If looking for other writing samples, please click here (personal essay) and here (editorial written for Youth Messenger).
No matter how diverse their cultures and where they are located on the world map, most cities have at least some things in common. One of the most common constants is the existence of a group of people we have named, "the homeless". Different cities have different methods to attempt a "solution" to the amount of individuals that linger on the outskirts of towns or mingle in the throngs of people walking downtown and who occasionally come up to us and ask for change.
Brazilian cities are no different, except, perhaps, in the amount of individuals that refuse to hide, rather who make a living by begging and placing themselves in strategic locations where the public passes by so their pleas may have a greater chance of being heard and answered. It is fact that if you walk downtown in most cities, you can observe these individuals either laying down in alleyways, against buildings, under benches or walking among the multitude of shoppers and sellers. Most of the time we observe but ignore because of the uncomfortableness of the situation.
These are people who ask for help, but only the kind they want not the kind we believe they need. Shelters, homes, even jobs and education are available, but that would mean conforming to rules and standards such as curfews and showers, responsibility and meals at specific times. Yet the question that keeps nagging us is, "are we right to ignore them?" They want money. We have our suspicions and don't want to feed their addictions.
Last week I was one in the multitude that paced frantically from one store to another downtown Presidente Prudente in the interior of São Paulo, Brazil, in hopes of buying everything I "needed" to purchase before the stores closed. As I wrapped up my shopping and was on my way to the car, I witnessed something that made me think of this exact topic. A homeless man, wrapped in blankets and his belongings somewhat scattered closely around him had chosen to sit down in the middle of the walking area between the buildings of commerce. There he leaned against a pole and settled himself. He was invisible to everyone, including myself. He was simply another vagrant that was probably going to beg soon so I should change my course and avoid him. In my hurry to get things done and obtain, obtain, obtain... The thought of what I could give didn't even cross my mind.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a little blur. A girl around seven years old with a head full of curls was running out of a store. She hopped outside and slowed her steps, and I noticed what she had in her hand. She was unwrapping a piece of candy. As she came out of the store and closer to the man, she cocked her head and slowly rewrapped the candy. Without a second of hesitation she approached the man without fear, without disdain, without anything but an outstretched arm and a candy in her fingers. The man took the candy with a smile that lit up his face and blessed* her. She smiled and hopped back to join her mother outside the store.
I have been pondering this topic since then and have come to the conclusion that ignoring individuals is never the solution. Although the little girl's sweet act (pun intended) didn't change the man's situation nor did it solve the fact that so many people live on the streets in dire conditions, but it changed that man's day and, if her act of solidarity filled me with hope and made my day, I'm sure it brightened his. Maybe instead of being overwhelmed with the task of solving a worldwide issue, what we're meant to do is better the world around us. How does it go again? Oh yeah, "The ocean is made of little drops of saltwater and after all..."
*It is a Brazilian custom for the elderly to bless those younger than themselves. Children are taught to greet their elders with "bless me" to which their aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents will respond with "God bless you".