Friday, 9 August 2013

Beggars in Riyadh

Have you ever given money to beggars in Riyadh?  I have.  Not often, admittedly.  I tend to agree with all the news reports dissing the existence of beggars and the kindness of Saudi residents.  Sometimes, though, the spirit moves me.

It never moves me to give to kids.  With all the press about kids being used in professional begging gangs, I'm afraid a kid in dirty thobe pleading at my window does not tug on the heart strings. Except for this one time, when I seriously wished I could take the young fella home with me.

He couldn't have been more than eight years old and he was crying, really crying, so distraught at the traffic lights. I thought, 'What A'hole (yes, that's that word I thought because, lets face it, I'm a basic kind a gal) turfs an eight year old child out into Riyadh streets and tells him to beg for money. Seeing him so upset and sad, it wasn't hard to imagine he'd been kidnapped from a loving home in Yemen (because according to every Saudi and taxi driver I've spoken to, all beggars are Yemeni) and found himself shafted into this sorry life in Saudi with a pimp monitoring the money in his take home begging bucket.  Yes, the imagination kicked into overdrive at the sight of the tears streaming down this young, lost face bawling by the roadside.  Sorry as I felt for him, my wallet remained shut.

Beggar woman: Gulf News
When a woman pushing an obviously disabled child is roaming among the traffic I will reach in my purse for some spare cash and hand it over if she happens to pass by my window.  Although Saudi does have charities and hospitals or care units for the disabled, I understand they are only for Saudi nationals.   Though upon reflection, I haven't seen many such women lately.  Perhaps those charities are doing their job for all Saudi residents after all.

On the extremely (read ex-treme-ly) odd occasion I've given a few Riyals to old men.  But they have to look reeeaaallly old.  And a bit beaten up and doubled over.  And Hubster has to be there attempting to wrangle my spare cash off me.  Typical that a man in a male dominated society will feel sorry for an old bloke.  I tend to think, 'He's a man - send him to a mosque, he'll be fine!' - heartless, weak female living in Saudi that I am.

I don't really see begging as the kind of career move I would choose, though until one hits rock bottom one never really knows what they will do, do they?  If rumours are true and beggars make a fortune, as in this story "begging women being caught with 70,000Sars", then perhaps heading up a professional begging gang may have more rewards than I thought, though somehow I doubt it.   And I doubt even more that professional gangs have a financial planning scheme that will one day have everyone off the streets.

Being grateful I'm not at the bottom of the pond with the gravel dwellers (Oh aren't I a snot!), I will occasionally donate to beggars provided they fall into my very narrow criteria and I'm feeling generous - and it's a rare occasion when those two moons align for Kiwi generosity to happen.   This sounds like a less than giving attitude but I tend to agree with the Grand Mufti in this Arab News headline the other day...

Grand mufti: Don’t give zakat to beggars

The mufti was encouraging folks to give their money to charities.  I'd like to give my money and/or time to charities in Saudi, unfortunately, just as I'm choosy which beggar gets my money, so am I a little fussy with charities and their ability to do what they claim without pilfering the funds off for themselves. This article earlier in the year from the Saudi Gazette...
...didn't increase my confidence any.  Basically it says charities in Saudi are not that well run at all.

For those who do want to donate time or money to a charity, finding one they're happy with can prove challenging.  There isn't, to my knowledge, a central, comprehensive list of charities available to the public with details about what each does, where they operate or how to contact them, although apparently there are 700 charities registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs.

If someone could whip that up that charity info onto a website that would be fab.  And better still, if you could state whether or not they welcome volunteers, that would be awesome too because I know a number of expat housewives looking for something purposeful to sink their teeth into while living in Saudi.  The best thing I've found so far is this list of Saudi Social Organisations from Araboo, and it's way short of the reputed 700.  Perhaps if all these charities were doing what they claimed, there wouldn't be beggars in Riyadh, would there?  Maybe that's why there isn't a published list.


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