Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Give a man a fish...

About a month ago a young mother walked through the gate at work with her five day old baby girl.  My co-workers knew her well, months before she had stood at our gate in tears.  Her husband left her when she was 7 months pregnant, without resources and with their two other children.  Josieanne and Charles consoled her and did what they could to help her; paying her rent and health insurance to make sure that her baby would be healthy. 

On this day she was returning to show us her new girl and was looking for more support.  Her rent was due and with a new baby, working was not an options.  I offered to take care of her $2 rent for the month because a mother of three needs to have a roof over her head.  Over the last few weeks I have returned to visit her and her children, bringing clothes and offering my hand as a friend.  But this has presented an all too familiar dilemma, how do you give a hand up without giving a hand out? I am troubled by this as I face poverty daily in Rwanda. 

The proverb, "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime," rings in my head quite regularly.  I have a strict personal policy of not giving beggars money or handing over cash to individuals because I see this as merely temporary bandaid, tomorrow they will need more.  I believe this perpetuates poverty and creates great dependency.  But I am afraid I have created this dependency with the woman I was only trying to befriend and support.  She now expects things and after my most recent visit is  even willing to ask.  I want to pay for her eldest child to begin school because I see this as a solution to poverty but how do I pay for school fees with the understanding that she needs to work to afford them on her own? 

I am struggling with this conundrum.  The one thing I do know is that collectively we need to work on solutions not temporary quick fixes. But how exactly do we do this when there is so much need?

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