self sufficient

2. Invest in projects that remove the barriers preventing individuals from living an empowered life

You have a responsibility to ensure you are supporting causes which are sending the right message - one of empowerment!  Our actions need to show these communities that we believe they are capable of living an independent life and that they have the capacity to solve their own problems. 

At Compelled by Love, we carefully and strategically fund projects that invest into long term change that empowers people. If you would like to learn more about our work, you can do so here.

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