Poverty Cure: Rethinking Charity and Impacting the Poor (Documentary Review)

John FarrellBy John Farrell6 Minutes

For me, donating items (most often in the form of school supplies, toiletries, food, and clothing) and making monetary contributions to different organizations or funds that support those less fortunate than us is something my family and I do because as Christians we are called to help others. It’s an essential part of our faith.

However, after watching the six-episode series, “Poverty Cure,” I have to rethink and further investigate the charities we’ve donated to in the past. The educational documentary-style show, hosted by Michael Miller and featuring political and religious leaders, development experts, entrepreneurs, and missionaries from around the world, was both educational and eye-opening.

The series presented charity and helping the poor in a light through which I had never considered before or even imagined. But it makes so much sense. The aid and assistance we provide to those we think are in need in third-world countries may actually be causing more harm than good and have unintended consequences.

There are a billion people around the world who live in extreme poverty. As Christians, we are called to be the hands and arms of Christ to millions. However, if we send second-hand clothes, foods, and other necessities as free handouts to struggling and starving villages in the different corners of the globe, we are often taking away their opportunities to build and sustain growth and success internally and locally.

One Example from Kenya

Years ago, the cotton fields of Kenya used to be thriving. Locals could purchase Kenyan-made shirts and other articles of clothing for a fair price that strengthened the local economy and kept local businesses and factories open. This all started to change when organizations from Europe, the U.S., and Canada, most likely with the best intentions in mind, started sending aid in the form of second-hand clothes to be handed out for free.

As to be expected, most people would rather accept a freebie than pay for that same item. The impact of the foreign aid, however, was devastating, hurting local farmers and shutting down local factories; therefore, weakening their economy. Today, most of those farms and businesses are gone because of the impact of imported aid.

What’s the Solution?

I imagine many people are in the same boat as me and my family and didn’t realize the negative effects our best intentions have on those in third-world countries struggling to make a living. Then what can we do to connect these good intentions and desires to contribute to a system that actually works?

In the last sixty years over two trillion dollars have been sent to struggling nations to combat poverty. While the donations may have provided temporary relief, they didn’t fix the problem or provide a pathway to a more sustainable economy. If we truly want to help third-world countries and its residents succeed, we need to rethink how we choose to fight poverty.

While there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, “Poverty Cure” examines what needs to be done on an international stage to combat the issue of poverty. In order to help the poor who are trying to better their economic situations but don’t have the means, rather than sending another handout what they need more is opportunity and access.

There are many people in third-world countries with the drive and desire to run their own companies. They just need the opportunity that will allow them to build a stable foundation. That opportunity often comes in the form of a partnership with an organization (e.g., Partners Worldwide) that will invest in the company and provide access to capital, technology, training, and a more level playing field.

Unfortunately, there’s not always a level playing field and it’s often an uphill battle for many of these small and medium-sized companies in poor countries. Large corporations from more developed countries often come in and bid on projects for government projects, providing loans and other incentives to choose them versus going with a local business.

Tariffs and duties that block competition and products from poor countries are also problematic for many of these businesses. They only further dis-empower African farmers (and U.S. farmers). According to “Poverty Cure,” the value and impact of eliminating tariffs and encouraging trade with developing countries would be ten times greater than the aid they currently receive.

The “Poverty Cure” series provides a lot of information (way more than I could cover here) to consider before making another charitable contribution. Miller reminds the viewer that the entire body of Christ is called to help others and that there is a role for every Christian no matter how large or small. All it requires is to think small, have a heart and mind for the poor, get involved, and begin with the end in mind.