Definition for the Day: “Dependency”
“Dependency” is an important concept, and a difficult problem for people concerned about social welfare and social justice. Dependency comes in different forms and operates at different levels – the personal level and the social or cultural level.
I was surprised to learn that one of the biggest problems for the poor in Guatemala (and elsewhere) was the large amount of clothing donated every year by churches in North America. Why would that be a problem? The leaders of HSP explained.
For the Mayan Indians, their clothing and the making of their clothing are an important part of their culture – a way for them to express themselves, to tell their story, and to pass on their culture and traditions from one generation to the next. Making clothing is an important part of their livelihood and a source of income, using knowledge and skills that are very refined and past down through the generations.
Although it is done with the best intentions, when North Americans give their clothing away to the poor in Guatemala and elsewhere, it takes away an important function for
Mayan women and sets their society back in many, interconnected ways. The women are not as important because someone else is providing the clothing for their families. There is less demand for their product and their skills – skills that could face extinction if they are not taken up and valued by younger generations. The people receiving the clothes become dependent on charity. Western or North American clothing becomes something new and exciting, reducing interest and visibility for native clothing. And their clothing no longer tells their history, their culture, their story. Instead, the clothing tells the story of other people in other lands, people whose economy and culture are taking over the local traditions more and more every day.
I listened to that explanation and thought I understood……But then we went into town, and unlike the villages, we saw many poor children with their hands out – begging for money. They were so cute, and so obviously needy – it just broke my heart. I wanted so badly to help. I had so much and they had so little. What harm would it do to give them something – even a quarter …. Which goes so far down here?
I reached into my pocket and suddenly felt the laser-like glare of Ben Blevins, telling me clearly without saying the words “don’t you dare ……..” Then he admonished the kids in stark terms. Shaking his head sadly, he began to explain again and this time I started to understand ….although it still broke my heart and made me feel helpless ……If we give in to temptation and give these young beggars a handout, we send them the wrong message and end up doing more harm than good. They will learn that they can eek out an existence by begging rather than working, and won’t develop the skills and values necessary to be empowered and independent – the goals of our work down in Guatemala…