Why the optics? POVERTY IS HELL people’s dignity and rights to privacy must be respected

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OPINION

Images published in one of the dailies of politicians and businesses distributing hampers to needy persons af­fected by Covid-19, always have me disturbed, angry and disap­pointed.

In one particular case, it was merely a charade or a politi­cal act to show “UNC people” that the PNM Government cares for them and to publicly shame those who found themselves on the wrong side of the economic continuum. Regardless of the rea­son, this public display of giving does nothing more than open the recipients to ridicule and possibly affect the self-esteem of the fami­lies who were forced to seek alms from the Government and other donors. This is not the image that should be projected.
It is common knowledge that there will be major economic fallout as a result of this global pandemic. The tourism sector and the airline industry have been bru­tally hit and the threat of closure ominously hangs over the jobs of persons employed in these areas.

One should never benefit from the misery of others

Globally, the expected loss is such that governments have been forced to introduce social and financial packages to soften the blow on the most vulnerable. Here at home, many believed that the social programme would as­sist those who are displaced due to the enforced social lockdown.
However, acts of benevolence are never intended to be oppor­tunities for ostentation. Acts of benevolence are supposed to al­leviate the burden and the threat of poverty that people face. One should never benefit, even opti­cally, from the misery of others.
Images of people receiving hampers during a Government drive, where the practice of social distancing is ignored, are upset­ting. Images of politicians putting people at risk just to seemingly score some cheap points trying to convince people that they care can only be described as foolish.
Social consequences of their actions
First, in a country where over 50 billion dollars are spent an­nually, images of a drive to feed families with nothing to eat should never exist. In an economy like ours, where billions of dollars have passed through our coffers, the level of need should not be an issue at this time.
Second, when a politician has to be present during a food distri­bution drive, posing and postur­ing, it sends the message that it is not about the recipients and the mouths to be fed. Such posturing sends out a message of politick­ing, especially during an election year.
Third, it is not necessary to show the faces of those lining up to receive hampers and worse yet, publish the names of some of the recipients. In many cases, peo­ple’s faces are blurred out, simply to protect their identity and espe­cially their dignity. What is the reason for this undue publicity?
Do politicians and other do­nors understand the social conse­quences of their actions? Do they realize the extent to which such images portray levels of social inferiority that may continue to bedevil the recipients of their so-called benevolence? Have they considered the silent narrative that accompanies these acts and how such behaviour gives valid­ity to comments about the indus­triousness of the people who give and the people who receive? Do they comprehend how such acts of the show could damage the psyche of the recipients?
There are many in society who quietly and without parade and fanfare, positively impact the lives of those affected by the in­equities in our society.

A politician gives out two dinner mints to a constitu­ent…

There is one supermarket own­er who weekly distributes over 100 hampers, not because of the potential for a mass of persons inundating his place of business, but simply because he respects the dignity of the recipients and his sole aim is to ensure that every mouth is fed.
There is a security company owner, not part of the 1%, who has already delivered more than 500 hampers not only to John Public and first responders but also to officers in his employ who suffered when some of the busi­nesses to which security services are provided were forced to close. He has not published a single pic­ture of anyone receiving a hamper because he respects the right to privacy of the persons to whom he has been benevolent.
There is one sports store own­er with seven stores across the country who annually gives as­sistance to hundreds and he has never posed in photos with the recipients. There is a former poli­tician who has helped thousands throughout this country and who continues to do so but you will never see any pictures of this be­nevolence on display.
There is a business magnate whose company builds houses every month and gives them to homeless families and not once has there ever been pictures of him dangling house keys before the new homeowners. This same firm, as recently as last Sun­day, distributed 10,000 hampers throughout Trinidad and refused to have one picture taken of him and his volunteers in action.
Some private citizens shopped at Massy Stores, took advantage of the $150 hamper items and do­nated them and not one posted a picture on Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp or any form of social media.
But a politician gives out two dinner mints to a constituent and he/she expects a truckload of sugar from the recipient in return inclusive of posing for a photo-opp! Government MPs and politi­cians take pictures and publish the names of beneficiaries, the same persons who for years have been robbed as a result of poor policy-making, corruption and a lack of fiscal vision. Now, after years of financial deprivation, a pandem­ic hits and government act as though giving is predicated on the compassion.

People are going through difficult times

The Government needs to know that before the Covid-19 pandem­ic arrived on our shores, jobs were lost; people were knocking on doors, and individuals, the busi­ness community and NGOs have been quietly giving out hampers because many still live by what we teach and what we preach. The giving of alms in all religious en­claves, whether Christianity, Hin­duism, Islam, Buddhism, Jewish, is advocated and support can be found in all of the Holy Books.
It is therefore extremely disap­pointing wherein a Government comprising of persons who are predominantly of the Christian faith, there is a failure to follow the dictates of Matthew 6:1-4 on the method and approach that should be undertaken in the distri­bution and giving of alms. “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Fa­ther in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their re­ward. But when you do a charita­ble deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself re­ward you openly.”
Within the government, there are those of the Islamic faith who ought to have advised politicians, especially in this month of Rama­dan, against pursuing this public display, since in the Holy Quran, Chapter 2 Surah Baqarah verse 271, All ‘ah the Merciful and Beneficent says: “If ye publish your almsgiving, it is well, but if ye hide it and give it to the poor, it will be better for you and will atone for some of your ill-deeds. Allah is Informed of what ye do.”
Even in the Hindu Scriptures, the Hindu Varnashrama advises that “dharma is obligatory for householders not to refuse anyone who approaches them for food or water, and give whatever they have even if it means they have to remain hungry;” this is in the private domain.
The true test of leadership lies in the obedience to one’s God and if our politicians, on a simple act such as the giving of alms, could ignore the writings of their Holy Writ, it is clear that these are not people we could afford to trust.
The humiliation through which this Government is putting people through is abominable. Such pub­lic parade can cause them to be despised by those who they pur­port to help. The enforcement of stereotypical themes by these ac­tions must be discouraged.
It may already be too late.