As soon as they see me, they come, bowls held out, eyes pleading. "Please give me five dollars," the little boy pleads. "We are hungry." He looks about seven years old. My heart is breaking, but I shake my head and say, "No, I'm sorry, I can't today." I keep walking and his little sister falls into step beside me. She is silent, barefoot, in the same green sweater as every day. She carries a baby on her back. Her well-practiced stare says it all. There are no parents in sight.
They follow me the entire block.
What good would five Zimbabwean dollars (about six cents) do? Or ten? Or even one hundred? It would not feed them. They wouldn't stop begging and go to school, or go out to play. If anything, it would encourage them to continue.
But then, what harm would it do me, to give so little? In the past, it might have assuaged my guilt a bit, tossing them a few dollars and feeling as if I had done my good deed for the day. But not now. Giving change out feels as effective to me as throwing it into a wishing well, a bottomless hole, and wishing for a better world.
We've been traveling now for over six months. My white skin and foreign accent symbolize money to the impoverished people throughout the world. Not a day has passed that I haven't been targeted by people, especially children, who are begging for spare change or a loaf of bread, or that I buy some cheap trinket from them.
At home, I am not a wealthy person. In fact, I technically have NEGATIVE money, considering college loans and credit card debt. But as I travel on my US passport with my US dollars, I gain new perspective on what poverty really is. It is not the state of one person. One child, alone, cannot live in poverty. These beggars are just the victims, the symptoms of an unfair world. It is the country that is impoverished, or perhaps it's the planet.
One traveler I met says that she gives money to established aid organizations, like orphanages or shelters, in the countries that she visits. That way, she can feel she is doing something more effective than just handing out spare change.
The governments in most of these countries are saddled with huge amounts of foreign debt, so they cannot afford to build orphanages, schools, or hospitals for their people. The number of children orphaned because of AIDS grows daily in Africa. Small farmers are being bought out by large agribusiness and multinational super-stores put local shops out of business. All over the world, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
And I stand here, confronted, conflicted. World economics and political theory mean nothing to the hungry little girl with sad eyes, her hand outstretched in front of me. I reach in my pocket, hand her a few coins, and make a wish. Then I hurry away, trying to think about something else.
Kevin - Our Meating Was Not A Coincidence!
Monica - Rapunzel, Rapunzel...
Abeja - Anger at an Unfair World
Kavitha - Children Coping with the Aftermath of AIDS in Africa
Abeja - A Friend in Need...
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