Build on assets, not needs

medical clinic 1

Too often we enter a community and see the enormous amount of need. We see hunger, thirst, disease, hopelessness, and a whole lot more.

How can we not be overwhelmed when considering the depth of the pains associated with poverty? It’s unbearable to see, much less think about our kids or our parents or our friends living in those kinds of conditions.

I’d like to encourage you to be careful going down this road. When we focus on what is wrong (or what is needed), we almost always miss what is right. It is not by observing what is wrong that a community will change, it’s focusing on what they are already doing right (or what they already have).

A few years ago, I was helping a medical clinic in Northern Mexico. American doctors came down to serve people who probably couldn’t have afforded professional medical care. I noticed a translator who was from the community and she was wearing scrubs, as if she was a nurse herself. I struck up a conversation and learned that she is a doctor who works for the local government as their health expert. I asked her if she’d be willing and able to run this monthly clinic without the American’s help. She said of course but the Americans didn’t go for it. They didn’t trust her medical expertise and they talked down to her. They didn’t know what medicines she was prescribing (the only ones that were local available. It was easier to simply allow her to translate.

I couldn’t sleep that night because all I could do was count the opportunities we were missing every single month. How much better could that clinic have been if it provided locally available medicine? How different would that community be if the medical professionals weren’t undermined and demeaned by weekend warriors?

The needs can be overwhelming, but be careful to never be so blinded by needs that you miss long-term (and community changing) opportunities.


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