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We may admit it or not but this question pops up every so often in our hearts. We mostly seem to stifle and silence it, choosing not to discuss it, yet it remains a cardinal question. Ask yourself right now, “to whom should we give alms” and right after you blurt out, “the poor” or “the needy”, you’ll suddenly find an underlying sense of un-satisfaction with that answer considering the encounters we have almost daily with strangers on the streets and parks.

Happenstances

As I walked down the road away from my residence, a little girl stopped me just before Crunchies. She was crying. I placed her age at about 9. A far-faded memory of mine flickered momentarily and I instantly knew what to expect.

After I enquired what the matter was with her, she explained that she had lost the sum of ₦200. She was clutching an empty tray under her left arm and so I could tell that she had sold all of whatever she had been hawking earlier in the day. I was especially moved with compassion at the point when she said her “aunt will kill her”.

“What’s your name?”

“Amara” She replied. I asked where she had kept the money.

“In my pocket,” she cried. “But on my way home I realized it wasn’t there.” emptying her right-hand side pocket for me to see. I was taking her word for it: I couldn’t possibly demand a full body cavity search, which would be a total overkill. I went straight to scolding her about her carelessness in losing hard-earned money. I reasoned that if I was going to replace the money she lost (which was why she stopped me in the first place, and which looked like the only practical and really helpful thing I could do in the situation), at least she shouldn’t just get it without a damn good reprimand. That would be far tolerable for her feeble soul than would be a “killing” from her aunt.

Incidentally, I had just ₦270 on me. I gave her ₦200 which she accepted with thanks, then, she did something strangely odd “at the time”—from her left-hand side pocket she retrieved some money and added the one I gave her to it. You know that gut feeling you get when you’re sure something is fishy? Well, in my case I wasn’t so sure, but I got that feeling; though I reasoned that she never told me she had lost “all” her money, but a specific amount. My gut feeling questioned the odds that a 9-year old petty trader would not keep all her sales together in one place, and even if she did, why decide to join them together now? I wasn’t interested in playing Hercules Poirot so I dismissed the thought; and the girl too.

Less than a fortnight later, I was walking down the same road at about the same time of day as the last incident. I was on my way home — taking the opposite direction — via the opposite side of the road when a small crying voice called out to me.

I looked but didn’t stop: I was in a bit of a hurry. A little girl hurried after me, tray on head and teary-eyed. She quickly went over a familiar ordeal of losing the sum of ₦200. She added that she couldn’t go home or her aunt will kill her. Stunned, I stopped; arms akimbo. I stared blankly at her all the while scanning my mental database for facial recognition. When I found a match, I asked, “What’s your name?”

“Amara.” she replied.

Lightning, they say does not strike twice in the same place. I’ve held a contrary thought however that lightning is more likely to strike a second time in a place it is already familiar with. If there be any truth in that, happenstances like this girl validates that concept of mine with authoritative signage.

I didn’t immediately know what to do or say.

“You liar and thief!” I exploded. “Is this your occupation? To lie in wait for passers-by every other night and rob them point blank with your tears? You cunning little brat! Wait here while I find a cane suitable for your age.”

“I’m not lying, I really lost some money.” she protested.

“We’ll see about that after I deliver the first few strokes of the cane.” but I couldn’t find any cane within that radius. In truth, I didn’t want to cane her, but just to scare her stiff enough to fearfully confess. I’d realize later that she was made of thicker hide and a few threatening words couldn’t easily make her skin crawl.

Just then, a young lady in her mid-twenties walked up to us and stood in front of the girl, watching her crying and pleading. “Do you know this girl?” I asked her.

“No!” she said. “She stopped me some distance from here and told me she’d lost ₦300. I took pity on her and gave her ₦100 which was all I had. I don’t have enough transport fare to go back home as it is. The “KEKE” riders won’t carry me for what I’m offering.”

“Soul-of-my-body!” I exclaimed. I was now certain she had a long list of oblivious compassionate victims from whom she mooched of. Not only did I want to get her to confess now but to put an end to her juvenile free fraud. I intensified my threats to flog her and was more likely to do it if I had found a cane. It felt somewhat like community service: doing humanity a favour by saving this one kid from a gradual slip into a deadened conscience cum moral decadence. She had to learn that such mischievous chicanery had consequences or else she will be encouraged by her continued “exploits”.

