Saturday, April 17, 2010

In Praise of Band-Aids

This may come as a shock, but there are some people who are very critical about us building houses for the poor in Tijuana. It's not because they despise poor people, or think the poor are just getting some sort of karma-influenced "way things are". Their logic is that providing houses for desperately poor people is a huge mistake because -- wait for it -- it's "only a band-aid solution".

Try telling that to the family that was living in a ramshackle collection of tarps and scavenged bits of wood, but now has some dignity, protection from the elements (40% of respiratory illnesses and diarrhea are avoided by simply having concrete instead of dirt for a floor), and a place to call "home" as they raise their children.

And the other side of that coin is the simple observation of "Yes, we know that this is only the tip of the iceberg, if we're talking about long-term solutions." Frankly, so is our feeding of homeless people and prostitutes in Tijuana's Zona Norte. It's not the Holy Grail of "total community/societal transformation". But it's a start. And we will continue to observe, ask questions, and develop strategies to "take it to the next level", whatever that may look like.

On the topic of Band-Aid solutions, Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point has this to say:
"This is the first lesson of the Tipping Point. Starting epidemics (of change) requires concentrating resources on a few key areas...

"A critic looking at these tightly focused, targeted interventions might dismiss them as Band-Aid solutions. But that phrase should not be considered a term of disparagement. The Band-Aid is an inexpensive, convenient, and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. In their history, Band-Aids have probably allowed millions of people to keep working or playing tennis or cooking or walking when they would otherwise have had to stop. The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem with the minimum amount of effort and time and cost.

"We have, of course, an instinctive disdain for this kind of solution because there is something in all of us that feels that true answers to problems have to be comprehensive, that there is virtue in the dogged and indiscriminate application of effort, that slow and steady will win the race. The problem, of course, is that the indiscriminate application of effort is something that is not always possible. There are times when we need a convenient shortcut, a way to make a lot out of a little, and that is what Tipping Points, in end, are all about."
In Zechariah 4:10, is that well-known snippet of a verse: "Who despises the days of small things?" It is the small things that take root and eventually grow into large things (didn't Jesus say something about the Kingdom of God being like that?). So perhaps, from a certain point of view, what we're doing represents "band-aids", but it could also easily be seen as it really is: over 3000 "seeds" already planted in over 2700 families in the colonias around Tijuana, Rosarito, and Ensenada.