Poverty is an iron ceiling, a ceiling four feet off the ground, a ceiling that forces those who live with poverty to spend their days hunched over, on the edge of fear and humiliation.
A life lived in poverty … is always about scrambling. A life lived in poverty is about another kind of possibility, the very real possibility that there be no food tomorrow, no shelter, no emergency health care for the children. It’s always about scrambling, about the risk.
Life enslaves the poor by giving them problems that money can resolve, or, dissolve. The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich.
Society can transport money from rich to poor only in a leaky bucket. One day our grandchildren will go to museums to see what poverty was like.
For many years, Ghanaians have allowed poverty and begging levels to remain astonishingly high…far higher than one would think a country 60 years on and ethical society would tolerate.
What is there to celebrate? The justification, when one is offered at all, has often been that action is expensive: ‘We have more will than wallet.’ I suspect that in fact our wallets exceed our will, but in any event this concern for the drain on our resources completely misses the other side of the equation: Inaction has its costs too…As an economist I believe that good things are worth paying for; and that even if curing children’s poverty were expensive, it would be hard to think of a better use in the world for money. If society cares about children, it should be willing to spend money on them.
Poverty indeed is the mother of crime. If poverty is the mother of crime, lack of good sense is the father.
In fact, it is roughly 40 years since sub-Saharan countries have freed themselves from Europe’s colonial rule, the plight of children in Africa has only grown worse. In the 20 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the average citizen is poorer than she was a decade ago, according to the United Nations Human Development Index.
In 11 countries in the same region, more people go hungry today than they did 10 years ago. And children now represent the majority of Africans today; in sub-Saharan Africa there were 340 million, representing 51 percent of the population, in 2003. With girl child education.Yet majority of the youth are on the street as beggars.
What has gone wrong? Students and leaders of Africa point to a mixture of man-made disasters, from unscrupulous rulers to international economic policies, including American and European trade barriers that stunt African producers, and an unrelenting cycle of conflict
Ashaiman, a community that has grown to attain the status of municipality, is being ‘flooded’ by beggars. Streets, market centers, homes, among others, have become a common place where beggars carry on their activities.
It is very common to see beggars, who are mostly blind, tugging the arms of relations as they move from vehicle to vehicle, pleading for mercy and asking for alms, no matter how little, on many streets in Ashaiman.
Some are also pushed in wheelchairs while others wheel themselves, dangerously weaving through traffic at noted intersections within the municipality.
Some of these paupers become over aggressive with people in order to gain something to sustain themselves.
They are mostly unkempt and sometimes wear tattered clothes, or have festering wounds or amputated limbs, which they show because they believe this will stir the emotions of prospective benefactors.
Singing sorrowful Christian songs and begging ‘in the name of God’, the beggars are often able to draw sympathy from the public, especially commuters, who part with some money.
These beggars comprise of both indigenes of the community, some others who had migrated from other part of Ghana, foreigners from other countries like Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, Congo and so on to seek refuge in Ghana because of war and other factors. These beggars have made the street their home.
I have met fathers who have sent away their boys to break stones in another community — something they couldn’t imagine their own fathers doing. I have met girls who will never go to school because their mothers rely on them to fetch water and firewood, one reason girls’ education rates in the community is low.
How wretched life is for some of our fellow citizens! It is just beyond the pale. The problem of poverty is universal, but the degree of deprivation immensely varies and is relative to the ambient economy.
In a community where the economy has stubbornly remained stagnant and the cost of living is skyrocketing, it is just too hard to understand how millions of ordinary Ashaiman citizens make it from day to day.
Everything is becoming expensive and out of reach for the ordinary Ashaiman citizen that they have dubbed the Millennium as “Biribia Beye Fine (Everything will be alright)”.
LIKE most cities and towns in the country, the streets of Ashaiman have over the years become home to hundreds of men, women and children.
While others have graduated from being street dwellers to “slum” dwellers, everyday there are always new entrants on the streets of Ashaiman.
Whereas the well-heeled are building mansions, some among the poor are finding solace on the fast overcrowding streets of Ashaiman.
With the biting economic challenges, there has been a steady increase in the number of people in such desperate situations.
For these, their options are limited; they either resort to begging or simply roam and sleep on the streets or engage in crime.
To make matters worse, there are very few, if any at all, social welfare services to help the destitute, orphans and people living with disabilities, whether on the street or not.
Previously, the primary coping strategy for communities was the extended family, but the capacity of these extended families to support the growing numbers of orphans has declined.
Beggars and street people who spoke to ashaimanonline.com say they can make anything between a few coins to Gh 10 cedi a day depending on the generosity of their benefactors who usually are motorists.
