Monday, March 17, 2008

Help people to help themselves

Last month I wrote an article about the difference between needing help and deserving help. Besides deciding whether a person deserves any help, how we should help him/her is also something I'd like to talk about.

I guess to most people, the definition of "help" is

Doing something to solve the problem of the person in need of help

Sounds reasonable, isn't it?

Yes, it's reasonable, but it's incomplete. If I'm to define what "help" is, I'd define it as

Doing something to solve the problem of the person in need of help AND educate/empower him/her so that s/he can solve the problem him/herself next time

This is true in most cases. I say most cases because for some problems you just have to help the person solving it repeatedly: helping a blind person to cross the road, lifting a person in wheelchair up the stairs when there's no accessible route, you get the idea.

Without educating the person so that s/he can help him/herself next time, you'll have to help them over and over again. Isn't that not so effective (repeated effort) and reliable (for some reason you can't help him/her next time, e.g. you're sick)?

I always admire doctors who participate in organization like Doctors Without Borders to help people in developing countries. Not only do they have to give up their high paying job, they also have to risk their own health since the places they go to may have disease transmitting around.

However, I always wonder, are they also helping those people to help themselves? Are they establishing some kind of schools or programs so that local doctors can be trained? Are they educating the people so that they know how to prevent the disease in the first place?

If they're doing these, it's good. Otherwise, if one day there isn't any doctor who's willing to volunteer to help people in those poor countries, the mortal rates will rise again. It's just not solving the problem at the root.

Think about it, if you empower the people you help to help themselves in the future, they can in turn help other people with similar problems and thus spreading the effort exponentially. Life is just too short for effort to be spent on the same problem the second time.

So, next time you help someone out, why don't you ask yourself: am I helping him/her to help him/herself next time? :P