Why You Shouldn't Build a House on Your Next Mission Trip
How important is it to get this perspective right on short-term missions trips?
While on this recent trip, I had the opportunity to talk with a representative from Living Water International. He talked about the learning curve that their organization has gone through in recent years, especially as the desire to participate in short-term missions has exploded in developed nations like the United States.
They’ve learned that well projects require much more than bringing in a big machine and drilling a deep hole. Bringing clean water into a community starts with community meetings to discuss what the community is going to do to maintain the well themselves once it becomes functional.
If the community doesn’t maintain their well, then it can become damaged and unusable in a matter of months. The community owns the maintenance and must be prepared with a plan to keep it working.
It also requires education. The community not only needs to learn how to maintain its new well, but it also needs to learn about sanitation and hygiene so that’s water source doesn’t become contaminated.
They’ve learned that when a charitable organization comes in and does everything for the local community, then they only end up creating a dependence on our help.
The solution is more about creating opportunities for the local communities to own these projects. The jobs, the education, and the responsibility are all essential elements to helping developing nations break the cycle of poverty. This doesn’t mean that we need to stop showing up, but it does mean that we need to rethink what we do when we get there.
Instead of doing work for them, why not focus on conducting job skills training programs or finding ways to stimulate the local economy?
Considering Chris’ advice to not build a house that week, I tried to mostly stay out of the way. I jumped in a little here and there in between visiting other projects. And one of my most cherished memories on this trip was the conversation I had with one of the local workers (pictured above) on the job site. He was a single dad who dreams of being a mechanic, but he does this construction work because he can make decent money.
I’m glad that we were able to give him that opportunity.