Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Should you give money to beggars?

For this week´s poll another issue more focussed on developing nations.

In the last three months I have seen more beggars and street people than I have in my whole life. I must say, I think it was worst in Brazil, where they have serious inequality issues, though Mexico, especially Mexico City (when compared with Guadalajara) has its fair share. So, should you give them money when they hold out their hand in desperation?

Some things to think about. There are many enterprising people in the countries where I´ve been, earning money how they can, given their situation (educationally and so on). There are so many shoe-shiners, food stalls, CD stalls, newspaper stands and people selling things on the metro and busses, all doing what they can to make money. Not an ideal situation, but teach a man to fish... you know how the saying goes. Perhaps money is better spent on good projects, rather than just handing out money to the individual, so that these people can become self-dependant. A tough thing to think about though when you are confronted by those looks - looks you don´t want to have to get used to.

Another thing, from the point of view of a visitor. One example that illustrates this point well is when I was asked for money by a kid in Sao Paulo who looked perfectly clean, healthy and well-fed. Tourists are seen as a way to make money, nothing else, and people in certain areas have been trained to approach them to make money - whether by selling them something or just begging. Again, not a nice situation, and how can you tell whether the person needs the money more than the next?

Furthermore, how can you tell what they are going to spend the money on? A good case example was Salvador in Brazil. There is a horrible problem with crack there from what I heard, and you can definitely see it in the eyes and health of some of the street people. If you just hand them money, are you simply supporting their crack problem? With structured programs at least you can tell what you are putting your money towards. The other option is, of course, giving them food (and watching them eat it, incase they swap that for drugs, which is not unheard of according to Lonely Planet).

Then there is judging it on their situation. In Mexico City I saw a few people holding out drug perscriptions for them or their children which they claimed they couldn´t afford to fill. There are also many old and disabled people who possibly wouldn´t be able to get employment, and if they can´t get a benefit they have no other choice. Compare this to people who look more like they can make money themselves. However, many street people have problems greater than meets the eye - mental problems, drug problems. But of course these people are probably better in some sort of care to help them get better.

So should you give beggars money directly? A head versus heart question, especially when the situation is infront of your eyes. Or should you just save your money and time for trustable programs, and political action, even though you know that they wont reach every individual, and every situation, and wont help the person in front of you right then, and maybe ever. Being one person, where are you best to place your eggs ( if you indeed want to give any away). So have a think, and move your mouse to the right to vote now.