Nothing is going on here. That’s the perception eating at many people when they think about or see charities working in Uganda. As a native Ugandan, I can say that in some cases, sadly, charities are not doing the development work they claim to be doing, yet the people running them are earning large salaries and driving expensive vehicles.
And because that’s what people perceive is going on—and sometimes there is a measure of truth to it—people have given up donating to charities. They see no value in it.
I’ve witnessed it too. Having done consultant media communication work with many charities, I would get to the project site with such high expectations of seeing firsthand a program or project as it had been portrayed on paper… only to find very little happening, and underwhelming, if any, impact being made.
And, instead, the people that they were intending to reach out to have been taught to open their hands and receive, rather than cultivating an attitude to work or invest time or resources to earn something.
However, when I joined the Bright Hope team in Uganda last year, I realized that their model of community development incorporates what is missing in many other charities’ interventions. They don’t operate by giving handouts or wanting to be seen as relevant by creating a group of people dependent on things they provide.
Instead, the team in Uganda focuses on helping bring a mindset of change to the people they serve, while also working from a model of asset-based community development. That means the local people are taught to develop livelihoods and earn from what resources (“assets”) they already have—say through agriculture or animal husbandry, managing their finances well, improving their family relationships among married couples, parents and children, etc.
The idea is that we need a mindset shift among the population if we are to change the world. And giving handouts is part of the problem because, with that model of “help,” many people will not work and will just wait to be given things.
But as a result of work done through the Bright Hope model, I have seen families starting to have four meals a day without begging, and that change has come just from people using and applying the knowledge and skills learned from Bright Hope trainings.
Marriages have been restored when couples learn to work together for their families. Orphans have been taken in by families willing to support them, not because someone has offered them anything to do it, but because they can work and provide for the extra children.
Churches are visiting and taking care of the elderly, using funds generated from church projects rather than waiting on donors to support them.
So, let’s not abandon supporting charities and community development altogether because some are ineffective, but instead, choose carefully which charities to invest in—those that focus on changing mindsets and using the resources available.
As donors and people working in the nonprofit sector, let us not grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9). If we do community development right, we will see success: the poor child will finish school. That poor family will be financially self-sufficient. The troubled marriages will be restored to love, peace and unity. And among the local Ugandan churches and families we will be able to encourage the “true religion” James talks about, where they rise up to care for the needy, visit the sick, and take care of orphans (James 1:27).
And that is the change we work for every day.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” -Galatians 6:9