Helping Kurdistan’s Beggars
On a recent trip to a developing country in Southeast Asia, we were exhorted by the locals to not give to begging children because it encourages them to leave school. Especially as the season of Ramadan closes, I wanted to voice my opinion of why giving money to begging children in Kurdistan may not always be the most helpful to truly alleviate poverty.
As our guide in Southeast Asia pointed out, giving to begging children encourages them to keep begging, and in so doing deprives them of their opportunity to actually better their economic situation through education. If a student applies herself, whatever the background, school gives the chance to go to college, get a job, and get out of poverty. In giving money to a begging child, who could have otherwise been in school, you are robbing him or her of real opportunities to alleviate poverty for more than a day.
While giving to children on the street can very simplistically be viewed as helpful, it may end up doing more harm by contributing to systemic problems like entitlement. Let me share an example. As in many neighborhoods in this region, our neighborhood has regular beggars who come by at least weekly knocking on doors asking for money. Generally, because of convictions explained in this article, we don’t give money (though we still give, more on that below). One day, for whatever reason, I gave a young refugee girl a small bill and sent her on her way, thinking nothing of it. Since then, however, she’s returned with a stronger sense of expectation—to the point that she will angrily fight by pushing against our gate so it can’t close, demanding that she receives money. I did this young girl wrong by teaching her that with enough begging and persistence, she’s entitled to a wage for her begging. She no longer sees it as a free gift of grace, but deserved. In so doing, I’ve regrettably contributed to larger societal issues that create a “career" soto-speak for the impoverished by creating a job for them that does nothing to contribute to society or to actually alleviate systemic problems long-term.
There are no doubt many positions on this, but our family has two general approaches that we believe help our chari- table dollars be used more strategically while not furthering endemic poverty. First, we don’t give money but we try to give something—usually something financially insignificant like a cold drink, a snack, or some fruit. These are inexpensive ways to show care for refugees and the poor while not giving them the money they want and condoning their begging. Second, we give our money to organizations and charities that will be much more equipped to work with the poor in long-term ways by creating jobs and educational opportunities.
So next time you’re faced with an outreached hand, remember that redirecting your efforts may be more strategic than simply giving what’s expected.