This was originally written 7/23/2009 when I studied abroad in Ghana, West Africa. I will forever be changed by this country of love, hope, and humility.
Poverty is an issue in most developing nations. We even witness it in the United States despite claims of the American Dream. It is hard to wrap your mind around someone making less than 2 cedis per day (which is less than 1.50 U.S). But this is normal to the lower class in Ghana. It is also hard to understand that flip-flops that we can purchase for $2 and inexpensive toilet paper are luxury items to many of them. Actually, having access to clean water is typically reserved for the middle and upper classes. And I should use the term “middle class” loosely because that class almost does not exist
Because of these factors, I was not surprised to see people begging on the streets. However, the beggars were different from what I anticipated. First, they were children, some as small as 4 or 5 and secondly, many of them were not Ghanaian.
These cute, pecan colored, curly hair, kids were refugees from Chad and Lebanon. They fled their countries to avoid warfare and extreme deprivation. In a lecture from of one my core courses, I shocked to hear the estimated number of refugees that had been displaced from their home land.
I noticed them when I first arrived in Ghana. A cute little girl ran up to the side of our van. Her eyes were glossy as if at any moment tears would trickle down her cheeks. She motioned and then put her hand to her mouth. She wanted money to buy food. I encountered many other children like this. I was surprised though, when I saw her again. That day, I had about 7 kids run up to me and grab various parts of my body to get my attention. They will not let you go unless you become very stern with them. They will even fall to their knees in a desperate plea that makes you wish you could snap your fingers and immediately give them a better shot at life.
The whole sight made me sick. Sick that children have to suffer anywhere. Sick that instead of being in school, they are hustling in the streets.
When I saw the same little girl from the bus, I was able to get the rest of the kids off of me and talk to her alone. She seemed to be the oldest. Her name was Latifah. I asked her what she wanted. She wanted money for herself and her brother. She begged. I gave it to her. She would not tell me where her mother was. I saw her again in the wee hours in the morning when I was leaving a popular club. It was 4am, dark and too dangerous for a child to be out. But there she was with her brother in tow. She came up to me and my male friend. I asked ” Don’t you remember me Latifah? I gave you money earlier?” She nodded.
Sensing her defeat or feeling ashamed, she sent her little brother over to me instead. I had to pick him up when a taxi driver did not see his little body behind the car as he backed up. I asked him where their mother was. He was too naive to know that he was not suppose to tell me. He said at home and pointed up the street.
Basically, these kids that have left their countries now support their families by begging. I have even seen mothers and older siblings point people out in a crowd so the children know who to target.
Some would say: ” What mother would have their child out late at night working in such a way? I know it is tempting, right?
But then, you have to put things into perspective. For some of the people, it’s a matter of eating or not eating, drinking or not drinking, living or dying. But in the mean time, children are exploited and made to grow up way too fast.
The Solution?…. If only I had one