By Ravi Philemon

I have been an active community worker for some years, and in these years, some people had seemingly taken advantage of my kindness. But I do understand. Such people don’t set out to deceive or cheat. But when you are down and out, it’s all about the survival of the fittest. You do whatever you need to do, to stay alive.

And staying alive doesn’t always have to be about food or shelter. To a smoker, staying alive means that he has to have his daily cigarette fix. To an alcoholic – the bottles of beer, or even cheap Chinese wine. Just like how it is for any kind of addiction.

Yeah, it’s not ideal, for you could be using the money you use to satisfy your cravings on something more useful, like food for your children? But how does judging help these?

I remember some years ago, a struggling single mother of 4 children had called me up, and said that there was no food at home. I arranged for some provisions for her and asked her to come over to where I was to pick them up. At the door, as she was leaving after having picked up the provisions, I asked her how she was going to carry all the stuff back. She said that she was going to walk as she had no money. I was shocked as she lived a good 8km from where we were. I took $20 from my wallet and asked her to take a taxi back as her children might be hungry. She gratefully accepted the money.

A few minutes later, I decided to go to the nearby coffeeshop for lunch, and saw the same woman smoking. It was quite obvious that she had used the money I had given her to buy herself a pack of cigarettes. On seeing me, she smiled sheepishly, and hid the lit cigarette behind her. I smiled back.

Even though I initially felt like I had wasted $20 of my money, I’m glad that I didn’t judge her outright, or tell her off. For if I had, she would not have continued to keep in touch with me, and I would have missed referring her and her children to places where she could be better helped.

Because I myself come from such a disadvantaged background, I know that when the whole world seems to be crumbling all around you, you need a refuge and a solace in something. The cigarette was it for that single mother.

Anyone working with the disadvantaged has got to understand that things don’t change just because you sat down with them one night and did some financial counselling. Some of these may not be able to hold down a job or stop wasting money on vices like smoking and alcohol, not because they don’t want to – after all who wants to continue being in such a depressive state? But because their pressing circumstances and situations sometimes prevents them from being able to do so. Some people who have not been poor, fail to realise that you must be almost a superhero to claw your way back up from such a deep pit.

Yes, I too believe in self-reliance, but for some, you will need one or two generations to build up their capability to be so. And it is for this reason I ask that those that work with such – whether in the social services sector, or the meet-the-people sessions, or even in your individual capacities – don’t dismiss these outright just because they don’t fit into your set patterns for rendering help.

However frustrating it may be, remain engaged and continue to point towards hope. For only hope can set some of these free – eventually.

This  was first published on Ravi Philemon’s facebook post

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