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Friday is begging day in Lilongwe

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An interaction with Google search engine about what is so special about Friday gives you a wide range of answers about this day.

Some of the answers include the following; casual day in many workplaces, looking forward to sleeping in on Saturday morning, get together with friends and it is a day once a year which is called “Good”.

The day and its associated meanings and activities vary across people, cultures and religions. For Muslims, Friday is their prayer day.

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However, the day seems to carry another element with it, especially in Lilongwe City.

Every Friday around lunchtime, scores of people said to be from underprivileged families move around begging from individuals and shops in the city.

Among these beggars are the elderly, women, children and even men who mostly wander around shops belonging to people of Asian origin.

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The reasons for begging also vary among individuals.

Margret Malisoni lives in Chiuzira, Area 23 Township. She says she has no one to support her and that is why she is in town begging from Asians and other people alike on Friday.

At 47, Malisoni considers herself well advanced in years to do piecework for a living.

“I am old as you can see. I do not have a husband or children to help me. I decided to start begging, especially from these Asians and Friday is an ideal day,” she says.

Malison adds that although the amount of money she gets is not enough to transform her life, she still appreciates the little she and her colleagues get from Asian shop owners.

“We are able to survive urban life because of this begging,” she says.

Esther Amos is another beggar. She lives in Chinsapo and comes to town every Friday to beg and sustain her family with food at home.

She says she used to sell mandasi (doughnuts) as a business but recently she had her products confiscated by city authorities and that has rendered her bankrupt.

Amos believes that begging from shops or streets is not a way out of poverty. But a small business can help. The only problem is that she has no capital to start a business.

Fourteen-year-old Martin Benson says begging in the streets is his life because he was born into it.

“I have been in the streets since my birth. My mother used to take me when she was alive. So I do not have anywhere else for help than wander around in shops or beg from passers-by, especially on Fridays,” Benson says.

The begging syndrome has also hit the menfolk. Some of them walk long distances just to beg in town.

Mainga Chibweza is in his early 50s and has a family. He walks for over 30 kilometres to and from town to beg because he has no food at home.

“I did not harvest anything due to lack of fertiliser,” Chibweza says, adding that sometimes he gets as low as K25 from shop owners. Surprisingly, he pops up again the following Friday.

Goodmat Jeke works as a security guard in one of the shops in Area 3, Lilongwe. On Friday, he turns out a beggar too.

“My salary is not enough to take me through to the other month,” Jeke says. “I beg on Friday because it is a prayer day for Muslims and Asians of this religion give out a lot of money as alms.”

N o wonder that shops in Areas 2 and 3 and the main entrance to a Mosque in Area 2 are crammed with people waiting for a fortune to drop in their stretched arms.

The begging practice or behaviour may be a nuisance to society and indeed not a way out of poverty. Those who give out alms have their reasons too. They border on compassion and religious beliefs.

“On one hand, I feel sorry to see an old woman or a child suffering. So I am always compelled to assist them and anyone in dire situations,” says Rafik Mohamed, one of the Asian shop owners in Area 2.

“On the other hand, it is in our religion and culture as Muslims to share or help those who are deprived. But that does not mean that it encourages begging. We just need to come together to help these people because at the end of the day, they are our brothers and sisters.” he says.

But sometimes being too generous is costly.

Some shop owners have so many beggars flooding the entrances of their shops every Friday. An assistance to one leads to a multitude such that on Fridays, some shops host 30 to 40 beggars, according to another shop owner Razin Moura.

“I cannot manage to give everyone K200 or K500. So I give out at least K20 to everyone when they are not many and K10 each when they have come in large numbers,” Moura says.

Surely, the money is peanuts if one has to factor in the time spent and distance covered by the beggars.

There are no immediate solutions when it comes to curing the endemic begging syndrome among adults. You cannot send them to school or heap them in a transit shelter for a journey into the future because they are possibly already in their future!

But the major worry is on children like 14-year-old Martin Benson, who have a big chance of diverting from this begging life.

Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Minister Jean Kalilani calls for a better way of helping children begging in the streets and shops than giving them money.

“Those people enthusiastic to lend a hand must do so by placing these children in schools, either public or private so that they can have a good future,” Kalilani says.

Whatever measures would be taken to curb begging in the streets and shops, the fact remains that Friday is unofficially a begging day in Lilongwe.

Perhaps Google can add the begging aspect to activities and practices associated with Friday as a day.

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