Why Giving Requires Context

By Susan Hill and Beckie Bagby

Author Jason Riley in his book Please Stop Helping Us, points to the downside of what he calls “serial altruism.” His overarching theme is this:

The aim behind giving and helping others in need may be noble. But in practice, it often reduces the self-development necessary for people to advance. 

At times, giving without strings is appropriate and even essential. Obviously in desperate situations, meeting basic physical needs is crucial—food, water, blankets, medical attention and such.

But even in acute circumstances, giving to others works best in the context of relationship. 

How does this apply in Africa? Here are some insightful answers from UOF Director, Beckie Bagby…

“Giving with no strings attached invites more problems than it helps. Because we have relationship with the children and the staff here, we give to them in a responsible way. Sometimes this means the kids or (their relatives) have certain requirements to meet in order to receive something.”

Our giving does not overcome the poverty mindset. People need a transformation of heart.

Two of our students have an amazing mother. She has a significant physical disability yet works every day to keep her small home tidy, while raising her two sons to be responsible, hard-working, and respectful men.

She is grateful for the education UOF provides for her sons and is even more grateful to be a part of the process. She often bringswhat little she has to share with others. The mother believes, that the ‘strings attached’ help her sons understand the value of what they are receiving and prevents the expectation of receiving all the time. Both her sons are thriving!

Our director firmly understands how teaching and giving go together. “Teaching through relationship is awesomely valuable,” she says. And “teaching is more powerful when it is goal-oriented—where both the teacher and the student are working toward the same goal.”

On a practical level, UOF is helping the kids establish goals that lead to future jobs. Some didn’t have any goals.

But kids and their circumstances can be vastly different. What works for one, may not work for another. Sometimes it’s better not to give and allow the struggle that leads to growth.

Beckie notes that, “a few of our students have been content to let other people do everything for them, yet they suffer from insecurity, disempowerment, and shame. The point is to not let them struggle in a vacuum without anyone to encourage or guide them.”

In several cases, we’ve had to release students to live in their own poor choices—but this is the exception.

What we find more often than not is that students fear a new challenge. They make excuses as to why they cannot do something. But with reassurance and support, they overcome their self-imposed limitations and experience the joy of discovery!

With many different children and diverse levels of motivation, maturity, ability, and extended family situations, our teachers and staff know there are no easy answers. Making good decisions on behalf of the kids and their futures requires wisdom from God.

While God always challenges us to give to the poor, the application of truth can be paradoxical. Still, all giving is best in the context of relationship.

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