Individual vs Community

If you see someone drowning, it’s not the time to teach them how to swim. Pull them out of the water. That’s individual relief. Once they are out of the “life or death” crisis, teaching them to swim is appropriate. That’s individual development.

pool 2

If, however, there are countless people drowning every single day, pulling them out one by one might not be a great plan. Sure, you’ll help a few people, but for every one person you pull to safety, another 20 will perish.

pool 4

Continuing with the metaphor, community development can be summed up as: Teaching people to swim and share their skill(s). Sound familiar? It should.

This is an oversimplification of a very complex problem, but the steps are: 1) teach people to swim, 2) teach them to share their new skill, and 3) repeat.

Sound simple? It is, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Robert Lupton explains it well in his book Toxic Charity.

Feed a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; (Individual relief) teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime (Individual development).  But what happens when the fish disappear from the lake due to pollution or overfishing? Then it’s time for a change of strategy. Someone has to figure out how to get control of the lake: stop the pollutants, issue fishing licenses, put wildlife-management policies in place. Teaching a man to fish is an individual matter; but gaining control of the lake is a community issue.

A micro-loan may help a family buy a cart to haul their produce but it will not pave a road made impassible during the rainy season—that takes community development.

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