Dealing with beggars and street children
We are endowed with many street children and beggars in many of our urban centers. Our immediate past history has to do with this phenomenon.
A close look at these ‘unfortunate people’ however reveals that they are actually able-bodied beggars and street children who are now confidently gracing our streets in pursuit of some help from our more fortunate citizens and visitors.
An American volunteer told me the other day that he does not believe in the philosophy of giving, whatever it may be, to beggars.
He would rather, he said, get one and teach him or her, a skill just as the Chinese proverb tells us that teaching someone how to fish rather than giving him or her fish assures the recipient of eating for the rest of his or her life.
This is not obviously to create an impression that I have turned into a crusty old git of the worst variety, complaining about feckless layabouts!
Any help in form of money that we give to the street children or beggars, sometimes the difference is the same, could better be given to organizations than to individuals who in any case use it for illicit alcohol and drugs.
This issue sounds rather controversial. It tends to divide people violently, even at Christmas. For every person who will hand over a Frw 100 or Cinq ant (50 Francs ), there are many who will say that they never give to individuals, on the basis that they will only spend it on alcohol or drugs.
This is not a zero tolerance to the less fortunate members of our society. I am also aware that someone out there could pull a fast one by saying that after all, more than 40% of our population live on less than 1 $ a day, so what is the argument? That this is an affront to decency and shared humanity!
Let us look at the facts. It is often argued that throwing money at beggars or street children is one form of pavement theatre. An awkward, sideways shuffle, a furtive fumble in the pocket and a quickened step are more usual reactions.
The extravagance of the beggar’s abandonment is an embarrassment to the workaday world. There is also an audacity—a commendable cheek, which, fortunately has yet to be manifested here. “I take cards too, you know”. This was a beggar on Victoria station asking a visitor to London.
There are people who argue that beggars have chosen their plight. These are neo-liberals. Radicals like Frederick Engels thought that beggars were dangerous because they refused to be organized.
They were easy dupes for counter-revolution and reaction. In the United Kingdom, beggars neither vote nor protest. They merely subsist.
Philanthropy may mean a love of humanity in general, but it starts with an individual human response. However imperfect and fleeting, the momentary impulse to give when we see beggars and street children parading our streets is probably a good thing. There are people who derive pleasure, therapy and probably blessings through giving.
They are also aware that what they have given may end up buying the destitute some dangerous alcoholic beverages—the reality is that no one knows.
The city authorities, in their wisdom to rid our city of the riff raffs, at times round up street children only to see them back comfortably on the same streets after a short while. It is as if there is some understanding, a kind of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city authorities and the beggars.
Moral decisions are usually shot through with ambiguity. Prudence, utility and love can and do co-exist. The beggar may be useful as well as reproachful. The pathos of the sight can and does enlarge our minds and sympathies.
The suddenness of the encounter, the momentary glimpse into the abyss, is a salutary reminder of what life without a job and family would be like.
The beggar is, and has for sometime been, a necessary figure in the education of a common humanity. In our good old Kinyarwanda culture of humanism and solidarity that has unfortunately been eroded by the advent of free market economics and individualism, there were probably no beggars. Society took care of would be beggars or street children.
It is now the self-righteous scribes and the Pharisees who, I am afraid, could countenance the mean-spirited campaign of removing beggars from our streets. We need to care for them and give them skills.
Contact email: oscar_kim2000[at]yahoo.co.uk