The word is right there in our mission statement: “We’re a community development organization giving people in poverty the opportunity to earn a house by serving their community.”
We often hear from 1MISSION supporters who tell us they like the fact that the families we serve aren’t merely given houses for free – instead, those families earn them.
And that’s by design. The “earning” component of our model is based on best practices in the field of community development. At the same time, I sometimes worry that people may not fully understand the real reasons why earning a house is such a big deal.
To fully understand why the word “earn” matters, let’s consider another word in our mission statement: opportunity. When you get to know people living in poverty, you quickly learn that a major reason for their current situation is because of a lack of opportunity.
The families we serve are not lazy or undeserving. Anyone who has visited our field projects and gotten to know a family in Mexico, El Salvador, or Nicaragua knows how much work is required just to cope with the daily challenges of their living conditions and to earn enough money to put food on the table.
To put yourself in the shoes of a family in poverty, consider this: think of a time when someone encouraged you to pursue a goal. Maybe it was a nudge to finish a degree, land your dream job, or to finally run that marathon you’ve always talked about. Now think about how it felt when you finally achieved that goal. Remember that feeling of empowerment?
If you have spent years of your life in poverty, those feelings of empowerment are almost always out of reach. Despite your best efforts to improve things for yourself and your family, time and again outside forces have slammed the door shut. Maybe some well-intentioned people have offered you charity here and there, but charity often comes at the cost of your dignity.
By contrast, being given the opportunity to earn something that will fundamentally redirect the course of your life – something like a house – that’s the first step toward recovering your dignity.
It’s also important to note that by giving people the opportunity to earn a house by serving their neighbors, entire communities are lifted up. True community development doesn’t stop with dignity and empowerment for one family. Instead, it spreads from family to family, house to house. That’s something outsiders can’t do for others. It has to originate within the community itself.
So yes, when families earn their houses, it’s truly something to celebrate. Not because families in poverty are lazy. Not because gifts are inherently bad. But because earning is a key to empowerment. And because dignity is something too precious for anyone to lose.