A lot of people have told me not to give to beggars under any circumstance. I’ve heard that they are liars, they spend your money on drugs and alcohol, giving them money discourages them from trying to get a job and that once you give to one beggar, you should be prepared for more to come.
I won’t give money to the beggars who are visibly drunk or high, and I don’t normally give to beggars (like on the train here) who drag a blind or crippled person behind them while they ask for money.
Here are two personal experiences that made me think more about how to deal with beggars in Cape Town.
Yesterday a man came up to me who looked like he was in his early thirties. Speaking very good english and looking clean, he introduced himself as Jonathan and shook my hand. He explained that he was out of work and staying at a shelter with his girlfriend and baby. He asked for 5 Rand (about 60 cents) so that he could buy some food for them. I heard his story, but in the end I told him I couldn’t give him any money. He gave me this look like he couldn’t believe how selfish I was. “Really, you can’t help another guy out who is going through such a hard time in life?” As I walked away I felt awful that I chose not to give him money but I tried to justify it in my head , telling myself that my decision will encourage him to get a job and that he may have just been lying to me in an effort to get money for something else. Despite my effort to convince myself I did the right thing I had this terrible pit in my stomach as I walked into the grocery store.
Then, just now a man came and rang my doorbell. I went to the door and he asked if I could spare any food. He said that he was from Darfur, Sudan and had snuck onto a boat to get to Cape Town. Now he had nowhere to stay and no money. I went to the fridge and pulled out four or five pieces of bread and some juice. Afraid of the rumor about flocking beggars, I gave it to him and said I’ll give you this but you can’t come back here asking for more, you have to go out and find your way. He said he understood that we were students and we didn’t have a lot of money to give out so he wouldn’t be back. I wished him good luck and he went on down the street, eating the bread and washing it down with juice as he walked.
Now I’m sitting on the patio wondering if I did the right thing today, yesterday, or if I failed twice to make the right decision. Was Jonathan telling the truth yesterday and the other man lying today? I don’t know but what I should have done I think was ask him to tell me more about Sudan. Its an interesting story to learn about and if he was telling me the truth, I had a man who had lived in Darfur at my front door. I could’ve learned more about his circumstances and then decided whether or not to give him food.
Part of me thinks that I’m over-thinking the whole issue, but since I’m here working to give poor women an opportunity to earn an income, I doesn’t seem right to ignore the poor beggars I pass on my way to work. I feel like at least they deserve the respect of a second thought, but thinking more about it I haven’t really come up with a good answer
What do you think? Do you give to beggars? Would love to hear some stories or get some advice.