Poverty can easily be seen throughout the capital of Ethiopia, but nowhere is it more evident than when you pass a beggar on the street. Beggars are everywhere in Addis Ababa, and they represent a vast range of demographics. There are men, women, children of all ages and conditions– some with their mothers, some without, and the severely disabled.
Older children, rather than begging, try to sell you gum or clean your shoes, while the younger children walk in front of you asking for money or food, not leaving you until they spot another person to ask. The women are often with young children, sometimes babies, and usually with more than one. I was once walking down the street and a young child no older than 2 or 3 who was being held by his mother made the signal they all make to ask for food or money while calling me sister. I thought this child probably learned this signal before he even learned how to speak. Women are often seen grilling corn on the sidewalk on a small grill to sell to people passing by.
I have been told the severely disabled have most likely suffered from stunting, polio or the war. I have seen men with disfigured legs so mangled that they can not walk but instead drag themselves down the sidewalk. Others are in wheelchairs and unable to walk. And this city is not easy for the disabled. The sidewalks, where they exist, are not always flat and not always paved. There are also often giant holes in the middle of the sidewalk or loose concrete slabs covering gutters. On the main roads, near where I’m staying there are tarps and blankets off to the side of the road where where the beggars must sleep or live.
It is a very difficult scene to walk through. You want to help them all and give everyone a little bit of money or food. But there are so many it would be nearly impossible to give to them all. We have been told to not give to beggars because once you give to one you will be surrounded by others. When people do give money to beggars it is often very small bills or coins that will not go very far.
I have often wondered how much money they actually receive. Perhaps it would be beneficial to do more in depth look at why these people became beggars and where they come from. After a cursory search for research and reports on beggars in Addis Ababa, I found very little. There is a study on the disabled beggars and a report focusing on children. There is a documentary that follows two women who come to the capital from a rural town and become beggars in order to raise money for their family when climate change creates a food shortage.
Both the government of Ethiopia and large NGO’s, like USAID and the UN, are working to stop the “cycle of poverty.” There are major health and nutrition projects being implemented all over the country, but these are long-term projectsn that do not address the immediate needs of people on the streets. Short term solutions such as creating shelters or centers for the disabled and homeless could allow beggars more opportunities for housing but could also generate income potential through workshops and other skill development programs.
Photo credit: Erik Haussler