As I resumed my search for a cane, a chubby-looking middle-aged woman walked by and stopped at the scene. She enquired with genuine motherly concern what the matter was with the crying girl. I’m quite certain the girl would have been ₦200 richer if she had been allowed to feed the woman her well-rehearsed baloney. The young lady began to brief the woman on the girl’s escapades; I filled in the missing script. The woman was incensed.

“Tell the truth child or I’m taking you to your parents myself. Where do you live?”

“Hausa Quarters” She replied.

“That’s probably a lie.” said the young lady.

“Or true perhaps.” said I. “She told me same address and name from last time. Though there’s no telling if it’s part of the fabric of her facade.” Of course, the only way to know for sure is to have her lead us there but who had the time for that, and at about 8:30PM?

The woman after listening to the girl some more plucked her by the left ear and began to wring it painfully. “You are a liar. All of what you’ve been saying is lies.”

“I’m not lying, it’s true.” cried the girl, but when her face was illuminated by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, her face was as dry as the December harmattan air. She wasn’t crying a river as she’d made us think.

“The money she gave you, hand it to me.” I commanded.

“Don’t bother, let her be.” said the young lady I was doing the favour.

I scoffed at her. “You’re joking right?” To the little girl, I barked, “Hand it in!”

She quickly counted out ₦100 in 5 notes of the ₦20 denomination and handed them over to me. I confirmed the amount and handed them to the previously protestive young lady who accepted it with thanks. Then I began to issue a death threat to the little girl.

“If I ever see you along this road — this is my area, my territory — and the day I find you practicing this your “oshi”, I will literally beat you until that demon is exorcised from you…in fact, I will kill you!” empty threats perhaps, but those around us probably knew what I was doing. Shouldn’t those words make a girl her age flinch, especially when uttered with the voice of rumbling thunder? Well, she didn’t seem to blink an eye but I could tell she desperately wanted to disappear from sight, and she did just that with the middle-aged woman hot on her heels.

Three days later, I was walking down the same road as the first time but not close enough to Crunchies. I was a bit absent-minded: my thoughts were occupied with the business I was soon to give attention and presence to. I noticed a little girl standing by the road side as if in wait for someone or something. She was carrying a tray on her head. A second look and I quickly identified her. It was Amara, but she wasn’t trying to draw my attention like previous. She just stood there while I walked on by, before she continued on her way. I looked back a while later and saw her stop a lady whom I believed to be in her early thirties. They were completely out of earshot but I could imagine the flow of conversation as I watched their exchange of gestures and glances.

They soon disengaged and as she walked up to me, I asked her if the little girl had requested for ₦200.

“Yes,” she replied, visibly surprised, “I didn’t have any, so I gave her nothing. Do you know her?”

“Her name is Amara. She does that every other night. After threatening her the last time, I didn’t believe she’d continue. I have a feeling she’s been propelled by a greater fear. Perhaps someone is making her do it.”

“Why would anyone do that.” she asked, rather rhetorically.

“Why not? You stopped to hear her out, didn’t you? What are the odds you would have given audience to an adult towering over you? Begging is kind of emotional; you often give out of compassion. Any good actor can make you feel that compassion, how much more a crying kid.”

She nodded in agreement. “Whoever is making her do this is wicked. I mean didn’t the person consider that this is election period? This girl is facing many dangers. She could end up kidnapped!”

I smiled at her and said, “Greedy or hungry people don’t reason like that.”

While we talked and looked in the little girl’s direction, she had already stopped two other people. We soon broke conversation and parted ways. As I went my way, a question made anchor on the shores of my mind — to whom should we give alms?

Rumination

Prior to my writing this article, I held the view that if I gave substance in cash or kind to any stranger, disabled or fit, it would count as alms giving. Halfway into writing this piece, I began to re-evaluate that view. I still submit to the fact that it could be debatable.

People have invented ways less noble than even the detestable (delectable) street-side begging to obtain money. It has become all too frequent recently for one to discover that their giving was compliance to trickery rather than an act of benevolence.

