You walked in the busy streets of Manila and you saw a young child lying asleep on a dirty alley by the side of the road, with an empty plastic cup on his one hand and the other, empty-handed (dirty, rugged) begging for at least a coin from your purse. You never heard him ask for money, you did not have to look at his sleeping eyes, for at first glance you felt some pity on him. You stopped and checked your pocket or your purse full of extra coins. Maybe you can spare some money for him, so that he can buy some bread to get by. Maybe will give more than you thought you can. After all, you can easily find money from your salaries, or your personal businesses, or your monthly stipends.
The next day on that same road, you saw him again, on that same location, wearing the same ragged, unkempt shirt. This time he had with him a younger child with him, crying. This time your heart was crushed two-fold. How could this happen? How could their parents leave them here? You cannot fathom the hardship that these kids undergo every single day without food, without shelter, without money, without the love and care of their parents. And just like what you did last time, you approached them with a smile, maybe brought some piece of foods for them to share, and you drop some coins in that same white, empty plastic cup in their hands. They looked at you with a smile of thankfulness. And you felt pleased and disturbed at the same time. You were pleased to be able to do something, but you were disappointment that you could only do so much.
The third day came, and the same scene met your eyes. At times he is with his younger sibling, at times he is alone. You might still feel sad and pitiful to them, you might still give a few coin with a willing heart.
The fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh came. Still, you look at him with longing eyes. At times you would give, at times you forgot to bring some coins. Days and days past, and then you became more used to this. You thought to yourself that what you are doing is just useless: A pathetic attempt to solve a big problem. Like you were doing nothing at all, like all those coins you dropped just disappeared into thin air. You thought even how much you give, they will still return to that rickety place to ask for more alms. And so you eventually became less pitiful of them.
Then the day came that you became more distant. You will even get the trouble of going the other side of the road just to avoid seeing him, just to avoid him. And soon, unconsciously, you got used to this. And later on you will just ignore him even if you pass right where they are sitting, looking at you with those longing eyes, asking for that same kindness you gave the first day you met him. You just look forward not even looking at him, every single day.
He is there, yet you do not see him.
He asks for help, yet you can’t hear him.
He nudges at you asking for coins, you repel him and tried to ignore him.
And now even if you see him every day, you get used to this situation like it is just a normal scenario in your daily life. You are no longer bothered by their situation, in fact you are more bothered of their existence. Hoping that one day they will be taken care of by the government and you will not see them anymore.
Really? Isn’t this a common scenario we undergo now every single day? At first we see the real problem, the existence of poverty in our society and we try to help them in any way we can. Then days passed and we ultimately changed. We get used to poverty and we can no longer see them as a big problem that they really are. And as we lost the ability to pay attention to them, together with it we fail to find proper solutions as well. No wonder we cannot end this problem in poverty. Who else cares now? We are all sensitized to living our comfortable life already. Why care for them?
As Dr. Lopao Medina told us in his lecture:
“This should at least bother us.”
For if not, how do we expect to address these social problems that exist every day around us, but we just can’t see them because why? Because we already got too used to them. We have to go out once again and open up our eyes and minds once again. Look at things as how we did it the FIRST TIME we saw them. Keep that passion and mercy in your heart, that nudging thought in your mind, that horrible sense of feeling that keeps you bothered. They may feel uneasy for us… because they are supposed to be that way! It is through those “bothered” feelings that we find the necessity and impulse to do something. And one way or the other, in sha Allah, we can… WE CAN MAKE A CHANGE.
Side trip: During one of our lectures in Community Medicine:
Dr. N: “Who among you still gives them coins?” (referring to the street kids asking for money)
None of us raised a hand.
Dr. N: “See? No one among you now have that passion.”
Me: “But sir, we cannot tell what they will use those money for.”
Dr. N: “Would it matter? Would it matter to you if they use them to buy food? You never know that was the only way they can get money.”
“No, I am not saying that you should always give them money. Of course scams are still prevalent. But then how can you tell right? How can you tell if they are actually telling the truth, that they needed money to go home, to find food for their children? The thought here is that we should never ignore them. Really, ask yourself, if you give a single peso, would it matter?
Maybe for you it won’t. But to them, it does.”
WOULD IT MATTER? WOULD IT REALLY MATTER TO ME? What is a Five Peso to me compared to them? Maybe a couple of coins that can almost mean nothing to me could be the life-saver to them.
I thought: “Won’t they get used to asking for money?”
And the voice in my head answered: “They are already used to poverty. And we are already used to seeing them like that. The problem is not just about the situation that they are there asking money, and you are here giving or not. The problem is the system that brought them there, and the poor way of providing inappropriate solutions that lead to this complicated situation you both are in.”
Poverty is a complicated meshwork brought about by inequities and improper management of resources to the general population. It is a problem that actually affects us all. A society could be defined by how they treat and take care of those who have nothing. Do the rich and powerful give them resources and opportunities? Or do they exploit their beings and just ignore them to rot?