What if we changed just one thing about our past—where we were born, for example? I could be exactly the same person with my love of learning but be excluded from school simply because I’m a girl. I could have the same work ethic, but my employer might be blind to my value because of my accent or origins. I could have the same standards of purity but be tricked into sexual slavery. I’m not who I am, doing what I do, living the life I live because of anything special about me.
What if we changed just one thing about our students’ circumstances? What if we opened just one door of opportunity? What would their future be like? She could be exactly the same person growing up in a society that values boys over girls but graduate with a Master’s degree. He could have been born with a disability continually hearing “you can’t” but end up running his own business. She could never have heard the Name, but through a teacher (or 3 or 4), she hears and sees, is called and then sent.
Yet, as the title of a book suggests, helping can sometimes hurt. So before jumping on a bandwagon or throwing money around, consider these ways that helping might actually help.
Helping through Relationships
On book delivery trips for the Eileen Smith Liu Pan Shan Book Project, we sometimes read Leo Lionni’s A Color of His Own to the children. It’s a story about a lonely chameleon who finds a friend. I like the way the Chinese version translates the ending:
“And so they stood 肩并肩 shoulder to shoulder with each other. As one they changed to green, purple, yellow, and even red with polka dots. And so they lived happily ever after, together.”
That’s what some of our students need, a friend to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. A sister or mom, brother or dad to go through life with them toward a happily ever after—an eternal one hopefully—together.
Helping them Help Themselves
I’m not just referring to the old adage about teaching someone how to fish. What’s more important is joining students on their ground. Using what we learn about them through relationship, we can figure out how to open doors that take them down a path they’re already on, for example, a pair of glasses to see the board, a bike to get to class, extra tutoring to pass an exam, or a few hundred dollars a month so that they can stay in school.
Helping with Encouragement
Two of LEAPAsia’s Seed Fund scholarship students graduated recently. When one of them brought over his diploma for me to admire and another dressed up in her graduation gear for a photo shoot, I started thinking about the role we should play in their lives, one of encouragement. One of the two explained in a thank you letter, “You have been helping me all these four years in college not only financially but more in spirit.” Helping that helps may be as simple as an aptly spoken “press on” or “job well-done.”
Helping with Humility
We don’t have all the answers. Our way of doings things isn’t THE way ordained by Yahweh. Arrogance will get us, and our students, right smack in the middle of Nowhere. Instead, if we ask, listen, observe, and empathize, these will take them, and us, down the road toward Opportunity.
Our attitude should be like the Master Teacher’s. Though Yahweh Himself, He doesn’t condescend to His students but put on flesh to become Helper of the hopeless.
Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert (2009), When Helping Hurts, Moody.
Leo Lionni (1975), A Color of His Own, Knopf.