Mosa Telford’s article, “A culture of begging” on December 14, 2019, caught my eye.
The author, endowed with compassion and self-awareness, while judging Guyanese to be possessed of a culture of begging which fuels a condition of living above our means, tried to reconcile those attitudes with the desperate need to survive. So, which is it? Are Guyanese beggars? Wanton materialists and spendthrifts? Or could we just be poor people who cannot afford the cost of living, hence the need for a supplement since remuneration is inadequate?
I agree with the author that the old woman begging on the street is not much different from the rest of us who must seek assistance from friends and relatives. Guyanese are coping with poverty in various ways. Some will justify stealing, some will justify prostitution, some will justify corruption and bribery, some will beg on the streets while some will find the help from the dual citizens overseas to be a great ease.
The combination of poverty, inadequate education and poor mental health is a lethal one. Poor mental health and inadequate education usually go hand-in-hand, rendering the weakest the most vulnerable. It has been my experience in Guyana that the Government of Guyana, under any administration, fails to offer any real support to the most vulnerable. We have a tradition of successive Governments misusing the resources of State to enrich themselves and further the interests of their political parties. With the focus of national leadership being self-interest, there is no systematic effort directed at improving the living conditions of the poor and vulnerable. Where is the Government official who had a solution for the homeless man who found himself sleeping on the street with his netting? That Government official does not exist and, herein, lies the giant-sized policy gap that dual-citizens and extended family are filling with their remittances and other forms of support respectively. Some, like Octogenarian Fitzherbert Grimes, pay dearly for our acts of generosity.
Where is the politician who would pass an old woman begging and go back and inquire of her circumstances? We are a small country of less than a million. Only a small fraction of our small population is destitute. Support from the Government that can make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable is only a matter of political will. Politicians will not change their approach to governance. Guyanese must, therefore, demand that our politicians put their focus on the wellbeing of our citizens. We deserve to thrive in our homeland, not just barely survive. We need to hear concrete strategies that are to be implemented fairly and transparently for helping the poor and vulnerable because this is the heart of most of our interconnected social problems. The Government of Guyana is still operating as a colonial administration – it is very good at persecuting offenders but we need significant improvements when it comes to preventing offences, supporting families and the needy and breaking the cycle of poverty.
Of a certainty, though, is that the culture of ‘remittances and barrels’ reflect the love that Guyanese have for each other and the strength of the Guyanese family units. A barrel usually consists of 100% love. All the Guyanese dual citizens, year after year, who are supporting Guyanese at home, are closer to a true reflection of who we are as people. All of us locally, those of us who stop and lend a hand, offer a dollar to family and friends and beggars, pay our zakat, and offer food and a little shelter to the homeless – we are the true heroes of this land. It will be a great day in this land when the politicians can come into alignment with the true generous Spirit of our nation.
When we look upon the shopping that’s going on at this Christmas time, perhaps we can also see the extra bit of love that family overseas send via MoneyGram and Western Union, the Christmas gift, to put a smile on the faces of their loved ones. What else matters in life?