Poverty: Do You Think Beggars Are Comfortable With Handouts

Have you ever experienced someone who lives in deep poverty, I am talking about someone whom its obvious that they live in the margins of society. Someone very peripheral, who when you extend some form of empowerment focused assistance swears or curses at you because to him it seems you want to disrupt his form of livelihood? By empowerment focused approach I mean “a food for work initiative” instead of directly giving them money.

creative-beggarMost of the time these individuals exhibit a form of hostility towards those who are attempting to help them with some form of work. December 2013, I was in Addis Ababa, and I found a similar phenomenon. However, there they were more aggressive and used all forms of schemes to get money from tourists to the extent of using babies to trap “if these were their babies” and generate some form of sympathy. Don’t get me wrong there are certain pressures that lead people to poverty, they might not have chosen this path, but with handouts it gets a bit comfortable to be where they are.

From someone who has worked with poor communities in rural Swaziland, I noted the deliberate efforts made by rural women to develop themselves and their families through collaborative community based income generating activities. This was largely done through non governmental and community based organization funding through capacity and small grants.  These communities had a sense of self belief and motivation to make life just a little bit bearable even though they were not getting huge returns but enough to get by.

The difference between these rural folks and the beggars in Mbabane, Manzini, Addis Ababa, was that sense of pride when they succeeded in what they did whether a community project, income generating activity or food for work, they always had this glow and joy that they were doing work for themselves. These rural women were driven by the change they wanted to see, whilst tapping into community resilience that was surprising given their living conditions.

Looking at these two scenarios one wonders if our governments, bilateral institutions, religious institutions, training institutions, and civil society organizations really believe in change? Do we ever envisage an Africa continent or Swaziland free of poverty, lack and marginalization? If in a twinkle of an eye we didn’t have the poor with us, would we celebrate a success of poverty eradication? Many would be retrenched or would they find other jobs to sustain the change?

Though we display goals of vision 2020 or 2022 in plaques we seem to be too lethargic in the process of initiating change that will result in permanent change. The income distribution skew continues to be steep, the rich are getting richer, whilst the poor are getting poorer. It would seem to me the status quo creates a conducive environment for further entrenchment of the dependency syndrome. The receivers continue to receive handouts so that we keep them right where we want them, and the same receivers have found comfort in receiving such that change is not what they want to see. They do not want to see change because change will shake their nest and disturb their comfort. We are breeding a society of people who have gotten used to receiving that it has become their way of life to beg and to take, and we have it systematized even in our programming.

A generation that doesn’t seek after empowerment is a generation that will propagate the increase of discord that leads to escalation of crime. And crime will affect those who are empowering themselves now. In development, we say the function holder for development is always the government, and many ask what becomes the role of government when change is not what we want to see. Policy formulation is totally different from policy implementation.

Currently, Swaziland sits at 63% (SHIES, 2010) poverty rate and 40% (SDHS, 2007) unemployment rate, and a 26% HIV prevalence rate, these rates makes us vulnerable as a country and therefore a charity case. I have said in this very platform that dependency leads to vulnerability. Our state of vulnerability has placed us in a position where we literally cannot live or survive without external assistance. External assistance has helped in employing some of us to deal with developmental issues and pulling people out of their poverty situations.

Our vulnerability makes us dependent. The change we don’t want to see might just be eradication of poverty, marginalization and lack.  Maybe we still want to be dependent;

“[Dependency is]…an historical condition which shapes a certain structure of the world economy such that it favors some countries to the detriment of others and limits the development possibilities of the subordinate economics…a situation in which the economy of a certain group of countries is conditioned by the development and expansion of another economy, to which their own is subjected.”

(Theotonio Dos Santos, “The Structure of Dependence,” in K.T. Fann and Donald C. Hodges, eds., Readings in U.S. Imperialism. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1971, p. 226)


Swaziland Demographic Health Survey (SDHS, 2007)
Swaziland Household Income and Expenditure Survey (2010)
Manzini (Industrial City in Swaziland)
Mbabane (Capital City Swaziland)
Addis Ababa (Ethiopia capital city)

Community Resilience: An Untapped Resource for Sustainable Development


Communities have inherent in their systems, means of survival and a tenacity that has seen them through very difficult times. There is a heart in communities that keeps pumping and keeping people alive even in the midst of poverty and adversity. Am I saying communities don’t need development interventions? Not at all, but the issue at hand is how development workers can harness these “in-built” community strengths. How can community resilience lead to sustainable development?

