In July, I was blessed to get to go on a trip to Nicaragua with my church. We served at a prostitute rescue mission near Managua and got a glimpse into the plight of human trafficking.
In preparation for the trip, our team of 15 was encouraged to read the book, “When Helping Hurts.” The book explains how churches and individuals sometimes have faulty assumptions about how to alleviate poverty and suffering in the world and in the process do more harm than good.
Written by two professors who once served non-governmental organizations in developing countries, the book explores how sometimes well-intended charitable giving creates dependencies and continues the cycle of poverty. It challenges the reader to examine the real reasons we want to give and “make a difference.” Sometimes there is guilt. Other times we want to “save” people from their circumstances.
Yet, for many, the answer is a holistic approach that addresses needs both physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. Finding organizations that attempt to heal brokenness in this way is important if we’re to make a real difference.
At Nicaragua’s House of Hope, we got a glimpse of how this can work.
Not only do they allow the women to make a small salary making crafts, but also they teach them skills. They minister to them spiritually, and bring in mental health counselors weekly to work with the women and children. They pay more than $20,000 a year to pay for uniforms to send the children to a good school. Even those uniforms serve as a protection, as a child wearing a uniform signals to would-be predators that there is someone who is watching over that child and protecting her.
The women and children live in modest dorms and apartments at House of Hope. They do not have washing machines or even stoves (cooking is done in a community kitchen, with each woman taking turns preparing the meals). But providing just the bare necessities helps prepare them for life after House of Hope better than living in lavish apartments with American-style amenities that they could not possibly afford on their own.
House of Hope also provides small microgrants to women who go through their program. These grants, averaging about $75, help women to begin small businesses.
We visited a woman named Sarah who now makes piñatas and sells plastic wares from her home. This woman became a prostitute to feed her children when her husband left the family. Through House of Hope, she left that life, found redemption in becoming a follower of Jesus and received the love and support she needed to start a new life. She told us how the small group she led in her home — all women in prostitution or formerly prostitutes — had grown so large (92) that they now met in a nearby church.
Her warm eyes overflowed as she asked us to pray for her and the women she ministers to. It is not an easy life in this poverty-stricken country, but she is making her way through it.
I did not change anyone’s life. But I did give many hugs, had many books read to me by little children, rocked many babies while mothers worked and had my heart stretched and challenged.
In the end, I certainly brought home more — more insight, more lessons, more hope — than I took.
That’s when helping helps.