A man giving items to a beggar with children
“In as much as we all want money, sometimes we get food from our benefactors,” Ali Saidu Sadik, a boy begging at Ashaiman Traffic area, said.
“Our main reason for being here is not about making money, its survival; if we go back home there is nothing there. It is a hard living on the streets, but it is still a living, something we cannot do in the North,” Sadik’s friend Suleman said.
Every intersection in Ashaiman’s central business district (CBD) has been invaded by beggars and “the destitute”. They all claim to be destitute and if they are children, they all say the same message: “We are orphans and I need money to pay my school fees and take care of my siblings.”
Despite their different backgrounds and challenges, men, women and children have found a haven on the streets of Ashaiman with children being used to attract sympathy from mainly motorists.
The street children are so daring that they run around between the lanes of fast moving vehicles to beg. The kids are completely oblivious of the danger they are exposing themselves too. They have become permanent features on the city’s roads, with children with babies strapped on their backs, moving from one lane to the other.
Woman being harassed by a beggar
Many children, especially girls, barely into their teens, prowl the city’s traffic intersections while their parents sit in the shadows away from the public’s questioning gaze as their kids beg for money for food or school fees.
“People tend to understand the plight of the girl child so we use our daughters more because they attract sympathy from motorists and get paid more. If I am to beg, people would ask a lot of questions and accuse me of being lazy,” Condrila Nuzula (30) said.
“We are always moving from one intersection to the other because if my daughters become a permanent feature at Ashiaman Traffic people would end up not sympathising with her,” she added.
Condrila Nuzula -A woman who relies on her children to beg for survival
As the number of street people continue to increase, there is pressure on beggars to be innovative and look for new begging techniques and uncongested spots in the city.
“There are a lot people who are begging for money in the city such that my friend and I; we sometimes visit the Ashaiman overhead footbridge. We get a few cedi, especially from those people driving cars with foreign number plates,” Sadik said, further explaining that despite having a home in Atta Deka, they live on the streets, because they need to survive.
“Begging is a survival strategy for some of us. There is a lot of money on the streets of Ashaiman, you should see what happens at night,” Sadik laughed as he refused to explain the nocturnal happenings.
However, the public seem to have problem with beggars in the way they sometimes approach them.
ashaimanonline spoke with some people in ashaiman and this is what they have to say:
“While their peers are in school, some of these child beggars, with the tacit endorsement of their parents, can be found on some of the city’s major roads, including the ceremonial routes, streets, under bridges, under trees and in traffic, desperately trying to put food on their families’ tables.
This they do by harassing passersby. Some even go to the extent of pulling your attire and threaten not to let go off you if you don’t give them something so we are forced to comply to avoid embarrassment” Mr. Ofori said.
A beggar harassing passerby for money
Rebecca Asante – “They come in different faces, ages, complexion, sexes; some twins and triplets from the country’s slum communities, Niger, Mali, Chad, Lebanon, Irag, Sudan, among others.
Some even pretend to be sick, preying on the emotions of unsuspecting members of the public in order to get their daily bread.”
“Do you think some of these so called beggars are really financially handicapped? i have seen a beggar go to the cash machine at Unibank to cash out and then go back to his begging spot. Some of these beggars are relying on the principle of arms giving to exploit the public.” – Mr. Richard Hammond told ashaimanonline.com.
“I even had a homeless person get angry with me the other day for not giving them change and a couple weeks ago witnessed a girl get screamed at by someone for not giving them money.” – Rita Bongreat said.
One of the notorious beggars
Mr. Raymond Abbey said ” most of these women portraying themselves as beggars are with kids. so who are the fathers of those kids? how can a pauper love sex so much that gives birth to several children in such state?”
Efo Victor Lomerne said ” for me i always push them away especially these arab kids who forcibly ask for arms. so long as they want to disgrace me in the street because of arms, am ever ready to retaliate.”
“I am sick of being harassed for money” – Mariama Mohammed angrily said.
The question still remains, what or how can these beggars be curbed for their own safety and that of the public?
60 years on, rather must be an occasion for reflecting why we continue to have millions of our citizens living in abominable poverty at the dawn of the twenty first century and how we can come together as a nation to lift our poor people out of the degrading poverty?
If we reflect upon the images of the limbless and hopping beggars in front of us and put their interests ahead of ours, we could compromise, narrow our differences and bring about a lasting peace and economic prosperity to this ancient country to lift millions from misery.
First, however, we must atone for our ineptitude, pettiness, shortsightedness, and complete failure in recent decades before we usher in the new millennium.
Then, with humility and contrition, to meet collectively the formidable challenges of poverty and instability, let us establish a Millennium Truth and Reconciliation Commission that brings the country together after the recent political fiasco.
Let us wash away our dirty linen and begin afresh.