Should I or should I not give money to beggars? That is the question that pesters my mind as I walk the streets of Addis every day. The decision to not give money is always followed by a feeling of guilt. A series of thoughts then flood my mind. One birr would not have harmed my pocket if I had given it away. But then again, one birr would not have changed the life of the beggar although, of course, it would have satiated his or her hunger at least for a while. On the other hand, I console myself saying that, if everybody else restricted themselves from giving away money for free, then the beggar will finally decide to work for it. But can I trust everybody else to not give away money for free to those who are able to work for it? I don’t know if I can answer this question with certitude.
Sure, not all beggars are able to work. One might be considered hard-hearted if not touched by the sight of disease stricken and completely helpless beggars surrounding the streets of Addis. The challenge is to identify the thin line that distinguishes those who are really sick and helpless from those who are putting out an act for the sake of money making. The latter category has implanted a seed of suspicion in the minds of some of us, leaving us cold-hearted even to those who really need help.
I remember the attempts that an Ethiopian NGO made few years back to return more than a thousand beggars back to their homes outside Addis.
Rumor has it that the beggars actually used this opportunity to take a brief leave, visit their families back home to finally resume begging back in Addis. Looking at the number of physically fit beggars out in the city, one would wonder if begging could actually be a lucrative business. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see women in their twenties or thirties to be seen begging with a flock of children by their side. It is actually heartbreaking to see these women using their children as earning means while they sit comfortably in the corners of the streets.
Should we or should we not give money to these children who follow us desperately lamenting, pleading us to give them money to satiate their hunger? Aren’t we contributing to the creation of a new generation of beggars if we give away to their pleading?
I am particularly amazed by the strategic attempts that some youngsters make to try to win the heart of a passerby by begging in accompaniment of a less fortunate relative. Most of us are not new to the sight of a perfectly fit youngster begging on behalf of an elderly in wheel chairs or a young woman begging by the side of a supposedly sick relative wrapped in a ‘gabi’.
Although some might say that it is easier said than done, I still wonder why these youngsters do not beg for work to support their less fortunate relatives instead of using them as a source of free money. I believe that the giver is as guilty as the beggar when it comes to the flourishing of the “begging industry” if one might call it. One exists because of the other. Our society should lend a hand to those who want to help themselves. While the one birr we throw to the beggar further tightens the trap of poverty and dependency, the same birr is a worthy investment if it goes to the vendors and the shoe shines in the streets.
Speaking of street vendors, it is tragic to watch these furiously being chased away from the streets by uniformed policemen as they attempt to sell their goods to pedestrians. Yes, one might argue it is because they do not pay taxes. But have we considered the possibility that these vendors might resort to crime and begging if not given the opportunity to work? Why is it that a perfectly healthy and fit youngster is allowed to roam the streets aimlessly and idly either begging or harassing passersby while those who try to be productive are treated as criminals?
Let us think twice when giving away free money to those who are able to work for it. Each day survived with begged money is equal to one more day of dependency. Let us go the smarter way, save the one birr we give away each day during the year to financially support the small investments of those who wish to be productive.