Beggars

Yesterday’s post was on dealing with car-to-car salespeople. In addition to car-to-car selling, you will also frequently see people begging from car to car.

Now, how to proceed is entirely up to you. But you need to be informed.

When you see very young children begging from car to car, chances are very good that they are being exploited, especially if there are a lot of them working in one area. If you look around, you will often see an adult standing on the side of the road and when the light changes and traffic moves again, all the beggar children will make their way to her, give her what money they collected, and then head back into traffic once the light goes red again.

These kids should be in school, not making money for an adult who is perfectly capable of being productive with his or her own mind and body. Sometimes these kids are runaways. Sometimes they are the children of families who are poor and who “rent” their kids out for the work. Either way, they are in a dangerous situation and being used to prey on people’s guilt.

For a while, outside our village there were a great many kids like this. We took to carrying snack-packs in our car and giving those out. We would also give away our leftovers if we were approached on our way home from dinner. You would not believe how fast they could eat a package of saltines and peanut butter or a few slices of pizza, which spoke volumes to me about how hard they were working vs. how well their handler was keeping them fed.

Just because you just see a few kids on their own begging, doesn’t mean that they are necessarily destitute. For a while, our driver’s son was cutting school with his friends. They would beg from cars for a while to get money to pay for all sorts of things they shouldn’t have been up to. Their families were not in need. They were just looking for trouble money.

Unlike the car-to-car salesmen who might zero-in on a foreigner and then give up with a hand-waggle or by inching the car forward, beggars can be far more insistent. If you have decided you don’t want to give, then just don’t make eye contact and wait until it’s time to move again. Most nefarious of all are the women who will approach your car holding a baby. If you don’t give immediately, they will sometimes pinch the baby to make it cry and evoke more sympathy. Do not reward these women.

If you find yourself in a very low-income area, you will sometimes be approached by very young children asking for money. I have noticed that often they are sent over by a parent, hoping to get a few pesos out of the foreigner. The problem is that if you give to the 3 or 4 who approach, you will have 20 who follow. The first 3 or 4 who approach may just stand with their hand up, or they may be very persistent. You may find yourself tripping over them. They may tug on your clothing. But there is little risk at this point. The moment you give them money, the second wave may overpower you. I’m not kidding. The people watching how the first 3-4 did will know you are a giver now, so they will send their kids over to get their share, and knowing that you are giving, they will be much more insistent.

It is simply not safe for you to give in this situation. Do not do it.

Similarly, you may be approached on the street by a woman holding a baby who will follow you and do the pinch thing. Or you may see a woman sitting with what appears to be a very ill child. Often they are, indeed, ill, in that they have been drugged to make them quiet and passive while the woman holding them begs.

Do not reward child abusers.

So, what is left to you if you want to help? If you are a foreigner here, chances are good that you have more than a large segment of the population, and you can use that to do good.

The first impulse is often to give to one of the orphanages. That is great and all, but be smart about it. A friend who was in charge of organizing help for one of the orphanages on behalf of a charitable group here took a tour of some rooms and found that the girls each had dozens of pairs of shoes and multiple backpacks full of enough school supplies to handle not just their needs but the needs of the children they would someday bear. Find out what unmet need that particular orphanage has that would benefit all of their charges. Take the time to tour the facilities to see for yourself. Do they need something repaired? Do they have safe playground equipment? Do they have a library, and if they do, are they in need of new books for it? You may not be able to foot the bill for a bigger project, but you may have access to enough other people who could pool contributions to get it done. You could, likewise, approach a local public school with similar questions.

Another option would be to make donations to the Philippine Red Cross, who helps people affected by disasters in the country by providing food, clothing, and medical care to those stuck in shelters. Incidentally, if there is a calamity in the country and people back home are looking for a way to help, make sure they send their donations to the Philippines Red Cross, not the American Red Cross. They have a donation page at the link above.

If you are a member of a church, you could donate to your church’s charity program or ask your pastor for families who have specific needs that you can help fill.

Pay the people you employ a living wage, even if it means you are paying them more than all your neighbors or all your competitors pay their employees.

Offer to cover the school costs for a child in a poor household. Even though public schools are technically free, there are many, many hidden costs throughout the school year for anything from uniforms to art supplies to certificate printing fees. Sometimes families on the edge can’t swing those extra fees, so the child just isn’t sent to school at all. If the child is being homeschooled, then great, but often these kids are just watching TV and helping around the house with no real learning taking place.

Pay someone’s medical bills, or for their on-going medication needs.

Be creative. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to make a lasting impact.

At this point, my family very, very, very rarely gives money when we are approached by beggars. The one consistent exception is during Christmas time, if we are approached in our car by people who sing some Christmas songs for us. This is a long-standing tradition in the country, and it’s traditional to pay a bit for the entertainment. Other than that, we do make a lot of financial contributions to help the poor in other ways. You can have a big impact, if you are wise with who you help, when, and how.

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