An inspiring initiative by a couple who aspire to help beggars become entrepreneurs
WE often find ourselves in a fix when it comes to giving money to beggars. There is no certainty whether the money we hand out will actually help them or end up supporting a criminal syndicate. At best it seems like a band-aid solution to a deeper problem – one that a couple, both medics dubbed ‘Doctors For Beggars’ – are trying to solve.
Begging in India
Begging is often a corollary of severe poverty, rising living costs or unemployment. Common backstories of those who resort to begging are of broken homes, abandonment, violence, tragic misfortune, natural calamities, illness or disability. With no support to rely on and no source of livelihood, they migrate to cities from remote corners of the country in the hope of better opportunities.
Radha is a 45-year-old disabled woman who begs at the capital’s Hanuman Mandir. She came to Delhi from Darbhanga in Bihar, after her husband, a labourer at a construction site, had an accident at work that left him unemployable. Radha, then, took up the role of provider and worked in factories in the city despite meagre pay and bearing sexual harassment.
Unfortunately, she too had an accident that disabled her leg permanently. After that, the probability of finding work declined and she turned to begging in a desperate attempt to help her small kids survive.
Like Radha, people beg on the streets not because they wish to, but because they need to. Begging is their last resort to subsistence. Despite the impressive economic development over the decades, India still struggles with the issue of beggars across states and cities. There are over 500,000 beggars who are destitute and homeless.
Doctors For Beggars
Perhaps a significant step to end begging in our cities, and eventually the country, would be to stop giving money to beggars we come across. Instead, the money can be routed to worthy and credible initiatives that are working to uplift beggars to provide them a chance to turn their lives around. Doctors For Beggars is one such initiative that’s helping beggars become entrepreneurs.
A couple in Pune, Dr Abhijit Sonawane and his wife Dr Manisha, have been running a mobile street clinic for beggars since 2017. They get on their motorbike every day with medicines and equipment to visit their patients on the roadside. The doctor couple provides free medical treatment to Pune’s poor and homeless; even paying the hospital bills of their destitute patients.
They have treated 1,100 beggars till now. But they feel that’s not enough and want to help the needy not just regain health but also regain a better life through a proper source of earning. They recognise the need for a long-term solution and want to help beggars become small entrepreneurs.
Called ‘Doctors for Beggars’ Dr Abhijit and Dr Manisha have already encouraged beggars to earn their living through small jobs – like polishing shoes, selling tea or flowers and have been funding whatever materials they need. So far they have helped 82 of them to become self-reliant and sustain their families.
Now the medics want to build a training centre to equip them with the skills such as paper bag making, candle making, etc. to start their own small and micro-businesses. Not only will they have an income but also earn respect and dignity that every human deserves.
A better way to genuinely help those who’ve resorted to begging is to support an initiative or organisation that is working to empower them and help find a way out. If everyone comes forward and donates whatever little they can to this cause, we just may be able to create a model to end the age-old practice of begging that strips human beings of dignity.
These men and women can start earning and send their kids to school instead of taking them to traffic signals to beg. All we need is a little bit of hope and some help from fellow Indians. The adage goes ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ but with a little help, they can have a choice and a chance at a better life. Let’s take a leaf out of the ‘Doctors for Beggars’ book and make a difference to those who have little choice. Please donate to their initiative.
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Samar is a Marketing Communications specialist and freelance writer. She has a master’s in marketing and creativity from ESCP Business School. She is an avid traveler and likes to write about technology, travel, wildlife and sustainability.