Don’t get me wrong, I like little kids as much as the next person. However for some reason, and I’m not quite sure why, I have a particular intolerance for little kids begging me for money. It’s funny. So many people are drawn to development because of ‘the children’. Regardless of which shade – brown yellow, black, or white – so many foreigners plaster their facebook profiles and online presence with photos of themselves ‘volunteering’ or ‘being a local’ with the kids (or elderly, or sick, or ‘less fortunate’). In fact, there seems to be a creepy, hedonistic kick people get out of their ‘cultural acceptance’ or the perception of themselves as saints or missionaries. Take for example Humanitarians of Tinder, an entire blog devoted to pulling fun at these profiles and the idea that: the darker, the better. I know children are the future. I believe all children should have the right to live with dignity, to feel safe, to have a childhood and a good education, and to have the opportunity live their lives the same. I do not believe children should be exploited for the pure fact that they are children and I feel the very act of begging perpetuates this. Therefore, I like to think my intolerance is grounded in reason and logic.
So many people discuss the difficulty of being in a middle to lower-income country as seeing the face of poverty manifest itself in pint-sized children. The vast inhumanity and inequality of it all. I get it, I do. It is a terrible, terrible pattern of today’s society that places people in the position of abject poverty and it’s something that may take generations and generations to break the cycle. There is a particular spot in Udaipur in which there is always, without a doubt, a barrage of children ready to harass and follow anyone who may have a few rupees. Working in groups, they are completely relentless yet happy enough to go on playing when they see you are uninterested. The important part to note is that it doesn’t matter what time it is, day or night they are there, not at school and preferring, if not being forced into, begging for money instead.
Today as we were driving back from the field we stopped along a busy stretch of highway for water. Within seconds an older woman was there hand outstretched, child in the other. As I said, I am particularly intolerant, so the lady probably had more of a chance of getting anything before she held up her grandchild basically thrusting her into the open window. I am not completely cold-hearted, but I do understand the psychology of pulling at the heartstrings and why would anyone ever stop using this tactic when it works so well?
I repeat, I am not completely cold-hearted. Rather, I see myself with an iron-plated, heart of gold. A willingness and drive to ‘help marginalized communities’ and ‘do good’, with a hard and critical exterior to get through first. I guess it’s not always that hard to break, I’m usually just protected from street beggars. Take for example the immense sadness and injustice when I see the old men at the train stations carrying loads meant for lorries on their bare backs. Earning a pittance, these men work hard, literally breaking their backs for the sake of a few dollars. Remembering again the same feeling I had in Vancouver when my sister and I happened upon a 24-hr Dennys on our ride home after a night out. Joining the parade of alcohol fueled youths, we sat at our booth to order our grilled-cheese and fries only to be served by an elderly Chinese man working the graveyard shift. He smiled over-enthusiastically to take our order as my heart bled thinking about what work he did during the day and if he was proud of earning minimum wage.
It is strange how we can prioritize need in such a systematic way. The other day a lady who had faced so much adversity this year, came to seek help because she had been told that possibly a foreigner may help her if she asked through Jagran’s network. Facing several sudden deaths in her family, a mother-in-law with dementia, a husband with terminal cancer, and two children to support in high school, her situation is not pretty. She has sold everything she owns to pay for medical bills and is now forced to stay home instead of be the teacher she is to give her husband the care he needs. Her children in Grades 9 and 11 may be forced to change from their private school to the government school however she is hesitant to take them out because they are at the top of their classes right now. What she needs is 50,000 rupees per child to pay for annual school fees however 1 lakh rupees is no small feat. Amounting to AUD $1780.73, I am asked if I know anyone to help them out. I discuss scholarship and NGOs but unfortunately I doubt their need will be seen as ‘needy’ in regards to private education. And so, how must we define need? Many of her family and friends will not help because they say she should switch her kids out of the private school into a government school with lower standards albeit lower fees. In the face of ‘need’, the uneducated children begging on the street during school hours with their clothes in rags are seen with more pity than the family trying to give their children the best possible chance of success. My iron-clad, golden heart is trapped. Somewhere between logic and emotion, it is constrained yet cracking, confused yet grounded.