Updated: Jul 5
How and why do the poor help each other? This is the central question in the book The poor philanthropist, written in 2005 by several researchers at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. The authors asked groups of people in Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe (who live on less than $1-2 dollars a day) about the ways that they help each other in their communities.
It was inspiring to read about the cardinal rule regarding help among all the groups interviewed: ‘if you have you must give, no matter how little’.
The book reaffirmed for me the importance of SIA’s practice of supporting grassroots organizations that are already set up to help their own communities. We allow the groups a lot of flexibility to propose and pursue ideas that they believe will work for their specific location rather than mandating program details from afar. By doing this we are answering the authors’ call for organizations that “respect the insights, norms and modes of assistance used by the poor as protagonists in their own development, rather than as recipients of ‘gifts’.”
Help is not understood only in terms of money but “high importance was assigned to non-material transactions as well” (p. 68). Sharing knowledge or giving emotional and prayer support are significant forms of help because they can be shared without taking anything away from the giver and they benefits both the giver and the receiver. People see prayer and blessings as a reward for the help they provide to others, particularly those that are unable to provide help in return, such as the elderly, infirm, or orphans.
The high importance of reciprocity in relation to help is particularly relevant to the work of Spirit in Action. One of the study participants explained that, “Giving is like depositing something, because tomorrow that same thing will come back to you”.
Reciprocity is the key principle to SIA’s Sharing the Gift program, which encourages all grant recipients to “pay it forward” and help another person. This spreads the blessings beyond the individual or group receiving the initial grant. Sharing the Gift help takes many forms, both material and non-material. Francine Murambi’s business in DR Congo has purchased 2 liters of gasoline for their church with their profits. Other groups, such as Shamauu Bitibiza’s shoe repair business in the DRC, train more people in business or craft skills.
Farmers in DRC share seeds with another group that can now start their own garden.
SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator Godfrey Matovu in Uganda relates his experience of promoting many different ways of helping: “Sharing the Gift is not about giving only, but you can share many ideas like praying together, uplifting some ones skills, etc. In my trainings, l quote some verses in the Bible which talk about giving and loving your friend.”
Throughout the book we hear about the relationships and trust that is developed in a place where people believe that ‘if you have you must give, no matter how little’. The results? According to the authors, the main effects of help are: it helps people move out of poverty (for example, through micro-enterprise and educating children), it builds community, and it feels good!
What can you do today to help someone in need?