Resilience in Action

The process of continuous survival and coping even in the hardest of situations is called “resilience.” Masten (2009) defines it this way: “Coping may result in the individual ‘bouncing back’ to a previous state of normal functioning, or simply not showing negative effects [from shocks].” In Sub-Sahara, especially in Swaziland, we have seen the principle of resilience in action in rural communities. Sub Sahara is in trouble, but there is a remnant that continues to survive and thrive in the face of all these challenges.

Irrespective of government or development practitioner intervention, the elderly in Swaziland tend to demonstrate a high level of resilience in the face of perpetual poverty and HIV. In Swaziland, because of the high HIV prevalence rate (26%) the country is faced with an orphan challenge, the burden of which falls on older relatives, often female. Modeling by the U.N. SPECTRUM indicates that by 2015 there will be about 110,000 children who will have been orphaned as a result of AIDS in Swaziland, a kingdom of just over 1 million people. In the absence of a state organized social security system, the burden of care is accepted because of emotional bonding, duty, guilt and/or the lack of other available services in the community. It has been acknowledged for some time that the traditional homestead has long ago ceased to offer the social safety net it once did, but to understand how these systems functioned in the past is key to building a brighter future.

Are typical development interventions at odds with resilience?

As development workers continue to design interventions on behalf of communities, the question I ask myself is, “How can development workers harness people’s resilience and use it for sustainable development?” Here I am not referring to a sustainability that just focuses on the workers trying to keep their jobs by getting more funding to replicate a program so that it can be called a best practice. Rather sustainability is largely to do with a program being able to continue generating benefits for the community even when donor funding has been finished. When communities are empowered to do more—that I call sustainability.

For development workers to facilitate sustainable development by using people’s personal strengths, there is need for a shift in their mindset, especially where their approach is concerned and how they integrate the views of the communities. At the end of the day, communities must be able to integrate bottom-up development programs into their daily routine.

What seems to matter to us as development practitioners is we want change the way we perceive it. From where I stand this push for change is usually service provider and/or donor driven, and less about the lived realities of the people we are serving. In effect, we forget who really matters. If we push the agenda of development from our perspective and forget that communities have survived and continue to survive in spite of our efforts, then we are bound to fail in any attempt to bring about sustainable development.

Meaningful consultation with communities must become a “must-have”

Sustainability is asking ourselves what is really the change that we want to see during and after an intervention, beyond outputs. And there is no way we can ask this question and get an answer without proper consultation with community members. Often the argument of practitioners against consultation is that the cost is too high. I have seen a few projects designed on behalf of communities that have done well. However, the cost of consultation versus the cost of a white elephant or an ineffective program means its long-term dividends cannot be overlooked.

To properly consult with communities is banking on the fact that communities are a resilient lot that will survive, even without interventions. Lessons learnt from my work is that inherent in community systems already is development—communities know what they need and what to do to come out of their poverty situation, but simply lack technical know-how and resources.

So as an outsider coming into their system, development workers need to develop a mentality that will appreciate who people are, rather than just disrupting the way they do things with a short-term intervention. Systems approaches allow development workers to understanding how things influence one another and see communities as a whole, i.e. the forest rather than the trees.

Households survive in hard times without technical expertise provided by the development community.  The act of care giving has continued to sustain families even in the face of perpetual suffering, disease, sickness, unemployment and high levels of poverty. Tapping into community individual, family, and community resilience is one of the ways countries like Swaziland can achieve sustainable development.

At the heart of resilience, there is an underlying ability for human beings to sustain themselves and push for development. It is internal strength that pushes rural communities to fight for survival and development workers need to find ways to better leverage these strengths.

Masten, A. S. (2009). “Ordinary Magic: Lessons from research on resilience in human development”. Education Canada 49 (3): 28–32.
UNAIDS/UNICEF/USAID, (2004). Children on the Brink, A Joint Report of New Orphan Estimates and a Framework for Action.
UNDP (2012). Africa Human Development Report (2012) – “Towards a Food Secure Future”. United Nations Publications.
Vaddadi, K.S. (1997).  Burden of care in the home: issues for community management. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (1997), vol. 3, pp. 246-253
World Commission On Environment and Development (1987). The Brundtland Commission Report “Our Common Future”. Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1987)<

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