Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Shillingi Kumi (10 Shillings)

When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other. ~Chinese Proverb

What's the worth of 10 Kenya Shillings? In terms of U.S. dollars (for reference only) it's about 13 cents (give or take, depending on the exchange rate).

10 shillings is the price of a cup of chai in several smaller cafes.
10 shillings is the price of a very small bottle of water.
10 shillings is the price of one egg.
10 shillings is the amount of money I am asked for by children and adults who are looking for handouts (in my community and in Nairobi as well).

10 shillings doesn't seem like a lot of money right? Pragmatically, it is not a lot of money, its rather a small amount of money. So, why is it then, that I choose not to give 10 shillings to people looking for handouts? It's definitely not because I am greedy and mean person. On the contrary, I don't give these handouts because I care.

I've noticed, in different parts of Kenya, that there is a "Robin-hood" mentality where 'wealthier' people are required to give handouts to people who are less fortunate. The amount of the handouts seems less important then the handouts themselves. Typically foreigners and wealthy-looking nationals are asked for money.

The stories vary: "my wife/husband is sick"..."my (insert relative) is sick"..."my boy/girl does not have books/pens/food for school"..."my wheelbarrow is broken"...or sometimes the person wont even say anything and just have their hand cupped and, possibly, point to their stomach.

I've noticed that as time has progressed many of the people who, day after day, continue to ask for handouts have stopped asking me or ask on fewer occasions.

I firmly believe in the "teach a man to fish" instead of "give a man a fish".
So while giving a handout today, whether it be 1000 Kenya Shillings (~13$) or 10 Kenya Shillings, the person is not learning anything more than "this person gives money" - which over time can contribute to an over-all mentality of 'money will be provided for me so I need not worry about work'.

That's not to say that all people who are looking for handouts don't work, though. In fact, even people who work will ask for handouts. This just goes back to the idea that the people who are presumed 'wealthy' are required to provide handouts to the less fortunate.
Add in the perception that all foreigners are 'wealthy' and what do we get? We get the wrong perception that even volunteers have lots of money they can hand out to host country nationals who need only ask for the assistance.

In trying to derail this mentality, I will, when possible, explain why I will not give a person a handout.
When I say I wont give them money the typical response is "hata shillingi kumi?" (eng: not even 10 shillings?) "Hapana, pole" (eng: no, sorry).


  1. i'm with you 100%. in fact, i'm with you so much that i wrote a post on this exact same topic with the exact same title 5 hours before you did! funny how we used the same phrases at the same time without ever communicating about it. score.

  2. Hey Daniel we also never ever give money. When a person comes and tells us they are very hungry we usually always offer to go and buy them a meal from one of the local hotels and its amazing how many people refuse! One time Jason bought rice and beans on take out for a beggar and he plain out said "I don't want that I need money", he ended up giving it to the regular beggar right outside the grocery store and that man as overjoyed.

  3. It's so tough! I have to remember that real love is sometimes tough love. Like a parent refusing his child when she asks for more than she needs, we can't enable a beggar's mentality of living off handouts. We must inspire them to choose rightly - to stand on their own - to fly. God does this with us, too. I'm glad he's not a vending machine, but is an interactive Father who wants to see us grow.
    Blessings Daniel!