Ethiopia is a traditional society with deep religious feelings and spiritual engagements entrenched in the society’s psyche practically across the board. By many standards, Ethiopians are spiritual people, many foreigners perceive it, and note it in their observations or accounts of our country. They like to observe and after watching us in our daily lives, they put their remarks. For instance, there are few moments in a day when we do not mention or invoke the name of God or Allah, or all the spiritual leaders such as the disciples and the messengers of God and the prophets. Prayers are in many instances the activity that breaks our day or other activities depending on the kind of fervour we have with our beliefs. Muslims do pray at least five times a day as a matter of religious principle and order, and Christians usually pray before having any meal thanking God for the blessing and during the early morning or the late night before we go to bed. Besides, we frequently go to churches and mosques to present our requests to the Lord. I say this because I want to underline that basically we are a deeply religious people and our commitment extends to our neighbours and our compatriots as well and if you stretch it a bit, to all other human beings without any distinction of any kind, without discrimination, be it nationality, race, religious orientation, gender and social status etc. Our religious stance, our values tell us that we need to be ‘good’ toward others, and we need to do all we can towards assisting others who are in need. The idea of ‘volunteering’ is even deeply entrenched in our basic beliefs if we think of it in these terms.
The Sacred Books say if you have two, give away one, to those who do not have any! This is a kind of golden rule of ‘ethics’ and ‘morality’. We all cherish being able to give to others and we usually feel really gratified by our good deeds. This leads us straight to the idea of volunteering.
We volunteer to help others who are in less fortunate situations than ours, and the way one can find about that is the kind of families we have here. We normally have very large extended families in our society, and it is something very common to have even a dear friend allow live in our compound if he or she was in need of such accommodation. We are also a very charitable society in the sense that we cherish giving to others alms both because it is part of the religious dictates we are supposed to follow ( the one tenth principle to be shared to others in the Christian faith, and the ‘Zecca’ in the Muslim faith). Hence, one could say that it is almost institutionalized to donate to stretch a hand to those who are in dire conditions.
Begging has been considered as a way of life in many quarters in our society and traditionally students of the spiritual books and religion had the right to go around and beg for food and other necessities in order to be able to study without any worries and as people would understand it, there was no stigma to beg. Nowadays, many say that begging has become a sort of an ‘occupation’ even without the educational enterprises and premises we have noted above. Reasonably, people with serious disabilities may have no choice but to rely on the generosity or alms of others but those who can actually look for a job such as even the kind that does not need any skills, such carrying things for someone who comes from a market with lots of stuff or washing a car or getting employed as a guardian in some compound are seen preferring to resort to begging, and as we are a society that does not condemn totally begging and rather take it with some understanding, viewing the circumstances of the beggar, we tend to stretch our generous hands to those who lower their dignity to the extent of begging.
They would say he or she begs because they are in dire need and do not have alternatives! This is a sort of ‘moral justification’ we give to those who beg us for something. And we tend to be indulgent. One can see scores of people in any religious establishment, be it a church or a mosque, seated with sufficient dignity and calm, and wait for alms to pour on them from the laity. Church and mosque goers just have the habit of distributing coins as well as food items and even drinks to these people who rely on such gestures.
In other simple terms, we volunteer to help others because there would not be any one or body that would force us to do that. It is simply in our habits and mentality to do it. But when it comes to giving in an institutional manner to a certain establishment that is engaged with some humanitarian activity, we are not so willful or zealous. Individually, all of us are charitable and anyone who begs would manage to have some coin from us when we see them begging along the roads or around the taxi or bus terminals. And nowadays there are even several ways of begging, including alluding serious medical cases and asking for remarkable contributions, for transport purposes as they say they have been robbed or subjected to theft and would not have the resources to go back to their native land. We have seen some begging for fees to cover ‘funeral services’ because they have lost a relative. And people would not go by without tossing a coin or two to these ‘unfortunate’ people. But not always have these claims resulted to be genuine and when we manage to find out that it was all a make-believe, we tend to be unkind even to those who actually would deserve to be helped.
BY FITSUM GETACHEW