It was June 2019 and we had just arrived at the community we’d be visiting for the week. As we toured the community to see our friends again and see all the progress they’d made since we last visited, I came across a little girl I’d met the year before. (I tried to sponsor upon returning home that year, but she didn't need a sponsor!) She remembered me, and my heart fluttered with joy!
Our friends on the leadership council showed us their new homes built higher on a hill away from the beach where the last hurricane hit.
They showed us the new benches in their church, built since the last big earthquake in 2010.
We saw lush trees and flora flourishing.
A DJ was playing music and kids were playing in the river.
And to our surprise, a new water well was already being built in the community! (We’d been working with the community as they were preparing for a well, but we had no idea it was already being built!) With a big gasp and a scream, I felt another burst of joy! The community was vibrant and thriving! They’d made such progress since the disasters a few years prior!
This was my second trip with The 410 Bridge, and I could visibly see the development progress the community had made with their partnership. Their development model was working! (Click here to see a more complete glimpse of the progress we witnessed around the community!)
Fast forward two years and Haiti has endured multiple big disasters since, with the most recent being the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit the southern coast. Homes, schools, churches, and people have perished….yet again. As I’ve watched this unfold, I can’t help but wonder, “How much more can they endure? When will it stop? Does our support really help in the long-run?” I’m not sure about answers to the first two, but I’m certain our support does help when done through a development lens.
But, what happens to development when crisis strikes?
Frankly, it takes a pause.
The Executive Director of The 410 Bridge, Kurt Kandler, recently released a new blog post addressing this, and in it he writes:
“We define development as ‘what people do for themselves.’ In our work in poor communities, we do not do for people. We do with people. Community members lead, we follow. They actively participate in their development. They must start with what they have, take ownership of the problems and the solutions in their community if they ever want to indigenously sustain their future development.”
He goes on to say:
“When a catastrophic event occurs, we have no alternative but to press the pause button on development. People don’t need development. They need food, water, shelter, and medical attention. They need it immediately, and importantly, it must be short-lived so as not to undermine the long-term development work (what people do for themselves) and inadvertently create dependency.”
When a crisis such as an earthquake hits, their model is to let the immediate and necessary aid take place. Then, they begin rehabilitation soon after.
Rehabilitation helps restore livelihoods to a preexisting state, while also enabling communities to better respond to future crises.
Once livelihoods are restored, development continues. And even though a crisis may destroy livelihoods for a time, not all development progress is lost. Communities are restored to their pre-existing state, which in theory, is farther along than they were before the previous disaster (or at least fully restored to pre-disaster state), and so on…over time, even though they endure disasters, communities grow in their faith, leadership abilities, technical skills, relationships with those around them, and personal empowerment. While physical states might be lost for a time, not all is lost!
What happens when aid remains in place too long?
If aid lingers too long after suffering is alleviated, development is undermined. Dignity and empowerment start to be swept away and replaced by dependency and shame.
It’s easy to respond quickly to a disaster with the belief that aid is only temporary. After all, by nature, it is. But the truth is, how aid is delivered and for how long, has long-term effects on the people we’re trying to help. In this way, aid isn’t just temporary. It can have ripple effects long after it’s delivered, if done in an inappropriate way. Ultimately, how we respond to crisis, affects what development looks like later.
So how to do we, as good financial stewards, help during a crisis such as this?
The answer lies in understanding true development and how to respond in a crisis so that development can continue later. When we understand this, we can begin to discern how to help in healthy ways!
One way I choose to help is by supporting organizations I know understand the appropriate aid, rehabilitation, and development stages - and then deliver effective programs accordingly! The 410 Bridge is an incredible example of this. While our team won’t be going back to the community of La Beyi due to unforeseen circumstances out of our control, I can donate to The 410 Bridge to support the phases leading to the development of communities around them. I can also pray big prayers to a BIG God who can do all things!
If you'd like to help, you can too!