When we think about ‘helping’ someone, our thoughts often go directly to a relationship of victim and savior. The victim, a person (or people) who, by some course of misfortune, have been left vulnerable, incapable, or maybe both; it is the savior who comes to the aid the victim(s) in their hardship and does exactly that, he saves. He is the strong assisting the weak, the extended hand reaching out to the fallen. But in the six weeks that I have spent living in Gedera, I have come to understand a new truth, that the actions we are so quick to define as ‘helping,’ may in fact not be helping at all.
We often assume that to help requires action, and in many respects it does. But that action must come from both parties. If you were to come across a village where water was scarce, naturally you would assume that they needed a well. But the course of action cannot simply be to build that well for them and go on your way, thinking you’ve done them a service. It is important that you make them a part of the process, allowing them to be the source of their own salvation.
It is often our greatest blunder to assume that those we consider less fortunate, are so, simply because they do not equal us in material gain. Anyone coming from a life of privilege might look at the citizens of Shapira, and shake their heads in pity, saying to themselves, ‘these poor people, they have nothing.’ But they would be wrong. In many ways, the people of Shapira may have more to value than we could ever fathom or accumulate. The citizens of Shapira hold a strong sense of pride in both their culture and their heritage, I see it as people, young and old, gather for traditional ceremonies. There is a great feeling of community as you hear song lifting up from the gatherings of people in celebration. There is great respect as I watch a young man put down his grocery bags to say hello and shake the hand of a community elder sitting on a bench on the sidewalk. And most of all, there is kindness and decency; it shows in the eyes and the smiles of the people who welcomed six white Americans into their community and their homes with open arms.
When I first signed on to participate in this program, and people asked me what I would be doing, I said ‘I am going to help the Ethiopian-Israeli community.’ But now, I realize that was a foolish statement. It is the people of Shapira who have helped me. They have given me the tools that I will likely carry with me into my career, and for the rest of my life. If you want to help someone who has fallen, you don’t throw him over your shoulder, you show him how to walk. If you want to help someone who is hungry, you don’t feed him, you teach him or her how to farm and hunt. If you want to help someone, you show him how to help himself.