Recently I pulled into my driveway in Tulsa, Oklahoma as huge flames started pouring out of the house two doors down from mine! The entire front of the duplex was on fire. My neighbors I and called 911 and made sure everybody was safe. Fortunately, nobody was hurt and a firefighter saved the family cat.
The people who lived in the house were in a crisis. It was 10:00 at night, they had nothing but the clothes they were wearing. They had no place to sleep and had just watched their house burn down. They had some pretty big immediate needs.
Before the fire was completely out a Red Cross van pulled up and a representative started talking to my neighbors. The representative made sure they had clothes and a place to stay for the next few days, helped them get in touch with family, and connected them with other resources. The Red Cross had a great system in place that helped at the moment of crisis in an effective way.
The work that the Red Cross did that night is called relief. Relief is giving immediate, temporary aid after a crisis. This crisis can impact a single family like a house fire, or be spread across an entire state, region or country like an earthquake or hurricane.
Relief can be contrasted with another way of helping people called development, which is an ongoing process in which people and communities work to improve their lives. Kibo Group is a development focused organization. The people we work with are in a long-term state of poverty. They have some immediate needs, but our focus is on helping them identify and mobilize the assets they have so that in the long-run the poverty they experience can be reduced.
Relief and development take very different skill. Relief requires bringing outside resources to bear quickly to solve an immediate problem and requires experience in efficiency, logistics, prioritization, and fundraising. Development requires people to work together to solve the problems they face in their own community. This takes a long-term commitment, patience, cultural awareness, and lots of listening.
Both relief and development are critical tools to helping people, but we often misapply them which leads to poor results. If an organization uses relief techniques when development is needed people become depended on that relief because the real issues that cause poverty in the first place never change. Providing relief when development is needed is a common mistake that every organization, even Kibo Group, falls into at times.
In the parable of the good Samaritan Jesus calls us to love our neighbor by telling a story of relief. In the story the Samaritan comes across a man who had been beaten by robbers, so he bandaged the man’s wounds and cared for him until he had recovered. We are called to help those in need, it is not optional! The challenge we must face is how to do that effectively, even if their need is not obvious or simple. At Kibo Group that means we start by listening and understanding the situation people find themselves in, then working with them to find the best solutions to the problems they face.
How can you use the idea of relief and development in your life? What people in your community need relief, and who needs to be part of a process of development?