Nairobi, I’m begging you

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“Auntie, nisaidie… naskia njaa..”

The words are barely audible but it is not lost on anyone what is being asked of them. Delivered with a voice that I can only describe as having a woiyee quality about it, it is bound to tug at not only our heart strings, but our purse strings as well.

It breaks my heart each time I am walking in the city center and I find a child, barely 7 years old, tagging behind me; hand outstretched, head, slightly corked in your direction, clothes tattered.

What does it say about our country when there’s a generation growing up on the street? Even worse, that no one seems to be the least bothered about it? We walk passed them with the feeble “Si leo” reply or sometimes, the guilt actually gets to us and we part with that 10/- coin, the pinch of which we’ll barely feel.

‘But what about the beggars? Aren’t we enabling them by always giving them money? Aren’t we encouraging them to continue in this terrible habit?’

One of the main reasons people have reservations as to whether or not to give money to beggars is what that money would be used for. A couple of years back, my mother saw it upon herself to buy a loaf of bread for a woman she had seen begging. Upon presenting her with the still warm bread, the lady actually threw it away, demanding money, not food.

“Why give money when they’ll just use it to buy alcohol, glue, cigarettes, or drugs?” So we use that as justification for us to walk by coldly, ignoring the plea in their eyes, having done our part to discourage the drug menace. Is that really all we can do? Ignore it and hope we don’t make it any worse? It’s just one of those things that can’t be helped, right?

Wrong.

I could blame the government. After all, is a beggar any less a citizen than that person driving a BMW? Are they less worthy of the basic rights? The government has a role to play here, no doubt. It does not necessarily have to be in the provision of land or building a house for each family. It doesn’t even have to be in giving them some money to allow them to survive. Why not build shelters and soup kitchens? With this arrangement, at least each and every citizen can be assured of a bed to sleep in and the assurance that they will not sleep hungry.

We lament over the great rift between the mwananchi class and the mwenyenchi class of Kenya; the problem of equal opportunities for all, regardless of class. If a child need not worry about where the meal of the day would come from, they would get the chance to actually dream and see life beyond the street. Give them a fighting chance.

I could blame society. I could blame you and me. We are so comfortable in our lives that we don’t see beyond ourselves. There is life beyond Facebook and twitter. You could save someone’s life, not just by giving them pocket change but by actually giving them something I believe they need more than anything; hope. What if instead of passing the beggar who is always at the corner, you could buy him some fries and engage him in conversation of how he got to where he is and maybe even what his plans for the future are? They are human too and no one ever plans to be a beggar.

I could also blame the beggars themselves. For some of them, begging is not an unfortunate circumstance to which they fell into, but rather, a job. It’s just another way for them to earn a living by playing on the emotions of others. I’ve heard of stories where parents actually force their children into begging, coaching them on what to say and how to say it. What kind of parents are these?

I’m taking the first step and saying that ‘it’s not alright.’ This is a problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. If we decide that this situation is unacceptable, then will we see change. Agreed?

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