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Three Reasons to Stop Focusing on Children | by Peter Greer

 

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Examine the marketing materials for most aid organizations, and you’ll notice that children are prominently featured in everything from clean water to refugee resettlement. Sometimes they’re depicted as desperate, wide-eyed, malnourished, dirty and alone. Other times, images portray children flashing wide grins, full of energy and unbridled hope for the future. The innocence of youth is compelling.

Children are incredibly precious, significant, and special. Everyone knows this. Why in the world would I be encouraging us to consider decreasing our emphasis on them?

Before you call me a Grinch and accuse me of possessing a “heart that’s two sizes too small,” here’s why I think it would actually be in the best interest of children if we stopped exclusively focusing our aid efforts on them:

1.     It masks the fact that not all children in poverty are orphans.

Overly simplistic images of children by themselves and out of the context of their surroundings perpetuate a pervasive, damaging picture of poverty that tells us that around the world that all children in poverty are orphans. In truth, the vast majority have a living relative. The Better Care Network points to studies in Cambodia, for example, revealing that 75% of children living in orphanages are not actually orphans but have one or more biological parents still living. And even more have living extended family members.

2.     It can put children at greater risk.

When an organization, particularly a residential care institution, focuses exclusively on providing for children, over-extended parents are more likely to send their children away, assuming that their sons and daughters will have better access to care and opportunities at an institution, rather than in their family’s home. Parents are trying to do what’s best for their children. But studies show a disturbing trend: children in these situations become more, not less, vulnerable. The trauma of being separated from their families and the impersonal attention that they may receive at an institution can make them more likely to experience developmental delays, difficulty forming attachments, exploitation, and abuse.

3.     It can undermine families.

For deep, lasting change to occur, transformation must be experienced not only by children, but by their whole families. I’ve witnessed the gut wrenching reality that when children are returned to families who have not received the support and care that they need as caregivers, children can end up in the same cyclical, heartbreaking situation. For every heartwarming picture that you’ve seen of little hands eagerly holding donated gifts and treats, there’s a second picture that you’re not seeing: their family.

Might it be that by focusing on children we are undermining the role of their family? Why are parents invisible and often forgotten? Perhaps it’s because giving a few toys to a child is far easier than walking alongside a parent who wants to start and grow a small business or become free from addiction. Perhaps it’s because we assume culpability of parents for their situation. Whatever the reason, loving children demands an equal measure of love for the family around them, no matter how difficult it might be.

Please understand me. I am all for helping children! I simply believe that focusing exclusively on children to the exclusion of their families often proves to be less helpful, and possibly even damaging, in the long run.

Let’s seek out organizations and strategic approaches that focus on empowering men and women to provide for themselves and their families. When the family flourishes, children grow up with strength and hope for the future.

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For more, check out When Helping Hurts, The Poor Will Be Glad, or download the free e-book, Stop Helping Us!

 

Peter Greer serves as President and CEO of HOPE International and blogs at peterkgreer.com.

Let’s Make Pies | By Peter K. Greer

Recently, my friend Shane Claiborne and I took part in a debate on Christian responses to poverty. To call it a debate might be a bit of a stretch, especially when the prevailing image of a “debate” is rancorous TV personalities angrily shouting over each other.

Still, in the midst of our discussion, we hit on a particularly provoking concept: Is one person’s wealth the result of another person’s poverty? And is a system of redistribution the loving, biblical response to poverty?

pieThe idea of a system of redistribution as the way to care for those in need seems supported by the example of the Early Church in Acts and verses like 1 John 3:17, which says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”

There is no question that God calls us to radical generosity, particularly toward the most vulnerable. Even a cursory reading of the Bible can leave no doubt: We are called and compelled to care for those who are hungry and orphaned, trafficked and enslaved, widowed and sick, broken and marginalized and living in poverty.

As men and women designed to incarnate the God who came to serve a world hemorrhaging from sin’s piercing wounds, our hearts are to reflect that same relentless love and pursuit of others. Our words and actions are to point an aching world to Jesus.

So, it’s right that stories of human suffering grieve our spirits and move us to action. We are to “spend ourselves” on behalf of others.

But here’s the thing—I believe that, as followers of Christ, it is our responsibility not simply to act, but to act in wise, strategic ways that are actually effective in alleviating suffering.

It is because I follow Jesus—not in spite of it—that I cannot simply ignore the evidence showing that systems based solely on the redistribution of wealth never work. Historically, they promise utopia and deliver misery. As I once heard economist Jay Richards say, “Systems of forced redistribution don’t just fail to promote freedom—they fail at producing food.”

More importantly, systemic redistribution misses the beautiful truth that God created a world in which there is the possibility to create—and that as God’s image-bearers, we are to be co-creators.

Wealth is not a fixed pie from which we must shave off meager slices but something that can be multiplied. Instead of focusing on cutting up a single pie, what if we focused our efforts on working together to make more pies?

God demonstrated this most basic principle in a common seed. In God’s economy, you can take a seed and plant it in the ground. If you take care of it, the seed will grow and bear fruit, which will produce more seeds. You can then take those seeds and open a store to sell them, or perhaps turn them into flour, which can then be used to bake bread to share with others.

When we depend on systematic redistribution as the solution to poverty, our focus will be on cutting slices from a limited pie and divvying out increasingly smaller pieces to men and women who are capable of much more. Not only is that approach grossly ineffective, but it also robs the recipients of life-giving, dignifying opportunities to create and grow.

I don’t want to miss breathtaking stories of human flourishing, as people mirror our Creator by creating. The more I travel around the world, the more I’m convinced of the overwhelming capacity and creativity of all people in all nations.

If you want to care for those in need, then it’s time to help make more pies.

Peter Greer is the President and CEO of HOPE International