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April 29, 2012, Sunday

‘After goodness knows how many years in Turkey, I still don’t know the right answer…’

I wonder how many of us feel this way at times when living in a cross-cultural situation. In Turkey, it is normal to feel awkward when a beggar approaches you. Western expats often do not know how to handle this situation.

After being approached a few times when walking down the street I decided to ask some of my Turkish friends what they advise me to do. I figured that my Turkish friends would know how to handle these situations better. Most of them said the best way to handle it is to say in a loud voice, “Yok teyze, yok” (I have nothing, aunty). Of course, if it is a male beggar, you need to say “amca” (uncle), and for a child use “canım” (my dear) instead of the word, “teyze” (aunt). Expressing your negative reply this way softens the answer.

The following question was recently raised on a social network by “LJ” and I thought it would be good to share it here and ask for feedback from Today’s Zaman readers. Here is what LJ wrote:

“As a social worker who has worked in child welfare and [is] a lover of children, I’m always torn when I pass a child begging on the street, as I know giving money to that child means it will not end up in their hands. Coming from a culture where this is illegal and there would be other options for these children, I am always left feeling hopeless. Sometimes I will give them a piece of fruit or some food, but I really feel so ineffectual. Today on Today’s Zaman I saw this short article about public service ads that will start running shortly on this very issue.” Here is an excerpt from the Today’s Zaman piece:

“Prepared jointly by the Ankara Police Department and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the clips, each approximately one minute long, have well-known figures promoting social responsibility. In one of the clips, child beggars not older than 10 and wearing dirty clothes ask people for money. When the people move to give them money, a narrator asks, ‘Did you know that anything you give these children will go into the pockets of the men exploiting them?’ The passers-by decide not to give the children money. The next scene displays a popular actor saying, ‘Children forced to beg in the streets should not be viewed as a problem; they should be our hope for the future.’ At the end, the narrator suggests viewers call the 155 police line when they come across child beggars.” After I read the note from LJ, who is expressing genuine concern, I decided to share her excellent questions and ask for your input on them. Here are the four questions she raised:

1) Does anyone have good thoughts on this issue?

2) What is being done for the street children in this country? By the government? By people like us?

3) If children are “rescued,” does this provide long-term results that prevent them from being re-exploited?

4) Does anyone know what happens if we call the number when we see these children?

In LJ’s note she wrote that she agrees that this is a difficult issue and adds that giving money means the children get put to work instead of sent to school. I liked how LJ put it when she said: “How many times have I turned left or right at traffic lights and seen a group of men/mums who are the ‘employers’ of these dear kids just sitting there around the corner. BUT it is a real dilemma because if the kids don’t get enough money, they are beaten.” I don’t think LJ is alone in how she feels when she says: “After goodness knows how many years in Turkey, I still don’t know what the right answer is.”

I do like the following suggestion that another Today’s Zaman reader offers:

“Dear Charlotte: I normally try to have some child-friendly things in the car (e.g., sweets, gum, nuts, toys, trinkets) so at least the kids get something they can enjoy themselves. One of my guests from Germany gave a child a whistle that hung on a lanyard with the colors of the German flag. For the next week every time I went past that traffic light the boy remembered the car, gave a thumbs-up sign and blew the whistle at me! A double blessing could come from buying child-friendly things from a project or charity (you can fill up on them at a ‘kermes’ [charity bazaar]) that makes or sells them. That way you help two sets of people out in one go. From: MBJ (İstanbul)”

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