July 12, 2015  |  Insights

When Helping Doesn’t Help

FII believes that families are the experts on their own lives, so our staff liaisons are not allowed to give advice or direction. It is often hard to hold back from helping, so we asked some of our liaisons when they realized that help from an outsider really wasn’t helpful. Here is what Paola Hernandez, a liaison to families in the Bay Area, shared:

There is no single moment I can pinpoint, but an experience that really impacted my thinking was with Elida. She is a single mother, well over 50 years old, who is raising a teenage son. She’s also an immigrant who speaks only Spanish and works a blue-collar job to make ends meet.

One of the requirements to be a part of FII is having an active email account so you can receive important communications from FII. When told of this requirement, Elida’s first question was, “What’s an email?”

It would’ve been very easy for me to just create an email for her, but after explaining what email is, I left it at that. A few weeks later I met with Elida. Beaming with pride, she told me she’d created an email account for herself. I saw that as a key moment for Elida and for me. I saw that when she accomplished a goal without my help—regardless of how small the goal—it made a substantial change in her demeanor. Elida became more confident in her own abilities. She started to see in herself what FII sees in all our families: She is capable of leading her family on its own path toward success.

That first accomplishment was only the beginning. Now she is involved in a lending circle, helps to finance her son’s education, and is pushing herself to learn as much as she can.

What I’ve seen time and time again is that after a family accomplishes the very first goal they have set for themselves, the family changes. Their disposition changes, their level of assurance changes, and even their approach changes.

Matilde is another person who helped me understand how helping can be unhelpful. She embodies the positive change families can experience when they join FII. When she first joined, Mati was a very taciturn individual who kept to herself. After regularly meeting with her group, she slowly stepped into leadership in her own life. Now, about two years later, she has become a tenacious advocate for herself and her son.

Matilde has worked with several teachers, physicians, therapists, and officials to fight for her rights as a mother and her son’s rights as a student. Her son has a learning impediment and Mati took it upon herself to locate the specialists he needed and to support his education. He’s now in mainstream and advanced classes in school.

The only difference between Mati when I met her and Mati now is that she believes in herself and knows that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to.

I’ve had the honor of getting to know many other families who have proven that they have superior knowledge to mine about so many things, like surviving in the worst neighborhoods in America. Each of them is just as driven by determination as the last, and each has innovative ideas that obliterate the discrimination they are challenged with daily. But one fact remains constant: When families faithfully believe in themselves, anything is possible.

During my years with FII, I’ve seen that allowing families to successfully achieve their first goal independently is a crucial point that reveals this significant truth to them—helping really doesn’t help.

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