When Reading When Helping Hurts Helps

One of the funnest things I do each week is sit down with Alfredo, Paty, Lucia, Nancy, and Carmen and read through a few paragraphs of Cuando Ayudar Hace Daño—that is, When Helping Hurts. If you talk to any of us very long, you’ll know that this is one of Team Arequipa’s required books to understand what we’re trying to be and do in this city. The Spanish translation was published at the beginning of the year, and we’ve been making our way through it together once a week. I think of it in terms of staff development. As we work toward justice, wellbeing, and joy in the city, we renew the challenge to ourselves to continue to develop, to be repentant of practices that may have been easy but aren’t right, and to work together toward reconciliation. 

It’s been a fascinating process for a number of reasons. First of all, for the Living Libraries team, this is mostly new information. Paty and Alfredo spent a good bit of time with Team Arequipa 1.0, and were there for most of the process of CUDA becoming who we are, with its values and philosophy, which includes many of the insights from books like WHH. Lucia, Nancy, and Carmen aren’t as familiar with CUDA’s philosophy, although they’ve been living and working through the lens of our philosophy as long as they’ve been a part of CUDA. So it’s been fun to point out the “why” of a lot of the things we do—why it matters, what good it does, why picking the slow, harder route is better in the long term. When I see eyes open and eyebrows raised at examples of the harm that some poverty alleviation efforts cause when we underestimate the complexity of every human; I can see that it’s clicking. And then I ask, what are examples of brokenness, God complex, inferiority complex, etc., here in Peru? And it becomes my turn to raise my eyebrows.

The other fascinating bit has been talking about big questions like: 

  • why was Jesus of Nazareth on earth,
  • what is the main task of the church,
  • who is God and
  • what does it mean to be human?

These are questions that you don’t stumble into. But because we’re reading the book, and the authors approach the topic of poverty alleviation through a biblical, Christian lens, we’re getting all sorts of opportunities to talk about who God is and what it means to be human.

We’re taking it slow: just twenty minutes a week to read and discuss, but I’m approaching it more as a discipline than as a task that needs completion. 

Pray for us. And know that, even as you support CUDA through your giving and shopping, we’re taking our role as development workers seriously, developing ourselves as we see development happening in education and health in our city. 


I've been working with the Living Libraries team this year as we look to grow into more schools in the near future. It's exciting and life-changing and I'm honored to get to be a part of it. A friendly reminder that you can see more pictures like this every week following Living Libraries on Instagram or liking us on Facebook