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The incident that served as the catalyst for this article took place on a hot, humid afternoon sitting in traffic with my significant other, Stephen. We were waiting at a red light in St Augustine, when we noticed a severely disfigured man walking alongside the unmoving stream of cars, begging. He appeared to be suffering from some sort of illness that had left his body covered in growths of various sizes—some as large as grapefruits—and there is little doubt in my mind that it was this  medical condition that had led the man to become entirely destitute.

Stephen is probably the most generous person I have ever met when it comes to giving money, food or a kind word to the homeless; he gives his money freely and without a thought, along with an upbeat word of support, and it’s undoubtedly one of the reasons I’ve remained so unshakeably in love with him over the years. This occasion was no different—he put his window down and gestured to the man to come to the car. The man gratefully made his way over and when Stephen pressed a hundred dollar bill into his hand, the man let out a small gasp of surprise and delight. Then, with great enthusiasm and eyes brightened by instantaneous excitement, he told Stephen that he was going to buy himself some ice cream with the money.

Stephen no doubt took the man’s endearing words as yet another reinforcement of his own personal commitment to give to the less fortunate; I was completely and profoundly moved, and immediately decided to write an article on the impact this seemingly anodyne interaction had on me.

This man who was born a victim of circumstance, loves ice cream. Every day he begs for whatever meagre dollars people toss his way just to be able to survive, and at last, when he got just enough to ‘splurge’, all he wanted was to enjoy some ice cream on a hot Caribbean day. His humbling comment gave me a sudden glimpse into his humanity and showed me that these people we see begging at traffic lights, sleeping on cardboard at street corners, wandering Port of Spain in a daze—these are people who are just like me. They like ice cream just like I do. They feel pain, embarrassment, shame, and vulnerability just like I do. They feel joy, happiness, relief, and excitement just like I do. They are human beings—just like I am.

In Trinidad, where homelessness is a major social ill that is not being sufficiently addressed, this realisation is particularly relevant. We’ve all become numb to the desperation and humanity of these people who are begging for help, for something, for any little thing you can share with them. We prefer to stay in the ivory towers of our air conditioned SUVs, judging condescendingly; we call them ‘drug addicts’; we condemn them as ‘lazy’ and look at them with scorn for not ‘helping themselves’.

We don’t stop and think that success, wellbeing and happiness are circumstantial. We just landed up in the right circumstances; they did not.

There are lots of people with drug and alcohol abuse problems nestled into our cosy little middle-class social stratum right here in Trinidad, but they have the money and family support to get them through their lowest moments and help them back on their feet. Who are we to judge those less fortunate who have made poor choices (largely due to a lack of education and inadequate parental guidance) and find themselves on the street as a result? Furthermore, who are we to assume what has led any given person to become homeless? Why do we automatically presume the worst and allow ourselves to become cold and tight-fisted?

Following Stephen’s example has fortified me in my determination to give whatever I can to ease the burden of those around me, even if it’s just a $20 bill. When I think of how easily I can make that $20, from the comfort of my home office, compared to what a homeless person has to go through to get it, it becomes that much easier to part with.

Just a few little words by a man less fortunate than myself was able to open my eyes and encourage me to give; I hope that these little words of mine will spur you on to do the same, and that they will open your eyes to the small difference you can make for another human being with the simplest of acts.

Sometimes your generosity may be met with hostility or it may be greeted with an overwhelming display of gratitude, but either way, keep giving, sharing, and showing kindness and compassion—you never know what someone may be begging for. It may just be to buy an ice cream on a hot Caribbean day.

 

Share your voice, take this quick survey: Why I Do/Why I Don’t: Give Money To The Homeless