The bible commands giving to the poor and needy:

If you stop your ears to the cries of the poor, your cries will go unheard, unanswered. Proverbs 21:13 (MSG)

He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again. Proverbs 19:17 (KJV)

People do not give to the poor and needy for many reasons, the chief of which is selfishness. To get money or like substance out of certain selfish and stingy people requires such an excruciating effort that can be compared to squeezing the very last blob of paste from a toothpaste tube! Certain other people are worse; you have to literally cut them open like you would cut the toothpaste tube in other to get some something out of them. Bless your soul if you have never crossed paths with such fellows and may you never in your desperate and dire time of need come across tight-fists! These breed were not under my consideration when I began to write this piece, the title alone should give that away. My consideration is with the kinder souls who like to give and often times can’t help it, but have not learned how to not mind being conned. In other words, how do I know the right person to give to?

I’ve observed that every outdoor beggar is either pretending to be needy, or is really needy; and those who are really needy are either ignorant and hopeless or really helpless. All three categories raise serious concerns of varying magnitude. I’ll elaborate on the category which gives me the most concern and which also ticks me off the most.

In a commercial bus on a short trip with my cousin sister, she began to share with me her reason for no longer giving to a certain blind woman who was led to our bus by her son. According to her, the woman was unbelievably mean-spirited. She outlined incidences to underscore her assertion (which I shouldn’t bother repeating here). She also said that if one chanced upon her and her children where they eat, one might think lowly of her. She could tell because her office was close to the refectory where she dined by day and since she moved, her residence became closer to the blind woman’s residence. Her “standard of eating”, she said is well above an average salary-earning family’s. But, her eating habits don’t bother me one bit. I understand why it should bother some people but what really bothers me is that the woman, and perhaps her children, has not given thought and action to the fact that if they saved ₦100 every day for a year, they’ll have about ₦300,000 in cash to start a business that could keep them off the streets “forever”. This is a typical example of the ignorant and hopeless under study. In conclusion, I told my cousin that poverty is of the mind, and not the pocket. By extension, begging is of the mind not of circumstances. I recently chanced upon a rider in the August 10th, 2014 issue of The People’s Conscience which read: “I’ll Rather Die than Beg”. It sported a photograph of an amputee who was said to live as a scavenger going from one refuse dump to another, collecting recyclable material for retail. That was how he made his living. Not noble, but his integrity was intact and it seemed to mean something to him.

I believe there are two things which determine whether you give alms or not: 1) that you don’t have or 2) that you don’t want to give. Most often, the latter is the reason, skip the details, but whichever the case, you’ll find that your giving is determined by you alone.

In as much as it is morally right to give to the poor and needy, and the Bible commands it of Christians, what would happen when you discover that a certain poor and needy, is no poorer or needier than you are? In other words, what do you do when you find out for sure that certain people are feigning a helpless situation just to get something out of you? Will you be justified if you stopped giving to them? I hold the view that you will, considering that the uncovering of such trickery rids your heart of the compassion necessary to prompt genuine generosity. But until you uncover such trickery, you’re not justified in the habit of snubbing the poor and needy. Do not however make it your business to go snooping around such people in search of evidence to make such revelations of who is a genuine beggar and who is not. Don’t become a self-acclaimed whistle-blower on such matters. Who has made you judge? “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1 KJV). God has a way of uncovering such tricksters. Besides, I also find that if you have a strong spirit (the Holy Spirit), you can’t always feel compassion towards a lying spirit.

Deduction

So, to whom do we give alms? Give as you’re led. Give to the poor and give to the rich. Give to the needy and to those in need. Give to your neighbours, family, friends and enemies:

“Therefore, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Romans 12:20 (NKJV)

Most importantly, “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away”(Matthew 5:42 NKJV). . But what if a liar or con asks of you? If you’re sure he/she is a con, the decision and blessedness of giving lies absolutely with you. The giving is more important than the receiving in that “it is more blessed to give that to receive”. I hold the view that whether you choose to go ahead and give to a con-artist or not, you remain justified; but don’t form the habit of sending away everyone who asks of you empty-handed on the claim that they could really help themselves. If you do that, God will send you away empty-handed when you pray and will also send away all forms of help that could come to you with the same posture that you should help yourself.

“For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7:2 KJV)

If you have any contribution to this write-up, perhaps there are other reasons that have influenced your giving or not giving to the poor; or perhaps you think I did not buttress some points properly, or am completely out of line somewhere, please add you contribution in the comment box below if you believe it’s worth sharing.

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