We get people all the time looking for donations. Some ring our doorbell asking for food, clothing, or money. Sometimes, it’s for an elephant for a Buddhist parade (nope, not joking), or for repairs to the Buddhist temple, or whatever. Others drive around in vans with a loudspeaker announcing the fact that mommy or grandma or little sick Sri Lankan version of Johnny has cancer, needs an operation, it’ll cost this much, please donate.
Well, government hospitals are free for all. Granted, the service sucks, but it’s available. Pay for care hospitals are much better, but if you can’t afford it, use the government ones. AT LEAST THEY’RE AVAILABLE!
Plus there are all the ads in the classifieds looking for donations, complete with pic of sick child or whatever. And then there’s the mall, Majestic City. Beggars lining the street around it. No choice but to pass dozens, hundreds of them. Some have no hand, arm, foot, leg. Others have elephantiasis or other disfigurements. Twisted limbs. Bulbous masses. All manner of obvious physical problems. BUT missing an arm or a leg doesn’t mean they can’t work. It just means they’ve chosen to beg instead of getting a job. Many of them will borrow or rent a kid for the day, hoping that us rich westerners will have more sympathy because there’s a kid. Some of them will grab on to me and are rather forceful. Some will stick their heads in your face and won’t get out of the way when you’re trying to walk somewhere. Some will stick their hands and heads into the trishaw until you give them money.
And they will definitely swarm if you’re white.
They will politely keep their distance from rich Sri Lankans, but not from foreigners, rich or not. Although, to them, if you’re white, you ARE rich, regardless of actual reality.
All this I’ve seen since the day I arrived here.
Thing is, you don’t know where the money is really going. Anyone can say they have a sick child. Anyone can borrow a child for the day. What does it prove? If they have an obvious deformity, well, yeah, they’ve proved something all right – that they have a deformity.
When my sister – blonde – and her daughter – blonde – and her son – blonde – and her husband – strawberry blonde – were here in September/October, the number of people knocking on our door increased from one every week or two to five or six a day. People in the neighborhood know that Fahim’s a local and that we just shake our heads at them and don’t give them anything. But they probably figured that since sis et all were blonde and new, they’d just give give give.
A few years back, when I still lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, a reporter did an undercover piece on the beggars in the downtown core. Hung out with them. Talked to them. Pretended to be one. Yeah, you know the definition of undercover.
Turns out that some of these beggars were making $300 or $400 in a few hours of begging. Many of them wore more expensive clothes and shoes than I could ever afford – Doc Martens, for example. Try to give a beggar change, and they hurl it right back. Try to give one an apple, and they huck that back, too.
Granted, not all are like that. But enough of them are that it makes it difficult to tell the real ones from the scammers. (Looks like spammers. Must be evil.)
So who do you know who to give your money to?
Registered charities with a proven track record. Hands down.