My father does a lot of work in Latin America, specifically in Nicaragua. He has said a number of times that the poor of Nicaragua don’t need a handout, they need the motivation to do something themselves. We are all very much that way; if we can do something the easy way we will. If someone will give us a handout to solve our problem we’d much rather take that than work for it ourselves. The traditional slogan, “Teach a man to fish” does not go far enough, most of the time we already know how to fish and need to be told, “There’s the lake. “
The “Teach a man to fish” approach does have a great deal of value and is a trend many organizations are beginning to take. By hiring local people and training them to take over businesses, they have an opportunity to create and manage their own economy. I get excited when I hear about what an organization is doing to train the local people to be self-sufficient. But, training a group of people to be self-sustaining in farming or business, or building up local community health systems to serve the breadth of needs in their communities—this is bigger than teaching man to fish.
By empowering a community to take care of itself, you show a depth of respect for the human spirit. In humanity’s greatest moments, we encourage each other to be more than we currently are. Our organizations need to encourage people to provide for themselves and have the desire to be more. I wonder what would have become of the US Space program if President JFK had only been taught “how to fish.”
There are times when people need medical help or providing them with a meal is really the very best first step. But, when we think about on-going and systemic change, we need to provide opportunities for people to help themselves. Not only does it allow our organizations to continue to serve urgent needs in other areas, but it raises the overall quality of life for everyone.