Another philosophy at The Pucusana Project is, “No free handouts”. Which might sound harsh when dealing with impoverished cities. A lot of time when Americans come to underdeveloped countries and witness intense poverty, their solution is to just give away free stuff to meet the material needs of the poor. Culture shock from witnessing the realities of poverty blind many wealthy, well-intentioned people into solely seeing the poor with pity.It is from this pity that entire multi-million-dollar charities have been created to alleviate poverty through giving away free food, water, clothing, education and even homes. Doing this definitely meets the physical or material needs of the poor therefore it should end poverty, right? Well the facts sadly prove otherwise.
What’s that old saying? “The road to hell is paved with good-intentions” - This has sadly been the case with alleviating poverty in general for the last few decades. Statistics over the past 40 years show that poverty is not declining but increasing, so clearly free handouts is not fixing the underlining problems of poverty. Pity has led us to seeing the poor as incapable of helping themselves, when this is simply not the case. And after so many decades of making the poor think they are only to be pitied, they themselves even struggle to improve their own circumstances. So now, today, in the face of very real poverty and very real physical and material needs, how can nonprofits help the poor?
First and foremost, we must listen and learn every detail about the community in which we are trying to help. That seems like a no brainer, but sadly most people walk into impoverished towns and just apply 1stworld solutions without totally understanding how the people in those towns think. Which cause those 1stworld solutions to fail long term. To listen and learn takes a lot of time and lots of understanding. People all over the world have different customs, cultures and traditions that are very different from the United States. To have effective poverty relief, we must work within those customs, cultures and traditions.
This is why having a local team that is always on the ground is so important. You can trust that your team knows best because they are talking with the community. They can figure out which needs are most important and what are the best ways to go about meeting those needs. Are these needs material, physical, religious or even legal? Can these needs be met with education? Is our team even equipped to deal with these needs or do we need to bring in extra help? Who locally we can employee to help us answer these needs? Questions like these need to be asked facing impoverished communities and everyone must be open to hearing multiple solutions in order to find the best way to meet the needs. Not every well-intentioned answer is the right solution. Thus, making it critical to listen to your local team.
And it was from this mindset that we came up with the Clothing Event six months ago. The families in the Barrios need clothing and The Pucusana Project has the means to provide those clothes. But we knew free handouts won’t solve the bigger issues underlining their poverty. So, we came up with the “Donation” idea.
Our event was a Fair. We had food, games, music, a playground for little kids AND the donated clothing. So, we asked every person who came to pay an admissions fee to the fair. There were two types of admissions fees. One for ten soles (which is about three dollars) just to come and have a fun day enjoying food and many activities; the other fee was 30 soles (which is about ten dollars) if you wanted to donate money to help the nonprofit host the clothing part of the event. For any clothing outside of "first needs" (fancy, professional or party clothing) you could donate money for those items too. When you donated money, you got to choose between four different yellow boxes. These boxes listed what the nonprofit would use their donated money for. So, the people got to choose between helping pay the property taxes, water, maintenance or expanding the garden.
Through this system, we helped provide clothing to the people living in the Nuevo Mundo Barrios AND also let the people give back what they could to help us continuing helping them. These people, as poor as they might be, were more than willing to give what they could. Almost every person who attended this event had, in some way benefited from our community projects, workshops or student sponsorships. They wanted to be a part of the projects, to contribute as a 'thank you'.
Our CEO Allison Wallace describes what she saw, “Watching grown men and women, children and teenagers stand in front of those yellow boxes, taking time to decide what they wanted their donations to go toward; some even excited about how they could help us after we’d helped them; I will never forget it. Each person joyfully placed their donation into those boxes. It was fun for them to decide. It was meaningful for them. And I was moved to tears.”
It is dignifying for these people to feel that through this event they had the ability to cloth their entire families with their own hard-earned money.
Dignity is so important. Yes, free hand outs could have clothed them too and made them grateful; but it would have never given them a sense of self-satisfaction. Giving impoverished people a sense of dignity is the building block on which those people can trust in their own God-given talents to step out of poverty themselves. With dignity and hope, impoverished individuals can grow in self-confidence. With confidence, and free programs like what The Pucusana Project offers, these people can gain the education and business training they need in order to actually step out of poverty themselves. Poverty alleviation is not just about physical and material needs; it’s about meeting their educational, emotional and economical needs in order to get out of poverty as a whole.
And by asking these people to donate, they have the chance to think differently. It takes their eyes off of themselves, their own survival and onto the possibility of being a part of something bigger. It shows them that their donation, as little as it might be, CAN make a difference in their lives and in the community. They can help create positive change too.
At the end of the event, everyone received a gift bag from The Pucusana Project. This brown bag had some make-up, lipstick, earrings, a small journal, crayons and a handmade bookmark inside. But most importantly, everyone received a NIV Spanish Bible. Most of these people have never owned or read the Bible before and those who have, have only read the New King James Spanish version; which is very difficult for them to understand due to the literacy level of the community being very low. “Having the modern New International Spanish Versions in their hands will make a big difference. They’ll actually be able to read God’s words and understand them. I am very excited to see what the future holds for this community” – Allison Wallace.