Helping Hands: Celebrating 20 years of practical compassion
Friday, March 9, 2012
Gelnhausen, Germany
By Dorli Gschwandtner, Eurasia Region Communications

When a cyclone slammed into southern Bangladesh it flooded a river that swept away Kakoli’s family home and all their belongings, causing damage and loss throughout their small coastal village. Kakoli’s father was desperate. How would he feed his family?

A local relief ministry that partners with the German Helping Hands e.V. was ready to help. For six weeks they assisted Kakoli’s family and their neighbors with food aid. Later Kakoli’s father decided to go to the capital to look for a job. Before he left the village, he enrolled his daughter in the local child development center (CDC), partly funded by Helping Hands, which also paid to rebuild the center after the cyclone. 

“We’re so glad that Kakoli can attend the CDC,” her mother said. “She’s learning so much and is also getting healthier, as she receives a nutritious meal in the center every day.”

And Kakoli is happy: “In the center we also dance and sing and hear stories. I really enjoy that!”

It is these individual stories of renewed hope and loving provision in the face of disaster or deprivation that are standard for Helping Hands e.V. 

The Nazarene-affiliated nonprofit is celebrating its 20th year.

Driven by compassion

Nazarenes in Gelnhausen, Germany, founded Helping Hands in 1992 because during holidays and on Work & Witness trips they saw suffering and knew: “We cannot just turn away.”

“So what can we do?” they asked, and began to look for practical solutions. They started with some aid shipments to Eastern Europe, providing relief for needy families, passing on a smile with a bowl of soup. But soon they understood: A bag of food and a pair of shoes is not enough. What people need is longterm, sustainable assistance and real transformation.

Twenty years later, Helping Hands has grown into a multifaceted organization with a large number of volunteers and partners the world over, supporting an increasing number of projects primarily in South Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. 

Helping Hands e.V. is an independent and separately registered organization, but functions as Nazarene Compassionate Ministries in Germany, ministering in partnership with NCM and the global Church of the Nazarene. This relationship gives the organization access to a large network of local NCM ministries and Nazarene congregations in more than 150 countries. 

The existing global structure enables Helping Hands to help quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively, especially in disaster situations. Working with almost exclusively indigenous staff ensures that projects are culturally relevant and effective.

In Germany, Helping Hands works with and through local churches of the Nazarene to organize fundraising activities, arrange personal involvement, raise awareness, advocate and assist practical NCM ministry in Germany, and implement compassionate concern.

Through the Child Sponsorship Program, which since 2007 has experienced a period of particularly strong growth, Helping Hands arranged assistance for more than 100 children in 15 countries. In addition, hundreds of children are assisted in child development centers in several countries, transforming not only children’s lives but their families and whole communities as well.

Initially sporadic aid shipments to one country in Eastern Europe have developed into a regular Christmas shipment whose cargo increases by about 20 percent every year and now reaches two countries each Christmas.

Helping Hands’ mission is to practice Christlike love and compassion by serving the poorest of the poor with integrity and professionalism while seeking long-term solutions. Together with its partners, the organization provides assistance regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity and all its programs are locally planned, implemented, and evaluated so that people are empowered to help themselves rather than becoming dependent or remaining in dependency. 

As no administrative costs are deducted in Germany, 100 percent of project donations reach those people that need a helping hand.

Longterm, holistic solutions

In 20 years, the organization has worked on more than 200 projects in over 40 countries – that’s Helping Hands’ legacy so far. 

All Helping Hands projects strongly emphasize holistic development: not just “a bowl of rice” but long-term assistance with real transformation. Projects need to address all of a person’s needs in order to change society and effect personal transformation.

Such as in the case of Nomita. Her husband is a day laborer and doesn’t earn much. So they faced a difficult decision: pay for their daughter’s wedding or continue the younger son’s school education. They couldn’t afford both. 

Then Nomita joined a self-help group as part of a community development project funded by Helping Hands and the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation & Development. She attended useful trainings and also received several small loans with which she established a roadside tea shop. In the shop she earns enough to repay her loans and also cover all her family’s expenses. 

“Now I’m a successful businesswoman!” Nomita said proudly. “I’m so grateful for the self-help group. My life is totally transformed!”

Helping Hands is not only significant to those who receive help from the organization; it offers a meaningful and effective way for those who give to assist people far away who they otherwise could not touch except through prayer.

For instance, one middle-aged woman from Gelnhausen said, “My ancestors [roots] are from Romania; I’ve also visited there to see the area where they lived. I’m really excited that through the Helping Hands Christmas shipment I can do something to help my distant relatives!”

Reaching out with compassion, serving with integrity, effecting real transformation – that’s what Helping Hands is about: 20 years of practical compassion. And the best is yet to come.
--Church of the Nazarene Eurasia Region