…Baksheesh

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?

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7 thoughts on “…Baksheesh

  1. In the islands we didn’t give out to the local kids because we lived in their communities. We were not tourists, we were “locals” (being teachers in their schools) and so by custom we were not really valid “targets.” But customs like that vary, and it sounds like where you are it is customary for locals to contribute too. I’m with the first commenter – can you give to a reputable organization instead?

    1. @ Brian and Megan, I can and do give to reputable organizations, but the scope of the poverty is massive. These girls will never see the touch of a charitable organization. In a slum of nearly 100,000 people, there will be a school that serves 2-300 kids, for example. And these girls definitely do not go to school. I’m thinking more along the lines of giving them some new clothes or something, if I could be sure they wouldn’t just sell it, or have it stolen from them. It seems like the poor live a bit more in a “Lord of the Flies” world than most here.

  2. Thought provoking . Moving to the 3rd poorest country in the western hemisphere is going to be interesting and has raised so many questions…I don’t have any good advice except to decide for yourself what you can or can’t do. If there an NGO or someone with intimate knowledge of how your money/donations would best be used that you can ask? Not saying that donating directly to them would be best but they may know a community leader or religious person that has more direct contact with the girls? Good luck 🙂

  3. I found your blog online and saw this post so I hope you don’t mind me replying. I would give them food and even if it gets the attention of other kids, I would bring the same amount everyday as there’s only so much you can do. At least then you know you have done your best for them. Good luck…these situations are very difficult.

  4. I agree with Niki. I’d bring them food periodically. It will make you feel better and, unlike with money, you know they’ll probably be the true recipients. Bring some bananas and milk boxes with you next time you know you’re going to pass them.

    Keep us posted if you decide to do anything.

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