Today, as I walked home from having dinner out with friends, it started to rain really hard. Not only that, the wind made it nearly impossible to stay dry. The cold air chilled me, leaving me shivering while trying in vain to cover myself from the downpour with my little umbrella. As I walked briskly through the rain, I noticed an old lady, dressed in black, sitting on the ground with a hat laying upturned in front of her. This woman is a beggar. I’ve seen many beggars like her, sitting with their eyes to the ground, in this place. But for some reason, I felt moved to help her. Maybe it was the cold rain or the fact that we’ve been trying to make a difference in the world through our actions, I can’t be sure, but what I do know is I felt a strange sympathy for this woman.
Usually, I would just walk quickly past the beggars, not giving them a second glance. But this time, I felt differently. I placed a couple of dollars in her hat as she thanked me excitedly. I was glad to be able to help a bit, but saddened by the realisation that I don’t know what’s going to happen to this woman after tonight. I don’t know if she’ll have a safe place to sleep tonight. I don’t know if she’ll be able to get a hot meal soon. I don’t even know her name, but I know I care about her well being.
Growing up in Asia, we were taught not to give change to beggars because they were usually controlled by a syndicate which would purposely cripple the beggars in order to gain sympathy. They would go as far as kidnapping children, cutting off a limb or two, and make them beg for money. We were told that the money given to these beggars would go as quickly as it came into the syndicates pockets. And the little money the beggars do get to keep, goes to harmful causes like drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. So how can we help these beggars?
There are beggars everywhere, even in Melbourne. Though the poor are certainly more numerous in developing countries, each nation has its share of beggars. My question is how do we help them, not just for a day or a week, but for the rest of their lives? How can we enable them to have a better living condition? We can’t keep doling out money, so how then can we improve their lives?
All these questions came just from encountering about one poor old lady. It’s amazing how one lady can effect me, hopefully for the better, if I just choose to be open to the world of activism.