Killing with Kindness

I began working in Haiti shortly following the 2010 earthquake. Every fragile system, electricity and clean water access, was halted, and chaos was magnified. Desperation gripped the millions of displaced and grieving survivors.

Immediately public and private organizations pledged billions of dollars. The capital region of Port-au-Prince became a giant tent city, housing the 1.5 million made immediately homeless. The rapid response of the world was timely, right and saved lives.

Today, years later, the immediacy of that disaster is long past, but well-intentioned organizations continue, however, to ring the alarm, raise support for “relief” and quick fixes. Aid, which was a helpful response in the wake of disaster, now, unintentionally obstructs progress. This is not only a Haitian phenomenon, but frankly, anywhere “first world” ideas of care are imposed on “third world” needs. The unfortunate legacy of prolonged, well intentioned, but misguided aid is debilitating dependency. Damage is the result, as businesses cannot compete with the “free stuff” so generously given from outside sources.

I recently walked through a textile mill that, prior to the Haitian quake, was busy all day, every day, employing nearly 75 workers, mostly women. Today, these sewing machines are silent, no workers to be seen. This mill did not collapse due to nature’s forces. This business and others like it buckled when used clothing continued to arrive by the shipload to be given away. This is but one example of compassion efforts with the right heart, but with damaging consequences.

The challenge for today’s care organizations is to brutally assess their age-old methods of addressing poverty, hunger, disease, and lack of education. For example:

  • Feeding programs are acutely necessary after a crisis, but if that tactic continues local farmers cannot make a living when megatons of “free” food arrive from the outside.
  • Orphanages are critical to immediately house and care for children who have lost their parents. An unintended consequence, however, is when that same haven of hope is seen as an alternative by third world parents or other family members to drop off their own children when they simply cannot afford to raise them. “Aging out” brings another dimension of hardship in these places where many older teens fall victim to human trafficking or crime.
  • Building houses for the poor is a conscience piercing experience for missionally minded persons who are willing to take time off from work and invest in traveling to needy areas. However, for the price of airfare alone, many locals could be hired to complete that same work, allowing them to feed their own children, build their own businesses, seeing the local economies supported.

Please do not misunderstand… There is an important place for each of these responses, in their place and time. None, however, are truly helpful, long-term solutions.

Today’s leader interested in addressing third world poverty must be willing to resist championing short term efforts that do not lend to long term sustainability and empowerment. The “teach a man to fish” mantra is well known, but least employed, and does not happen in a weeklong walk through a poor village.

There is a dignity and hopefulness that emerges when people can earn a living from their own efforts, invest into their own livelihood, provide their own housing, and feed, clothe and educate their own children. It is the kind of God-given hope all people have been created to enjoy. That is what Share Collective, Inc. ( ) is all about.

Our commitment is to empower the poor through business and agricultural enterprise, connecting “their world” to “your world” through some of the most incredible coffee on the planet. It goes well beyond the coffee, however! We work with local business and governmental leaders, including churches—all who desire to impact their communities for sustainable change.

 For more information on how you can be involved contact me:

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About the Author:  Steve Helm is an entrepreneurial leader who has served in "people helping" for over three decades. He has been Senior and Executive Pastor in notable churches over 20,000 in attendance, and has dedicated his life to the hope giving message of the "Good News" of Jesus Christ. His approach to poverty comes out of extensive experience on three continents in the poorest countries on the planet. His education is in Biological & Medical Sciences as well as a Masters in Theological Studies.