I read a blog post tonight about giving to beggars in India. The writer said that if you give them food instead of money, they will sell it back to shopkeepers to money. If you give them a banana, you need to peel it or they’ll sell it for the cash.
You know what? Once you’re at a place where you want to help people, if they ask you for money, give them money. Don’t give them the banana. Poor people are not stupid. They’re just poor. They know what their needs are better than you do. Respect that.
I know there are reasons – drug addiction, cultural pressure, poor organizational skills – that people will act against their own self interest. None of that is easily analyzed in the time it takes to give to a beggar on the street. Most of the time, people know what they need. If you are engaged in an act of charity, give that to them, not what you think they ought to need.
Street corner giving is not about sustainability, development, or creating long-term change. Instead, it’s a recognition of our common humanity, of the crap shoot that decides who gives and who receives. It’s reaching out to those who ask because it’s not our place to judge.
It’s really pretty unlikely that you are a donor instead of a beggar because you’re smarter, stronger, or wiser. Probably, you just got lucky and were born in the developed world, and the 20-year old in front of you knows more about street survival than you could ever imagine. Keep your banana to yourself, and hand over the cash.