Street begging: Profession or nuisance
February 22, 2010
Accra , Feb. 22, GNA - A cursory look at the streets, traffic lights and intersections in our cities reveals a disturbing phenomenon - an overwhelming rise in the population of beggars.
So visible are these beggars on our streets in recent times that one would agree with the fact that street begging is gradually becoming a potential threat to our societal fabric and the idea of self reliance in our nation.
Some are carried to their points of begging, others come in wheel chairs, and yet others are on crutches or are aided by walking sticks. And now, there are innovations - some beggars are playing music to draw attention to themselves while at least one beggar is flying the flag of political party to make money from sympathisers.
A 10-minute drive on the streets of Accra reveals persons of both sexes, ages, all forms of disabilities and some without any kind of physical challenge along the streets begging for alms. There are also the mentally challenged who beg for alms, some rather menacingly or aggressively.
Gone are the days when begging was perceived to be done by people who in one way or the other had physical challenges and were not capable of working to fend for themselves.
Today, the trend has changed as some young and energetic persons, instead of working to cater for themselves, now see begging as the most convenient and surest way of making money.
We normally see some fair coloured African immigrants sitting under shades and sending their women and children to beg for money. For this group, the least said about them the better.
The other category of persons who sees begging as a means to survive belongs to the class of the physically-handicapped who as a result of societal neglect have no option than to depend on other people for their daily bread.
Let us use this channel to examine the perception or the understanding of the Islam and Christianity about giving and begging for alms.
The Bible abhors laziness and therefore says in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 that, "For also when we were with you we enjoined you this, that if any man does not like to work, neither let him eat."
The Christian's belief in giving which is captured in 1 Timothy 6:18-19,which says, "Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life."
The Qur'an (30:39) states: "That which you give in usury for increases through the property of (other) people, will have no increase with Allah: but that which you give for charity, seeking the Countenance of Allah, (will increase); it is those who will get a recompense multiplied."
Muslims believe that "Begging is similar to scratching the flesh off your face; so if someone wants to save his face he should avoid it, except for asking from the ruler or asking in case of dire need." (islamonline.net). Therefore the Muslim must not beg unless in extreme situations where life and honour is at risk.
This goes a long way to show that in as much as both religions believe in giving they also frown on laziness and those who depend solely on begging.
Now it is time to evaluate if begging is a livelihood or a pain in the neck with these real life stories.
Wisdom Gbormegbe is a 50 year-old farmer, who lives in a village in the Volta Region with his wife and five children. He was taken ill and within that same period he lost three of his children. He later became paralyzed and found it difficult to farm.
Gbormegbe therefore resolved to come to the capital city to sit on the streets of Accra and sing for money.
He sits on the bare floor of the pedestrian pavement at the traffic lights near the National Theatre playing the conga amidst singing and by doing this, people who pass by give him money.
Could it be because of the beautiful songs he sings, the art of playing the musical instrument or out of pity for a man who is disabled yet sits on a hot bare floor in the scorching sun struggling to survive?
To Gbormegbe, he believes that he is not a beggar but rather a singer who gets paid for services rendered.
When asked if he had any knowledge of the Association of the Physically Challenged People, he said he did not know anything about it. All that he seeks is a wheel chair to make his work less stressful in terms of moving from the house to his post.
Kofi Anim used to be a coconut seller in a little town in Akyem in the Ashanti Region.
After his mother died, he came to Accra to seek greener pastures because he normally sees most of his friends who travel to Accra , come back home with a lot of money and property.
He was a cobbler (shoe maker) when he first arrived in Accra but the tools for the shoe making job were stolen by his friends and he decided to hunt for another job. That was when his friend introduced him to some blind people who lived behind the Accra Central Police Station, where he met Kwame Anani, a blind beggar who employed Kofi to take him on his daily rounds in the streets of Accra .
According to Kofi, the street job is very productive compared to shoe making because by begging they make up to GH¢ 15.00 a day which is split into three parts. He is given one-third and he looks forward to getting about GH¢ 300 so he can return to his hometown and start a little business for himself and marry an iced water seller in Accra who is expecting his child.
On the other hand, Kwame Anani, the blind employer of Kofi said he lives in Swedru in the Central Region.
He was being catered for by his mother but when she died his uncle sacked him from the house and took away the land he inherited. He therefore comes to Accra on week days to beg for money and returns to Swedru at the weekend to be with his family.
Many efforts to clear the streets and intersections of beggars have failed and the question remains unanswered: Is begging now a profession or nuisance?
A GNA feature by Akua Boatemaa Adjei and Priscilla Enami Agbozo