When Helping Hurts: How to Travel Intentionally - Intentional Travelers
When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor... And Yourself | An intro to the book by Intentional Travelers

06 Nov When Helping Hurts: How to Travel Intentionally

Mission trips. Service trips. Alternative Spring Break programs. Voluntourism. There are many different types of travel that somehow involve interacting with an impoverished community, whether it be locally or abroad.

Our Experience

Intentional travel has led us to a few of these experiences in places like Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica. Sometimes it’s just a week trip. In cases like the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, it’s extended to several months or years.

The thing we’ve discovered about volunteering abroad is that it’s not always helpful to the community being “served.” As someone who yearns to see the world changed for the better, this is a major issue. If we want to make a positive impact but we’re inadvertently creating more problems, it’s something worth investigating.

Haiti Foundation of Hope

In our first trip to a developing country together as a couple, we spent a week with Haiti Foundation of Hope witnessing the various ways they have been working in the community of Terre Blanche. To this day, we often refer back to the example they set out for sustainable community development and empowerment. We have a real-life picture of what it looks like to partner with a community in a healthy and helpful way.

Introducing: When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

helpinghurtsThe founders of Haiti Foundation of Hope recommended one of the most valuable books I’ve ever read: When Helping Hurts – How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… And Yourself, and I want to recommend it to you now. It’s written for churches and mission teams, but the strategies it provides to help the poor empower themselves is a message that applies to faith-based and secular groups alike.

The foundational message behind this book is that it takes more than hand-outs to alleviate poverty because poverty is not as simple as a lack of material goods. How we define a problem like poverty ultimately affects how we approach the solution.

Two factors at play when a service project undermines the people it’s intended to help are:

1. Treating symptoms instead of the underlying illness;

2. Misdiagnosing the underlying illness and prescribing the wrong medicine.

In other words, to be truly helpful and make a positive impact, we must be intentional. We need to understand the context of the community we’re entering. We need to address our own biases about poverty and what it means to help. We need to look deeper, at the root causes, and know how our approach will affect the bigger picture.

There is one more key insight from this book that I want to share in an upcoming blog post, but there is so much more that I don’t have the time or space to address. If you do service trips or ministry of any kind, I urge you to invest in this book or check out their free video series.


Read on: How to Travel Intentionally Part 2

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3 Comments
  • Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com
    Posted at 21:32h, 07 November Reply

    Hi Michelle…you make such an important point in this post. It is so easy to think that the solution to any problem is money and if we are really paying attention it is pretty obvious that it often just makes things worse. Thank you for the recommendation of this book. It sounds fascinating and should be a valuable resource for anyone hoping to really make a difference. ~Kathy

    • intentionalmc
      Posted at 09:56h, 08 November Reply

      Thanks, Kathy. It really is a worth-while read. I hope more travelers and volunteers will take a look!

  • When Helping Hurts: How to Travel Intentionally | Part 2 | Intentional Travelers
    Posted at 12:22h, 11 November Reply

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