“the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.”

I have a lot to learn about serving others through Charlie’s Heart Foundation. The more I discover, the more I realize how much I don’t know. There have been a lot of “Ah Ha!” moments for me along the way and I am sure there will be many more to come. However, one of the most pivotal learning curves I have experienced so far is understanding that I can’t ‘“fix” poverty or change someone’s situation permanently no matter how many resources I give them. It took a lot of effort to swallow that notion given that Charlie’s Heart Foundation aims to support families living in extreme poverty. It even begged the question, “ What’s the point of trying, if I can’t fix it?”

In my travels to Ethiopia, I have witnessed poverty, hunger, and desperation that has at points debilitated me, literally stopped me in my tracks. In many instances, I wish I could have been the Santa Claus of nourishment; delivering food, clothing, and shelter to everyone I passed. I’ve seen mothers laying on the streets with babies and toddlers, huddled together, with barely enough covering for one, let alone all three. I’ve witnessed young boys begging for money, no shoes, dirt covering their clothing from head to foot and flies circling them. The boys, too hungry to notice, don’t even attempt to swat the creatures away. And while visiting remote villages, I watched a young man wait by the only water source for miles, for a few ounces of water to percolate, in hopes to fill his gery can before nightfall. The water, most likely dirty, was his only choice for hydration. Human beings don’t want to know of suffering. It’s uncomfortable, just the thought of it. But witnessing it, rocks you to the core. How can you not want to “fix” these situations. I desperately want to.

Working with our partners, both Addis Jemari and A Glimmer of Hope, have quickly brought me to realization that no one can simply “fix” generational poverty. What happens to the family or young boys who are given nourishment and warm clothes? They will be full temporarily but tomorrow hunger will strike again, the clothes will become dirty and they will still be living in poverty. Perishable resources can’t “fix” their situation but investing in them and helping them to invest in themselves can.

If we want to facilitate change, we have to invest in people, not try to fix it for them. Helping someone to live a better life comes with offering them the right tools to change their own situation. Access to education, healthcare, job skills, and financial literacy are the foundation for helping people, families, and communities to help themselves.

Then, over time, we will see change.  

But here is the catch: people, families, and communities need to have  “buy in” to sustain true change. We can provide all the resources one needs, but how will someone be empowered to change without investing in themselves? Take the village where the person is waiting desperately for a few ounces of dirty water. What happens when a well is constructed and clean water is readily available? Six months later, the well breaks and the community does not have the means nor the skills to fix the well.  So now its people are back to finding water from unprotected sources. In this case the change was not sustained and the help that was provided was a “fix.” But when the community is told they must invest a little money each month into the maintenance of the well, be trained on the function and construction of it, and charged with the task of maintaining it, they become invested. They are empowered to seek change for themselves and their community because they have the tools they need and a personal investment to see it become successful. So if the well breaks, they are equipped to fix it. This is when change is sustainable for a community and its people.

It has been a hard lesson to learn, but the truth is, if we want to see change we must invest in people and if we want change to be sustainable we must empower people to invest in themselves.

Fixing is temporary. Empowerment is sustainable.