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1. One who solicits alms for a living.
2. An impoverished person; a pauper.

– thefreedictionary.com

Begging, is all around me. In Nigeria I mean, not literally around me, trailing me, holding me down with entreating eyes and dirty hands holding my shirtsleeves begging for a few nairas to spare. Alright, that does happen. They are everywhere: by motor parks, along the streets in busy traffic, at the doors to shopping malls, at restaurants looking through the mirror at you – a ploy to make you feel guilty for stuffing yourself with that chicken while they and their children are out on the streets, begging for scarps to live on so they could survive for yet another day…

Sad, I know. True….probably not.

I have often heard, read and even observed that begging, especially in developing countries is something that would be described as a very lucrative business, if for instance, one happened to be without personal shame, had no qualms about exploiting themselves and especially their loved ones to the contempt and pity of society and its dangers, and also, if one happened to be doing it professionally.

How low can they go? How far do they come? These are some of the questions that are answered in full on one’s first visit to Lagos State, Nigeria. This is not to say that beggars are present only in Lagos. From my years lived in Nigeria, I can tell you that so long as it is urban, populated and profitable, the begging masses will materialize from everywhere – including the nations of Chad and Niger Republic.

Life as a beggar is profitable, believe it or not. The more dense and urban the area, the more they appear with their arms stretched out, palms turned upwards begging for your pity and religious piety.

But what about the risks? Yes some of these people do it for profit, the “corporate beggars”, while others do it because they are disabled in a society that largely scorns those with disabilities, children who are homeless and forced to beg to survive and give their earnings to a “master”, women whose authoritative male head forces her to do so – what about the health risks: the attacks and molestation, the kidnappings and assaults ..the murders for ritual sacrifices? They are often vulnerable targets for predatory and manipulative people, pedophiles and ritualists.

Street Medicine is practices by some to help those who cannot afford to find treatment and medication from formal or informal health centers or pharmacies. People like Dr. Uche Uruakpa of the Doctors for Humankind Foundation who I have written about previously on my blog, provides such aid. But he is one amongst few organisations who go out of their way to provide such services for the poor.

In a nation who seeks to reduce sexual and reproductive health risks and diseases in hopes of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, where did we go wrong? How can we improve the health of those who are at risk – the women and children who risk their lives in hopes of garnering the pity of passersby and tourists?