“It’s three simple words, “Are you hungry?” The next time a homeless person is digging through your garbage, try them.”
My friend Jennifer posted this on her Facebook status and it got me to thinking about how we approach those we want to help. All too often we look at people and their situation and choose a stereotype they fit and decide how we can help them. We see a dirty man with torn clothes rummaging through the garbage and assume he wants food. But they might be looking for bottles to recycle. We see someone asking for money and assume they might want to buy alcohol with it, but they might want to buy food. They might be trying to buy medicine for a loved one or themselves. You don’t know if you don’t ask.
I know from working with homeless children and orphans people assume immediately that the children’s most urgent need is a family or a home. But if you work with street children for any length of time, you will understand that they have much more pressing needs to be filled and are not yet psychologically ready to be placed in a family. Yes, of course they dream of a family, but their needs for that day is what they are focused on.
Last fall I helped with a baseball camp at an orphanage and the kids were constantly coming up and pressing candy into my hands. I like candy, but they had a ton of it to share. Before we left, they asked us if we could tell the mission teams that come visit them to bring them meat and eggs instead of candy and toys. If you ask people what they need, they will tell you.
I learned this lesson first hand with one of the babulas (grandmas) who beg at our market. One day a baba asked me, “Can you bring me a bottle of oil?” I said, “sure.” The next day she looked up at me and asked, “Can you bring me a carton of milk?” “Of course.” She was obviously thrilled to have something specific that she could take home with her. I loved this, because I realized that I could bring her something that she wanted and that this was better than just bringing her bread with the expectation that this is what she needed.
The other day I asked her, “What can I bring you that you really want to eat?” She answered, “I want some meat.” (Meat is expensive and not something poor people eat much of here, if at all.) I returned with over a kilo of beef and gave it to her. She just sat there and cried. I saw her again a few days later and asked her how she was and she said, “I’m cooking up and eating a little meat every day now.”