Guyana is very rich in natural resources, but begging has become a major issue in Georgetown and other areas of the country. Indeed, something has gone terribly wrong in Guyana where in recent times there has been an upsurge in begging based on the large number of persons, including children, who are asking the public for money daily. This issue is so sensitive that no one wants to discuss it for fear of being seen as attacking instead of helping the poor.There is hardly a street in the city without beggars. They are everywhere.The public is likely to encounter them at shopping centers, supermarkets, fast-food restaurants, rum shops and night clubs or at the markets. It appears that begging has become the new growth industry in Guyana.
Begging has become a major social issue, a public nuisance, an obvious personal tragedy. It is a tragic situation for the unfortunate in society to be in. The previous administration was oblivious of it, now it is up to this government to get to the root of the problem and solve it before it becomes more of an irritant in society. It should be noted that the survival of the rich depends on the actions and behavior of the poor.
Once upon a time, there were a few street beggars mostly around Georgetown. For some of them, it was a profession of sorts, for others, it was for their survival. Then there are a few who reportedly earned more money from begging to deposit into a bank account than many hardworking persons in gainful employment.
In Guyana, begging has traditionally been a difficult decision for the average citizen, especially for women, even in cases where they had fallen on hard times. Pride was a major factor that prevented women from begging. They had preferred to suffer in silence and perhaps die of starvation before becoming a beggar. They would only ask close relatives and friends for help. The bonds of family and friendship were so strong back then that people felt it was their responsibility to assist those in their community who had unfortunately suffered setbacks. Today, times have changed, as people have become more individualistic and selfish and no longer believe in being their brothers’ or sisters’ keeper.
A number of beggars who are roaming the streets are young men. Most are without proper clothing and their appearance and behavior leave little doubt that they need money to satisfy their appetite for illegal drugs. Others have mental issues and would not seek treatment. But not only young men are beggars, quite a number of senior citizens on fixed income are also asking relatives,friends and even strangers for help, mainly to buy food or pay for other necessities. In these tough economic times, the government subsidies they were getting for utilities were slashed by the new government in return for G$3,875increase in their pensions which is some cases is less than the subsidies.
Generally, most beggars have always claimed to be hungry so as to get sympathy from the public and would be donors. But when they are offered a meal instead of money, they would become upset and abusive because their preference is for cash. The plight of some beggars is compounded by the fact that relatives and friends who previously may have assisted them, are also struggling to make ends meet, and are no longer able to help out as they did before. The government has to devise a strategy to help some beggars return to a productive life style. Agencies aligned with the Ministry of Social Protection are ideally suited to take the lead in this regard.
The government is obligated to put an end to widespread begging. Their plight must be addressed with a sense of urgency and compassion by the government to help return them to a normal life. Guyana would be better-off without beggars.
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