Navigating Empowerment: In the midst of a pandemic

These last few months have taken everyone by surprise and transformed the way we do so many things. The way we exercise, the way we do our jobs, and even the way we grocery shop has been transformed in this season. It has been a challenging chapter for many all over the world and we have all had to adapt and move forward in whatever ways we can. BOH is no exception in this, as we have changed the way we work and have needed to respond to unique challenges within our organization. 

As many of you know, we held an Emergency Fundraiser a few months ago and conducted food distributions for our families in Uganda. Food distributions are something BOH has never needed to do before, and as an organization founded on empowerment, it is difficult to balance sustainability and the need for emergency relief. How do we continue empowering our families while also addressing the unprecedented needs that have arisen due to COVID-19?

Poverty and poverty alleviation are complicated as it is, but add a pandemic into the mix and seemingly simple challenges develop layers of complexity. Here in the US, our staff team has been reading “When Helping Hurts.” This book attempts to wrestle with the nuances and complexities of poverty alleviation and aims to find ways to help the developing world without inadvertently causing harm in the process. “When Helping Hurts” has shaped many of BOH’s methods over the years, but reading it now as a staff team has been important, as these issues are more pressing than ever. For me personally, it has transformed the way I view poverty and our work in Uganda. I want to share with you some of these lessons and how this book has shaped some of BOH’s foundational principles for how we navigate this time. 

First off, what is poverty? Often, when we think of poverty, we picture a lack of food and amenities. While this is one type of poverty, it is far more complex than this. The World Bank carried out a survey asking the poor the question: what is poverty? One response described it as “a feeling of powerlessness and an inability to make themselves heard” (50). People experiencing material poverty often have feelings of shame and of being “less than.” Poverty is not just physical, but rather, poverty is rooted in broken relationships; broken relationships with God, with our view of self, with others, and with creation as a whole. As we seek to address poverty, we aim to heal these relationships and make them right again. We all experience some type of poverty and this is important to keep in mind when working with those that face material poverty. 

How can we empower people when they do not believe they have the ability to improve their situation?  In order to combat feelings of shame and worthlessness, we must be patient, build relationships, and care for the individual. In our goal driven American culture, it is easy to get caught up in the results of poverty alleviation and forget how important the process is. “The goal is not to produce houses or other material goods but to pursue a process of walking with the materially poor so that they are better stewards of their lives and communities, including their own material needs (113)”.

It is not just about teaching our women how to earn money.  Rather, it is about developing relationships and opportunities that allow the women an outlet to use their gifts, talents, and resources in a way that glorifies God, experiences healthy relationships, and walks in the fullness of who they were created to be. In a culture where women often have low levels of education, few job opportunities, and in some cases, are valued less than men, the last thing we want is for them to simply become dependent on BOH. Instead, we want to help instill in them just how valuable and capable they truly are. Our hearts’ cry is to empower our women to use their unique gifts and resources to live fully and fulfill their purpose. 

So how do we do that? How do we empower without doing harm or creating dependency? Rather than develop programs for our women, we develop programs with our women, allowing them to have a voice within our organization. As we partner together, we encourage our women to share their insights and ideas, and provide opportunities for them to use their abilities and resources to move forward. This is why we have created programs shaped around the resources and culture of Uganda, programs such as our livestock and agriculture projects. Additionally, our incredible staff team in Uganda is made up of Ugandans who live in our women’s villages, speak their language, and understand their culture. They play a vital role in the daily endeavor of walking alongside our women and empowering them to turn these programs into small businesses. 

During this time of COVID-19, we have continued this vital work while also adapting to the challenging climate of a nationwide lockdown in Uganda. While we usually focus entirely on development with our women, there have been times this year when we have also had to redirect some of our efforts to relief. We did this with our emergency food distributions, and as the pandemic and the lockdown continues, we are assessing how to best walk alongside our women in the months ahead. For some of our families, food security is still a concern. As a result, this harvest our staff have encouraged the women to store as much food as possible and quickly prepare their gardens for next season. Our agriculture projects have provided stability and support to many of our women during the challenges of this lockdown. However, we also know that there could be a need for future emergency support if food prices remain high. With this being said, we are still actively accessing how to be prepared for this while also keeping the ultimate goal of sustainability in focus. 

As we move forward and seek to be effective in our work, we want to continue to be thoughtful about how our actions will impact our families for years to come. We truly could not do this without our partner team supporting us and praying for us. Thank you for your support as we wrestle with the hard questions in the process of empowerment. We are so grateful to be on this journey with you!


                                                     By Mykaela Schluter, Assistant Executive Director


Corbett, S. & Fikkert, B. 2009. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself. Chicago, IL. Moody Publishers.


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