HAIRCUTS NOT HANDOUTS
Is there a role for handouts? That’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves in the FARA Charity office. This isn’t a theoretical discussion, it’s a real issue. Staff in Romania have located a ‘forgotten village’, ten miles away from the nearest proper road, hooked up to none of the services that even one of Europe’s poorest countries takes for granted. Sixty families share a single well. Houses are patched up with plastic. Sanitation barely exists and disease is rife. So what to do? Well, FARA has started to provide a hot meal each day for every child. We’ve also arranged for some of the children to have their first haircuts in months. And there’s so much more we could provide. But should we go on? Won’t all this free provision just encourage a ‘culture of dependency’? Shouldn’t we be focusing on long-term solutions? It’s a dilemma many charities face.
Actually all this is a bit like the ‘medication versus therapy’ debate. Here, as there, we need to get away from here ‘either-or’ thinking. Sometimes people just need a good pick-me-up while longer term issues are addressed. And this is exactly what we’re now planning. The meals will continue, but we’re now also working with local professionals to provide basic education – so some adults can get a driving licence for the first time in their lives, and find work in nearby towns. We’ll also look at pre-school education, to nip disadvantage in the bud. Then there’s a need for ‘starter packs’ of seeds so that families can start to grow their own food. The point is: deprivation is a vicious cycle. Lack of work creates family poverty which undermines education … which hinders employability. The challenge for FARA is to break the cycle. But while we’re at it, hot meals and haircuts are a great way of building up community morale!