Last night after dinner I wasn´t very tired so I figured I just have a little stroll through the main road of Ubud, a small town in the mountains of Bali. When I was walking down the street I passed two kids who were sitting at the side of the road and were asking everyone who walked by for money. I walked past them. Then, when I had walked that road until the end and turned around to go back, I still saw the kids sitting there. So I was starting to wonder what I should do.
Here is the thing: How do you think about people begging? There seem to be two big opinions about it which kind of look like this.
Opinion A: Do not give anything to people who are begging. Which might sound harsh at the first moment has some rational thinking behind it. Especially when it comes to kids begging. The reasoning behind this opinion is following: Kids shouldn´t start thinking that they can just ask for money and then eventually someone will give them some. They should rather grow up thinking that money has to be earned (when older). It´s not right to ask other people for money. And then to rely on it. So instead of going to school they get send out by their parents to beg. Because when people see kids begging they are much more likely to give them something then if an adult begs. And the money then “earned” by the kids goes in their parents’ pockets. This is opinion A.
Opinion B: They are kids. They and their parents’ don´t have anything. While you are sipping on your overpriced cocktail they live in a hut without running water and not enough food. Buying one more cocktail or giving them that amount of money – where is it spent better, what do you think? You are very lucky to come from a country where you have the possibility to earn enough money for a good living. They don´t. Think about it – and help. This is opinion B.
You noticed, I obviously harshened both opinions a bit. But you get the drift. Both opinions seem reasonable, don´t you think? On the one hand, you feel bad for not giving anything because you know you can afford giving them something. On the other hand you don´t want to encourage the begging culture because you know in the long run it doesn´t help the country and its people to help themselves. I know that some of you might say now: Best thing to do is to go and volunteer. Help out with actions, not with money. I agree. I think that´s the best way too. But right now, in this situation, seeing the two kids begging on the street, what is the best I can do? Right now, right here?
I didn´t know. So the only solution I could come up with was this: I went into one of the supermarkets on the road and bought two lollies. When I came outside the kids were just hushed away from an older Indonesian. I went over to them and asked them if they want a lolly. Both of their faces lit up and two huge smiles appeared. They took the lollies and said “Thank you” in English. I replied “No problem. Have a good night you two”, gave them a quick hug and walked away. Towards the guy who just sent the kids away. He was looking at me very angry and shook his head as to show his disapproval. (He was obviously an opinion A – type… ) I just walked past him, ignoring his look, but I couldn´t help but thinking if I just did the right or the wrong thing. Were the kids just kids now, happy about a sweet they got? Or did I just encourage them to stay on the street begging because they now know they will always find someone who gives them something?
I don´t know if my action was right or wrong. But then, at the same time I´m thinking “Freaking hell. All I did was buy a lolly which cost me less than 10 Cents each. And I can´t stop thinking about that while I didn´t think anything of buying a beer five minutes later for more than ten times the price.”
But I reckon it´s not about the price, it´s more about the principal question. You want to help, but you don´t know if your action is helping or actually making it worse. And then you walk on and 20 meters later there sits a woman with a baby in her arm asking you for money too. What do you do then? Offer her a lolly too? Doesn´t seem quite right, does it. I walked past some shops and thought “If I see something what a baby could need, I´ll buy that for here.” But as it was late most of the shops were already closed. Then I thought I could go back and ask if she is hungry, I´ll buy her some food. But how we human beings are I was too shy or scared or I don´t know what. Plus I had the same exact question in my head I already had with the kids: Do I help her in the long run with this or not?
While I am sitting here, writing on my laptop, drinking my beer I didn´t really need, while that woman is probably still sitting on the street asking people to give her some money, I still don´t have an answer. I still don´t know what is the right action here.
All I can think of is: If I see some baby clothes tomorrow I´ll buy that woman something for her baby. Even if I am encouraging her to keep on sitting on the street begging. Because probably that is all she can do right now. Probably she doesn´t see another way to provide for her kid.
At least then the baby has something warm to wear. Surely no one can argue against that spending the money on that woman´s baby is better than on me having another beer. A beer that I don´t really want or need.