On an average day, I can look down the road as I am walking and easily see 10 people sitting along the side of the road at any point in the city with their hand out waiting for me to pass so that they can ask me for money. Many of them are old, many have kids, and some have grotesque physical deformities or wounds. To be perfectly honest, some of the deformities and injuries I have seen have literally taken my breath away. In the moment, I haven’t given money to them because I was so overwhelmed by the sight of them. I know that may sound weird (or pathetic) but sometimes I am so caught off guard by what I see that I literally mentally freeze and don’t know what to do except to keep walking. People with faces that have been burned/melted, people with legs swollen to 2-3 times their natural size, people with flip-flops on their hands so that they can walk with their hands and drag their bottom half around with a piece of rubber underneath them to keep from scraping their flesh raw. These people’s entire existence is to spend their day begging for enough money to live another day so that they can beg yet again. I have no way to describe to you the sickness that I feel in my stomach when I see it. These are some of the extreme cases, but in every case it is a sad situation and I feel powerless to truly help them or change their status. I can’t even speak their language, since the language I am learning is not really spoken in this city. The only thing I can do is pray for them, maybe give them a few dollars, and walk away with a sickness in my heart and stomach.
When it comes to the begging, I’m not sure which part of it bothers me the most – the fact that they ask and keep asking no matter how many times you say no or the fact that when they ask they are right in your face and you have to see their pain, hunger, and devastation and do something with it. I can give them money, and as I said before I often do, but at the end of the day, they will be hungry again. Money is hardly the reason I don’t give at times. The average amount given to a beggar is one of their “dollars” which equals about 6 cents. So, I could give to 20 or 40 people a day and still only be spending $2-$3 dollars a day. That isn’t the issue for me. It runs way deeper than that.
One problem is that me giving won’t solve their problems and they will still be hungry, homeless, sick, etc. tomorrow, yet by giving I feel sometimes that I am just creating a dependency. Even Jesus said that the poor will always be with us and that is hard to accept, especially for an American who wants everything to be fixed, orderly, and in place. To look at someone and realize that even if you help them today, tomorrow the problem will still be there – that doesn’t always sit well. Aside from me adopting them all, there really is no way for me to truly help them (physically).
Another problem with giving is that you set a precedent that is not easily broken. If you give today, they will ask you again tomorrow and the day after that. And every firinge after you will get asked as well. Even now, I can see them spot my skincolor from across the street and make a beeline for me with their hand out. I feel pretty comfortable calling that racial profiling : ) When there are 20 people walking beside you and you get singled out to get asked for money, you begin to realize that they are asking you because they have been given to before by firinge. Again, I wonder what type of dependency we are creating by always giving.
Along with that issue is the very real fact that if you give to one person and others see you, I can guarantee you that you will soon be surrounded by people with their hand out. In some neighborhoods, I would even go so far as to say that you will be virtually mobbed. In some places, it is just not a reality to be able to give, not unless you want to fight your way through a crowd of 15 or 20 people clinging to you and begging you for money. It really just isn’t as cut and dry as I wish it was.
So, when it seems perfectly natural that if you see a hungry person, you would give them money given the above factors after being here for a while, you realize that this might not always be the best idea. I personally have a very real issue with just throwing money at a situation and saying that you have helped. That is not necessarily the case. Many well intentioned people, NGOs, governments, etc have given money to a situation without really looking at the long term effects that that money will have on the society (i.e. the welfare situation that we are currently in in the US). Just to give money to anyone that asks is not always the solution and I am at times hesitant to just toss a few bucks out there because there is a need and I can contribute. I think there are times when we need to stop and think about what truly is best.
(more to come. not finished with my ramblings just yet.)