Sep 182007
 
Authors: Luci StorelliCastro

Dear Mates,

I have survived my first full month in Ghana without experiencing any bouts of sickness or any of the other unfortunate incidents I was cautioned about before my departure. Knock on wood that this clean streak continues.

Some of the other international students have not been so lucky /- several cases of malaria and bacterial-related illnesses have cropped up.

Although one month is a relatively short period of time to be making concrete assertions about any country, the time has allowed me dispel some of my earlier preconceptions, while reinforcing others.

One notion that I have done away with, for instance, is the idea that Ghana is scourging with poverty.

As covered in a previous article, there is much more to Ghana than just poverty and it is up to the outsider to try other lenses in order to see through some of the disparities.

One view that I continue to hold onto, though, and which has been reaffirmed through various experiences, is that Ghanaians are a very proud people.

A case in point concerns the issue of begging.

Ghana is a developing country with a significant unemployment rate so, naturally, begging would be common right?

Wrong.

In general, begging is highly discouraged in Ghana.

Unlike other countries where you can’t walk two steps without being hounded by beggars, in Ghana you will be hard pressed to find anyone asking for more than just your friendship.

In fact, I was utterly shocked during the first few weeks of my stay when kids would come up to me asking to be my friends or, in some instances, asking to touch my hair.

I remember thinking to myself: are you for real? Are you sure you don’t want any spare change, candy, food or the like?

I am not the only one surprised at the relative lack of begging.

In a conversation with a visiting British couple, they mentioned how refreshing it was to be able to stroll down the beach without anyone approaching them for change – a far cry from India and Latin American countries they had visited in the past.

“There is begging in Ghana,” Kazia, a Ghanaian drama and sociology student told me, “but it is at a lower scale.”

Kazia explained that one of the reasons why begging is not so prevalent in Ghana is because family doesn’t stop at the nucleur level – there is a well instituted extended family system. So, chances are if your immediate family cannot lend you a hand, a distant relative in a better position will.

Also, in accordance with the Chinese proverb “it takes a village to raise a child,” from my experience, educating a child in Ghana is an activity part taken by the whole society.

Therefore, in the case of begging, which is adamantly frowned upon, it is not solely up to the parents to ingrain children with this mentality. This responsibility is taken up by all concerned members of society.

There was an incident that happened a few days ago that illustrated this point.

As I walked back from classes munching on some peanuts, a group of kids passing by asked me for some. The moment they did this a young man behind me scolded them and the kids sped off with their tails between their legs. They knew they had committed the sin of begging.

While I see nothing wrong with helping others in need, I believe there is a strong lesson to be learned by the way Ghanaians deal with begging.

In Ghana, while most people are of a humble background, they maintain their human dignity – and that’s more than money can buy.

Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column runs Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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