In March 2022, the country was treated to disbelief as 38 street beggars woke from wheelchairs in Thika Town to avoid a mop-up exercise. It is imaginable how a person can fake disability and sit on a wheelchair day long begging. It is easy to judge or condemn Ripser and the Thika-38 but persons experiencing extreme poverty live in a vicious cycle of powerlessness, stigmatization, discrimination, exclusion and material deprivation, which all mutually reinforce one another to an extent that they cannot imagine a different world for themselves. The United Nations Population Fund asserts that poverty is a result of disempowerment and exclusion. Disempowerment defined here as lack of control and dependency on others resulting from severely constrained choices. Living in poverty means experiencing intense physical, mental and emotional suffering accompanied by a sense of powerlessness to do anything about it.
While charity-the practice of almsgiving supported by religious teachings and beliefs, is the first human reaction to alleviate suffering, poor people especially those on the streets do not need a coin-they need a chance. They need an opportunity to reimagine their lives in an inclusive society. An expert group meeting on promoting social integration, Helsinki, (July 2008) defines an inclusive society is a society that overrides differences of race, gender, class, generation, and geography, and ensures inclusion, equality of opportunity as well as capability of all members of the society to determine an agreed set of social institutions that govern social interaction.
The World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen 1995) defines an inclusive society as a “society for all in which every individual, each with rights and responsibilities, has an active role to play”. Such an inclusive society must be based on respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, cultural and religious diversity, social justice and the special needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, democratic participation and the rule of law.
At St. Martin, we are strengthening community capacities to care for and empower vulnerable people in their midst. Our communities are largely geographical communities and homogeneous, safe for urban centers, and people know each other by name and origin. They can create and sustain an inclusive society where all members are enabled and motivated to participate in social, cultural, economic and political activities. Social inclusion is important for a person’s dignity, security and opportunity to lead a better life. We have started mobilizing Risper’s community, to create structures for her social integration. Social (community) participation is important in creating understanding of the vulnerabilities of Risper that goes beyond the physical disability and material poverty. Her community must create an environment where she feels connected with her fragilities and valued as a human person with equal dignity.
Equally, we sensitize the general community on how we can transform charity to give poor people and underprivileged segments of the population greater access to power. Beggars are not passive victims of their circumstances, but are aware of the fact that begging is not a perpetual predicament in their lives. In their daily struggle to survive, we must empower them to resist and counteract the effects of the many forms of suffering brought by privations, abuse, and lack of recognition by transforming structures and institutions that perpetuate inequality and abuse of human rights. Poverty kills dreams and cages dreamers. We all have a role to play in liberating poor people and nurturing their dreams by giving them a chance and not a coin.