Tomorrow morning I will make my way to work and within 15mins of my 45min journey I would have had an average of 3 beggars approach me. Between 12 – 15 beggars would have approached me by the time I reach the office. The same occurs on my way back home and in-between meetings each day. That is an average of 20 encounters per day and 100 per week.
The trouble with statistics is that people become nameless and faceless. It does not speak about my heart being wrenched each time I stop at the traffic light, my wish not to be affected. I have had countless conversations with friends who deny car guards (a uniquely South African phenomena) their few rands because they see it as organized begging. There are also those people who prefer a sympathy handout to finding a job. My friend Pie-Pacifique Kabalira-Uwase went from being a car guard in Durban to being a Mandela-Rhodes scholar and so much more. He highlighted the plight of the lack of access to education for refugees and asylum seekers that lead 74 of us to participate in the 702 Walk the Talk last week. When possible, I have now started to engage with beggars to try to understand how they got to be where they are. The stories behind some of their situations are a crime to humanity. And sometimes it is due to the recklessness of crime and alcohol abuse making it hard to suspend judgment.
I have also done work for a handful of NGOs and have left depressed seeing how money is spent or the basis of some decisions. How the assumption of more money coming in would stifle innovation. This unfortunately clouds those NGOs doing amazing work, who cannot by nature function as a for-profit organization and have created efficient systems of operation.
My personal response to my dilemma now is to try to understand which avenues of giving will result in there being a shift in that system or at least will have the greater impact. I am happy with the one NGO I adopted about 8 years ago, Lapeng Child & Family Resource Service and strive to treat everyone else with human dignity.