There is a rather large non-governmental organization in the United Kingdom called “OxFam.”   I’m not sure why it has that name, but it does.

They publish a blog with a series of articles on it that wrestle with some very big and very deep issues relating to poverty, to the governmental impact on poverty and how to hopefully do it better.    While I read it consistently, some of it is way too obtuse and hypothetical for me to see its relevance.

This one is not.   They wrote a post yesterday that you can read here if you want to  read the entire thing.   Let me attempt to hit some high points or low points for you:

  • The article is talking specifically about situations in Tanzania and Uganda where the government is displacing poor and poverty stricken people to clear room for industrial development and other things.   Sound like a good thing, right?   The governments are basically saying, “We need where you live so that we can build an oil refinery and make money.   Here’s $_________ go move.”   What’s wrong with that?
  • The article lays out a convincing case that it is not a situation where there is anything wrong with that.   No, instead it is a situation where that is not ENOUGH.    If you give someone who is struggling with poverty some money and tell them to move, they might have a little more money but if they move and then something happens, they have nothing to fall back on and that essentially puts them in a worse position than they were.

So if that’s not enough, what is enough?   Their point is that if someone (a government etc.) is going to relocate people because they need that land, they need to do three things:

1. Compensate them for their troubles – anyone who has ever moved knows how disruptive it can be.   It’s disruptive when you plan on it, it’s even more so when it is forced on you.

2. Help them – help them make the move to their new place.   Don’t just say, “move, here’s money.”   Instead, help them get through all of the logistics and the struggles of actually getting there.

3. Provide or help them obtain a place to move to.   Don’t let them get stuck strictly in a refugee camp, but help them get reestablished with either a place of their own or a place they can rent.

In the article that OxFam wrote, they are focusing on one particular situation.   A situation where a government or corporation needs to relocate people so that business can develop and expand.

Let me give you a couple of examples of where and how else it could happen:

  • Houston
  • The island of Barbuda
  • The Florida Keys
  • Puerto Rico
  • Mexico

What do all of those have in common?   In the last month, they have all been hit by natural disasters of epic proportions.  

There are millions of people who don’t know what to do, who don’t know how to do what needs to be done, who don’t have any way to help themselves.   They lost everything in that natural disaster.   If the governmental agencies or non-profits that are helping only do step 1, they aren’t really helping.

So, when you want to “do something” to help, make sure that the organization you are working with or want to support has all of those steps in mind.   They might not do all of them, but they see them and understand them and work with others who can help with those parts.

Helping is more complex than it appears, but it can be done and done well, if it’s done carefully.

Tom V