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Sneak Peak at Tending to Eden


Written by Plant With Purpose on January 28, 2010 in General


We are very excited to announce that Plant With Purpose Executive Director Scott Sabin has written a book called Tending to Eden which will be published in the next couple weeks! Based on Scott’s own 18 years of experiences working with Plant With Purpose in Haiti and other countries, the book provides a global perspective on environmental stewardship and makes the connection between poverty and the environment. Below is a brief excerpt from Tending to Eden.

(to pre-order your own copy, click here.)

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From Tending to Eden, pages 22-25

“In December 1997 Plant With Purpose’s technical director, Bob

Morikawa, and our new Haitian director, Jean-Mari Desilus

(whomwe called Dezo), traveled with me to the Haitian village of

Kavanac. The sun beat down on us as we walked a steep, narrow

path between hillside farms, their tiny fields separated from one

another by loose rock walls. Ragged corn struggled through the

rocks on either side of us. My lunch was not sitting well.

After we’d crossed one ridge and were on our way up a second

long slope, I told the others I needed a rest. As I sat on a large

stone, contemplating the hill in front of me, two elderly women

came up the hill, five-gallon buckets of water balanced on their

heads. “Bon swa, blan,” they greeted me. They asked where we

were going, and Dezo told them we were headed to a village meeting

in Kavanac. The older woman said they were on their way to

the same meeting. “We’ll let them know you will be along in a

while,” she said with a teasing grin.

At the top of the last ridge, I could see the Caribbean to the

south, Haiti’s tallest mountain, Pic La Selle, shrouded in clouds

to the east, and the brilliant blue water of the Bay of Port-au-

Prince to the north. A little farther along the ridge sat a group of

about forty farmers, men and women, in an open-sided lean-to

made of wood and corrugated tin. When we reached them, several

sidled up tome and discreetly held out their hands while rubbing

their stomachs.

I shook my head, indicating I had nothing to give them.

The meeting convened and moved past pleasantries to a series

of questions from the community as to what Plant With Purpose

intended to do in the village. A woman stood and, in a confrontational

tone, told me about the other humanitarian agencies that

had worked in the area. She named two agencies that had brought

food and clothes, then left and never returned. “How is Plant With

Purpose going to be any different?”

After giving the question some consideration, I responded,

“Well, first of all, we are not going to give you anything.”

She looked stunned.

“Second, we are not going to leave until you ask us to.”

The woman stood there, speechless.

Once we understand God’s heart for justice and the vicious

cycle of deforestation and poverty that traps the poor, how do we

respond? The desire to help is admirable in a world where far too

many pass by on the other side of the road. But determining how

to respond can be complicated.

I was originally drawn to the work of serving the poor and hungry

because it seemed simple, unambiguous, and virtuous. I had

studied political science and was often struck by the moral ambiguity

and unexpected consequences of most policy choices. Well intended

programs often had the opposite effect of what their

drafters expected. The most well-meaning projects could cause

great harm. As I was to discover, humanitarian work can be nearly

as complicated.

Many humanitarian organizations respond to poverty and

injustice by giving surplus food, medicine, and clothes, and maybe

starting orphanages and clinics. They focus on treating the symptoms

of poverty—which sorely need to be treated. But others ask

questions about the root causes: Why are people are hungry and

sick? Why so many orphaned children?

The Bible seems pretty straightforward in its approach: give a

cup of cold water in the name of the Lord. Our first response is

often to give things away. The poor clearly lack things, and we

have things, so what could be more obvious than giving out of

our abundance?

Yet giving things often comes with unintended consequences.

Without knowing the needs and challenges faced by local communities,

our gifts can be inappropriate. In one community where

we work, a relatively new bulldozer sat in front of a school yard

for many years, slowly rusting. No doubt it was given with the

best of intentions and was probably very expensive to ship. Yet it

was completely inappropriate to the local conditions. It ended up

serving as a germination bed for weeds and a few small trees

before being sold for scrap.

Even when gifts are appropriate to the needs of the people, they

can often create dependency. Haiti has received numerous donations

and many short-term mission teams have come to share the

gospel and build churches and school buildings. Yet there is a

growing school of thought that much of our aid may be hurting

the locals.

As we were establishing Plant With Purpose in Haiti, a longtime

missionary sternly informed us that he wasn’t sure Haiti

needed another well-intended nonprofit agency. “We have created

a nation of beggars,” he said. “For years folks have been coming

down here thinking they are helping by giving things away. But

that just teaches people to beg.” Another missionary told me that

after citizens in one village received cracked wheat from USAID,

few local farmers bothered to plant corn because they couldn’t

compete with free food.

Often, the problem is less with aid itself than with how it is

applied. We tend to focus on short-term, immediate-impact solutions

rather than long-term investments in people. Many Americans

have at least a passing understanding of what handouts do

to initiative, self-esteem, and motivation. We talk of how a welfare

mentality creates dependency. When we see panhandlers on

the street corner, most of us realize a handout won’t change their

lives. A gospel tract probably won’t do much good, either—

though it may be better than handing them a dollar. Unfortunately,

we don’t always translate that understanding into our approach

to the poor overseas.”


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