Sunday 2 May 2010

To Give or Not to Give

Charity degrades those who receive it and hardens those who dispense it.(George Sand, 1842)

The begging industry here in Morocco has been giving me much food for thought lately. Not only the subject of begging itself but very much my own response to it. To be honest I don’t have an outspoken opinion on the matter. Depending on the circumstances I tumble from left to right emotionally without a steady point of view to determine my response. Though in Morocco beggars are very much part of the street scene through out the country, I still experience enormous discomfort whenever I am confronted with people asking me for charity and the question whether I am helping or contributing to the problem (is it a problem?) is nearly always a dilemma whenever I’m deciding to donate or not.

Perhaps the problem is not the begging itself, what could be wrong with someone asking for a financial handout? Is it my own embarrassment for the loss of dignity of the beggar, or the visible confrontation with people still lacking basic benefits due to societies failure to provide and to end the suffering of poverty? When is begging legitimate and how can we judge the necessity of it? When is someone really struggling to survive without other alternatives and when is it a choice for an ‘easy’ or more profitable income?

How can an individual contribute to fulfilling a beggars basic needs without diminishing the person’s self-esteem or what is left of it? In fact when I give it is encouraged by pity, even gratitude for being so much luckier in this world. Donating therefore becomes an act of expressing the inequality between the beggar and myself.

Another type of begging which is increasingly popular amongst small children in the rural areas of Morocco and very much encouraged by tourists, is asking for small handouts. One can easily measure the frequency of tourist visits to a certain area by observing the behaviour of the local children. Where ever tourists have repeatedly handed out pens, balloons, candies or small coins children have become insistent beggars, anxious to receive their treats. They have been educated into vigorous beggars, often causing a great deal of annoyance with tourists who do not share the desire to hand out small gifts. I really reject this kind of charity if it can be called so. It is not only depriving of self esteem but in my opinion arrogant to presume that Moroccan children are in need of charity. I understand the pleasure of giving but this self contentment might not be a positive contribution to the developing attitude of young children. Hospitality or friendly greetings become worthless for both parties when it is expected to be compensated by charity.

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