Islam calls for a high degree of charity from its adherents. The act of giving charity is thought of as a means of earning heavenly merit, and the beggar is honored for his/her providing the opportunity to be charitable.
The magnitude of the poverty in Dhaka is so immense, however, that any chance benevolence is immediately met by a crowd rushing toward you in hopes of also receiving a donation.
The common wisdom is to only offer charity from a soon-to-be-moving car window, opened only very slightly. Locals pass 2-5 taka (about 1 penny), and foreigners usually pass around 10.
I’ve told you something about this before, but the story is somewhat more complicated because I see the same children each day as I walk back and forth to school. I know their names, and we exchange greetings everyday, in a strange mix of English and Bangla. There are three girls, of about 6 and 10 years old. They spend the day picking through the construction and household trash piles searching for metal, plastic and paper scraps that they can sell to the rag man. Many beggar children also belong to begging rings, and see little of the money they cadge from generous people. I doubt that these girls are in that situation though, because of their ’employment’ as trash pickers. I believe they actually live in the tiny slum which sits in the heart of our neighborhood, a strange little wart of poverty surrounded by rents that often exceed $10,000 US per month.
I haven’t yet given them any money, mostly because I see them everyday, and am fearful of setting up a precedent, that they’d begin bringing additional friends to ask for money and I’d no longer be able to walk to work. I think bringing snacks might result in the same problem, but perhaps more kids might only mean everyone gets a smaller share and thus a crowd would not form?
But, I feel completely wretched every time I leave them, knowing that they must be hungry, and desperate, and yet aren’t the worst off of the people I’ve seen. So, do you have any ideas… any solutions to my dilemma that have worked elsewhere?