The New Times (Kigali)

15 February 2013

Rwanda: Beggar Mentality - You Are What You Think

opinion

HAVE YOU ever wondered why people beg? Sure, you have presumed that it is because life's hard and all that. But have you ever really tried to figure out why someone would leave home everyday to stand in a market, church, mosque or a street corner to beg?

You will not get answers here but there are some insights from incidents I have encountered over time.

A while back, I took a taxi minibus in Kigali. The convoyer (conductor) was very cordial and charming. It is only when he came to claim for fare that I realised that he was disabled. He had no fingers. But not even this could hold him back. He energetically went about his work. I was inspired.

It reminded me of an earlier incident in Nairobi. On my way to work, I stopped to have my shoes polished. After greeting me, the shoe-shiner pleasantly asked me what colour my shoes were. "Black", I mumbled. It was then that I realised that he was visually challenged. He then went on to give my shoes and my life a sparkle.

These incidents are, without doubt, quite inspiring. There is however, another side of the story that is less inspiring but, unfortunately, more common. Typically, people use real or perceived disability as an excuse to stretch their hands forth and beg.

While not disputing the fact that beggars are a needy lot that we must look after, it is also an undisputable fact that there is no dignity in begging. We must do all we can to avoid being in and/or putting our people in such positions. Cathartic as it is, street charity, if anything, only breeds dependency, sometimes at alarming levels.

For example, three years back, we were walking in Kigali streets with a colleague. A young lady came over to us with a child strapped on her back. She asked us if we could spare her some coins. My colleague asked her why she was begging. She responsed that the father of the baby deserted her and cannot get a job. "Can you do laundry?" My colleague asked. "Of course," she replied. She was offended.

In our culture, every self-respecting young woman is taught chores and hygiene from childhood. Inability to perform such chores raises a huge question mark on the individual and their upbringing- it is an insult to the family.

Undeterred, my friend suggested that she could seek people to do their laundry for pay. He offered to be one of her first customers. To our dismay, the lady walked away in disgust. There is no chance that she would get as much as she would get from doing the respectable job of laundry from begging. We were left wondering why she would be offended by seemingly sensible offer.

The incidents above are proof that mentality, not disability, is the key cause of our inability to achieve. Worst among this is the beggar mentality. Why else would two people with every excuse to beg, choose to work and another with no excuse become a beggar?

Beggar mentality is characterised by a diminished sense of responsibility of one's role in a situation or even one's own circumstances. This responsibility is instead transferred to another party. In deed the afflicted party imagines that they and not the other party solely have problems. They do not realise that it is primarily their life and their responsibility.

Unfortunately, this lack of balanced thinking is not only seen among beggars on the streets. It affects some of us to varying degrees. In our customer facing scenario; anyone who set up a business or gets a job but fails to appreciate their customers and/or fails to offer quality service but still expects profits/ good salary suffers a bout of the 'beggar mentality' bug.

It is simple; they do not appreciate that the customer comes to have a need fulfilled by the service provider and pays for that need; and that is where the income comes from.

You are what you think; guard your mind!

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