3 February 2013

Rwanda: Earning a Decent Living From Begging

Every morning Jean-Claude Hafashimana is carried into a bus from Nyamirambo to Remera Taxi Park where he begs all day. It may seem demeaning, but doing just that earns him enough money for food and rent.

Disabled at age of six, 29-year-old Hafashimana has been living in Nyamirambo sector here in Kigali for over a year. "I've no family to care as parents, brothers and sisters died," he narrates. Hafashimana came to Kigali believing a Good Samaritan would offer him a wheelchair. He has waited in vain.

Beggars-mainly with disabilities, are in different common sites around Kigali. Their best spots are around markets, churches, taxi parks and other places where many people converge. Whatever their motivation for begging, some interviewed by The Rwanda Focus say it is the only option they have.

The begging allows Hafashimana to save at least Frw 20,000 by the end of the month. From this amount he pays half of it as rent for a small house in Nyamirambo, from where he comes every morning to beg.

Though reluctant to reveal how much he has on his bank account, Hafashimana hopes to get a fridge from local brewer and soft drinks maker Bralirwa to sell cold drinks to passengers awaiting buses. "If I got Frw 250,000 I could start selling soft drinks in Remera Taxi Park now," he said. He added that as of now, he has no idea how he will get the capital but God willing he hopes to make it. Apart from staging around good places, some beggars have developed characters that allow them to attract sympathy from passersby. There are some that demand one's supports like it is an obligation. As Hafashimana says, some beggars get to the point of hurling abuses at people who do not give them anything.

"As a result, we are stereotyped as being physically and mentally crippled," he says. For a person with normal limbs plus a job and a home, begging could sound unthinkable. However, Hafashimana reveals cases of people known to him that have done that for years. "I have a friend of mine who begged for 3 years and bought two motorcycles which generate revenue for him yet he is still begging on streets," Hafashimana told this paper

Families depending on a beggar-husband

Edouard Munyenganizi, a father of two children, has been waking up each day headed for the streets to beg since 2009. "My family survives from what I get from begging," he says.

Despite having to lay his palms no sure when the next nice person will drop a few coins, all has not been bad news. Munyenganizi has built himself a two room house which cost him close to Frw 1,500,000, all that money from begging.

Along the pedestrian pavement around Ecole Belge when we bumped into him, Munyenganizi told us that he is not happy about what he does but it has kept him going. 19 year-old Jean D'amour Habimana pushes Munyenganizi's wheelchair. Any plans to leave the streets? Not as long as he is still poor.

"I can't leave the streets unless I get someone who can avail me with one million Rwandans Franc," said Munyenganizi, even though he has no plan for the money. As for Habimana, he says he will never give up on pushing his uncle's wheelchair because the 'job' brings him food.

"Not all street beggars are unable to do anything," said Eric Kayumba, a passerby-adding that he usually gives something when he encounters beggars. "Some of them can set up a project or small businesses which can help them survive. I always see them in town where they sell biscuit, sweets or are involved in other small businesses which don't require a lot of energy".

Even though there are some street beggars that are really in need of help, there are some who allegedly pretend to be disabled when they are in perfect health.

"Imagine someone who bends his arms inside the jacket pretending that he is crippled just to get a coin!" said a shoemaker at Giporoso taxi park who testified to have eye-witnessed some. According to him, these kinds of beggars present a real challenge to the society because they pretend to portray the country as indifferent to the vulnerable class and when we give a few coins, an impression is sent to them that what they are doing is right-even when they don't deserve that kind of treatment.

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