To Give or Not to Give…That is the Question

“We would often be ashamed of our finest actions if the world understood all the motives which produced them.” -Francois de la Rochefoucauld

I came across this quote in a book i have that is filled with famous quotes. I do not know who Francois is, or if i am supposed to know (I slept through many-a history classes), but his words rang true to me. They also reminded me of a question that i am often asked. It is probably one of the most common questions i am asked, with regards to the children i work with. People are often torn with the dilemma of whether or not to “give” to “street children”, because of the stories of the kids’ drug use, or older gangsters that send them out to beg for them, some huge crime syndicate that is using them, or aliens that abduct them and then use them to get cash (just seeing if you were still paying attention). You probably wonder what on earth Mr. Rochefoucauld’s quote has to do with that question! Well…

My answer is always complex and very simple at the same time. Many of those scenarios of where the children’s money goes to are true, well with exception to the alien one; i have yet to see that. I do know that a mass majority of kids living on the streets definitely use money, they earn in various fashions, to support their drug habits, and sometimes the habits of others. So i “simply” suggest not to give money. Then the person usually asks if it is ok to give food, along with the question if that is “enabling them to live on the streets”. Again, my “simple” answer is “yes it probably is”, but i also feel that giving food is better than giving money.

Back to the quote… the thing i see over and over again with people that ask me this question, is their different motives for wanting the answer. Some start it with, “Every time i go out and try to have a good time some little kid comes up and pesters me for money…” where others begin with something like, “I have kids of my own and it just break my heart when one of them comes up to my window at a stop light…”. Some people want to know what to do just to get the kid out of their face, while others truly do seem to care about the kids and want to help but don’t know how. Our motivations in giving should be with the best interests of the kids in mind. We should not “give” just to get someone off our back, but at the same time even when our intentions are good it is also beneficial to make sure we know what to give, and that it will in fact be helping the recipient.

With all of that said, i would say never give money. But there are many things you can give! You can give your time, energy, love, a smile, a short conversation, and just some good old fashion healthy human interaction. Many of these children are deprived of that on a daily basis. Often they actually get food, and money for that matter, but society treats them like nuisances, “vagrants”, and less then human. Giving of yourself, offering things that money cannot buy is probably the most valuable thing you can give to these kids. I know it sounds idealistic, but that is how i started 9 years ago when i first came to Cape Town, and now some of my closest “family” live on the streets of downtown Cape Town.

So… to give or not to give? GIVE! But give lasting things. A kid will get hungry again. The high of the drug bought with the money will wear off. But if you check your motivations in why you want to give, and you truly “give” with the best interests of the child in mind, i am sure your giving will not be in vain!


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