Two weeks ago a twenty two year old Kenyan man was arrested trying to sneak his new born baby out of Kenya’s national hospital because he could not afford to settle the maternity bill. This sad story had a relief ending after a public outcry led to his release by the court on a suspended sentence and a job offer to the unemployed new father from a city governor.
Before attempting the sneak, the new dad had reportedly tried to fundraise from friends and relatives. A photo found its way to social media of a list of ‘donors’ who had given various small amounts. One gave five shillings. Yes, five Kenyan shillings.
Now what can five shillings buy in year 2019? You could buy a stick of chewing gum, or one tomato or one piece of mandazi or half a banana if you can find a vendor who sells half a banana.
It is interesting that someone would donate such a meaningless amount of money. The hospital bill was fifty six thousand shillings and it would take eleven thousand and two hundred people donating five shillings each to settle.
Of course netizens made fun of it. And I too couldn’t help but smile, am only human.
But it got me thinking. How many times do we give something in good faith only for people to complain that we have given too little? You tip a door watchman and they ask for more. You give some handout to a jobless cousin and they tell you it’s not enough. They make you feel you have not tried to help. Infact some people will even tell you to keep your petty coin. I once saw a man give three shillings to a beggar and the beggar threw them back!
But this young father accepted the five shillings and noted the contribution alongside those of higher amounts made by others.
So I thought, what if five shillings is all that the giver had? Before laughing at the amount, did we know her circumstances? Did we pose to wonder how much she had in her pocket for her to give such a small amount? Did we wonder whether she is one of millions of people who go to bed hungry every night without a single coin in their possession?
Could it be the five shillings was the last coin she had? Probably money for that one piece of mandazi she was going to have for supper? Or probably money for a jerry can of water for her night bath?
Because that’s the thing about poor people. They give even when they don’t have. Rich people give after they have met their needs. Poor people give even when they haven’t met their needs because they understand immediate pain. Most rich people will imagine the pain of poverty but it’s far removed from them, like it’s happening in a world apart, and they feel it is somebody else’s responsibility to help. They will blame the government and say a prayer that the poor man gets help. They will say they have already paid taxes for the poor to get services. So they will take no action.
But the poor know they have to act for each other. They have no insurance to rescue them and the government that is supposed to help is the same government that detains them in hospital when they cannot pay. They know if they don’t help their neighbour, tomorrow there will be no one to help them.
The lady who gave five shillings is better than the many who heard that story and gave nothing other than their comments on social media.
Yes, I must confess, she was more human being than I.