God has given us another opportunity—they just keep coming! Right now what we need most is wisdom and discernment, however, as this opportunity could be for good or ill.
We have a strong commitment to reproducibility or sustainability in all of our endeavors, whichever is most appropriate and both if possible. These are not merely abstract ideas but represent lessons hard-learned by predecessors in the mission of God, which we take to heart with thankfulness for the insight of experience. In most contexts, these guiding principles translate into extreme caution about simply pumping money into a situation, whether in the form of buildings or charity or salaries.
Our micro-loan ministry, for example, is built around the idea that just giving money to those with limited capital resources is not nearly as sustainable or empowering as a cycling loan program. Likewise, raising money to build a modest library facility and staff it with modest salaries is not nearly as reproducible or sustainable as pooling community and state resources and committing to the frustrating labor of promoting volunteerism. You get the idea.
Recently, we were approached by a very poor community just in the beginning phases of settlement. Having visited them on the far southern outskirts of the city, we can confirm that this is what organized urban poverty looks like—it's the real deal. There is no electricity, no running water, and certainly no sewage. One family has just bricked in the first permanent dwelling of the community; the rest are of brick or block stacked like walls but lacking concrete or mortar (yes, this is a seismically active area). They are organized, legally legitimate (in terms of municipal recognition of the right to their plots), and motivated. They have business meetings every Sunday (their day off work) and often spend that day doing community work projects. Most recently they have been placing large boulders that will be the foundation for a road that they envision coming right by their area.
Having heard about ICDU, they approached us regarding the possibility of help building a water repository. In neighborhoods such as this one, it is many years before any connection is established to the city's waterworks. Instead, small tanker trucks go from barrio to barrio filling repositories. The communities are then in charge of their own distribution systems, whether jug or local plumbing. Once they proved their intent by providing us a detailed budget of building materials (they proposed to pay for labor and asked for help with materials), we jumped at the opportunity to meet them and assess the situation. At that first meeting, we mentioned two possibilities for help--a gift or an interest-free loan--and left them to consider that input while we decided what seemed best from ICDU's perspective. As soon as we had decided that a loan would be better on many counts, we received word from the community that most families did not expect to have the extra income to pay a monthly loan quota and, therefore, did not want to commit to such.
So, we are currently in the process of deciding what to do. Their financial reality is a harder one than most of us would begin to imagine, and there really is no possibility of skimping and saving here and there for most of them. A water well is not income-generating like small-business loans, and it is not as though a family can choose to not rent that movie this week or just stay home for supper that night--nonessential expenses aren't part of the equation. On one hand it's very difficult to leave them without a supply of potable water when we do have the means to help. And there is something undeniably godly about the grace of a pure gift. On the other hand, just giving money is neither sustainable urban development nor a healthy basis for a relationship. We may have the means to gift them or even ten communities like them with a well, but doling out cash isn't a long-term plan for addressing water needs in these communities. And the patron-client relationship, which echos loudly from the haciendas of not-so-distant history, is fraught with complications we need to avoid; not to mention all the other problems that come with being an ATM (dependency, false expectations, corrupt motives for relationship, etc.). This is a tough decision, and it is likely that, as usual, there isn't a single right answer. We pray for God's help in this as in all things. Please join us.