Christ taught his followers to “feed the poor,” but He also taught His followers that they would accomplish “greater works” for the Kingdom. Our goal is to accomplish these greater works by not only feeding the poor, but by empowering the poor to escape long-term poverty. The concept of sustainability is often one that we North Americans struggle with, especially short-term volunteers. We’re called to “give,” and give we do. Yet sometimes our well-intentioned giving isn’t as healthy for the recipients as we would hope.
If we’ve learned anything in our 25 years of partnership with the people of Central America, it’s been that we need to help empower our friends while not creating a sense of dependence upon our generosity. That is why we require investment, both fiscal and physical, in each of our projects, by the recipients of our collective efforts. It’s also why we strive in every way possible to create economic opportunity and market-driven solutions to improve living conditions for the long term. While residents of the Agalta Valley are a long way from realizing our dreams of full self-support, together we’re making progress a little at a time.
We at HOI want each of you who so generously and enthusiastically join us in our work to fully understand our ultimate goals. These are to share God’s truth while improving the quality of life through an environment of dignity and the reality of self sufficiency.
The more invested local people are in creating the solutions to their challenges, the more ownership they take, and the longer the positive results last. We’ve also learned that this balance generates the most transformation in our North American teams that serve with us. Knowing their efforts will help effect lasting change brings a wonderful sense of satisfaction.
There has been much written in the past few years by effective and experienced Christian community development practitioners like Bob Lupton, author of “Toxic Charity,” on the best practices for short-term missions. Occasionally the ideas presented initially seem to be at odds with our cause. We study these books and publications objectively and carefully while engaging face-to-face with their authors to allow us to continually learn better ways to “help” those with whom we partner.
HOI is unique in that we commit to people and places for extended periods of time by utilizing short-term mission teams to implement our long-term strategies. This gives us the opportunity to engage volunteer teams in very effective, targeted, and useful ways. This approach has produced documented unparalleled results.
In all that we do, including each new service that is introduced, the people we serve evaluate their own situations, develop their own priorities and plans, and then work with us for our catalytic support. The model we utilize requires investment by all parties with an eye towards sustainability.
A recent example of this is the exciting addition of the full service dental practice based at our campus in Olancho. This required considerable “seed capital” generosity by U.S. supporters which allowed HOI to construct, outfit, and staff a modern dental service for the thousands of people in the Valley who had never seen a dentist. The alleviation of pain and related health issues through this ministry is just one more life-altering way that God has used our supporters to great effect. Now our generous visiting dentists and dental technicians will be able to do more than just extract teeth. They will be able to share their expertise by providing additional training for our dental staff as well as practice preventive and restorative services for patients.
In order for this service to survive, however, we are charging fees to our patients on an “as able” basis. Those that can afford these very low fees will pay for services, but those who are unable to pay will not be turned away. Our medical staff in Honduras has suggested and developed this fee schedule and plan in order that over time, our dental services will pay for themselves and will not be dependent upon U.S. funding.
We ask our visiting North American dentists to work within this system so that patients understand the value of the treatment they receive. This encourages them to adopt dental hygiene habits that improve oral health, with all of its attendant benefits. With this fee for service plan in place, one day when the last North American dentist leaves one of our locations many years from now, they can look back with pride on the fact that they worked themselves out of a job. We can then move on to populations still waiting for life-changing oral health in other geographic areas.
As we shift more and more to this changing paradigm across all of the projects, services, and ministries we undertake, we ask that each of our volunteers keep the long-term impact of our actions in the forefront of our minds. Be on the lookout for ways to turn local activities into economic opportunities. At the end of the day, the only way to move from poverty to prosperity is through the creation of real jobs.
The following chart is a simple illustration that I saw on LinkedIn, and I think this is the “purpose” we’re all looking for, for ourselves and for those we work with in the mission field:
Let’s pray that God leads each of us to contribute to the salvation, long-term health, and prosperity of our sisters and brothers all over the world.
Jerry Eickhoff, CEO