‘Uncharitable’ advice on cleaning workers

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A RECENT incident in the holy month of Ramadan got me thinking of an unholy trend that is beginning to emerge among people, more so among the faithful. I said to myself that I have to write about this incident, which ironically, I mostly encountered in the last ten days of Ramadan. The incident was that I have had to argue with a man in a traffic signal while he gave me unsolicited advice. The incident began with the other person objecting to me giving a cleaning worker some money as charity. If this had been one-off then I would have brushed it off as a single person’s view. But what is tragic that this objection, though random, is increasing in numbers.

I sympathize with the cleaning workers on the street, who work to keep our streets clean. And I see it as a charitable act to provide them with little aid from my side whenever possible, and I generally give them whatever little amount is available, or food or water, especially these days when the heat is unbearable. In my opinion — and I am sure in the opinion of many — they fall in the category of people who deserve charity.

I have this custom of keeping a stack of low denomination cash in my car and I give from it to cleaning workers and others every time I have the chance when I see them on the street or near traffic lights. This was exactly what happened when I was berated by a man in a car next to me at the signal, and he advised me not to give them anything because they do not deserve charity and it was because of ‘people like me’ providing them with money that they have become beggars.

He said that ‘people like me’ are responsible for diverting them from their task of cleaning the streets to begging near traffic lights. I, though taken aback for a moment, told him that the salaries of these cleaning workers are very low and not enough for them to exist. He, however, insisted that they are well paid according to their country standards, housed and fed. He even claimed that they had become like a gang of beggars, organized to rake in money.

All this happened in less than a minute before the traffic light turned green and everyone went his way. I was tremendously disappointed at what I believed at that time was extreme prejudice against cleaning workers. The real shocker is that this sort of sentiment is rising with the numbers, albeit few, who take askance at others offering charity is also increasing.

For the record, I believe that people with such mentality are in the minority in our society and, in reality, we see everyday a growing awareness and actions toward helping the underprivileged in our society, including cleaning workers. If we take a look at the cleaning workers’ salaries, we’ll get to know how much they are paid? SR300, SR400 or even SR500 a month? In these days, can anyone survive in such salary?

We should then ask the question, what drives these cleaning workers to indirectly beg for money from people. These cleaning workers work under very tough conditions and in extreme heat for long hours. A driver may not notice them walking the street dragging behind them their garbage bin. Some people even avoid walking next to them because of the smell or some even refusing to shake their hands if they have to, while some may not even greet them with a simple salaam.

To those who look down on them or believe that they do not deserve charity, I dare them to stand in the scorching heat of the sun for four hours, not the 10 hours they work. In addition would they be able to bear the smell from the garbage containers? And will they bear the humiliation sometimes they receive from people. Worst of all, can they survive on the petty salary they get?

What is left of the salary of this poor worker after paying for his expenses here, he sends some of the money back home? A person who works in a comfortable job, receiving 30 times more than the salary of this poor worker, does not have the right to open his mouth of even comment when they are indirectly asking for little help. A man’s hand in water is not similar to a man’s hand in fire.

Good advice is always welcome especially when it falls in the category of benefiting the person or benefiting people in general. This is not the case here with the man, who was advising me not to give charity to the poor cleaning worker. If a person wants to, or would like to, give little charity to them then they should and others should not accuse the workers of being diverted from their work or not doing their work. People are providing them with help because Islam ordered us to provide help to those in need.

Cleaning workers are the ones that we should respect first and honor and thank them for what they do. They do it in silence and get no word of appreciation in addition to their meager pay. I urge officials to reconsider their salaries and do something to change it and make it worth living. Let’s give a thought to the other disadvantaged in society. We know that there are many others like the cleaning workers, who are suffering in silence either from working for longer hours, low pay or nonpayment of their salaries. Let us spare a thought for these people too and give them enough succors to tide them over their period of difficulties or a life in poverty.

Blurb: To those who look down on them or believe that they do not deserve charity, I dare them to stand in the scorching heat of the sun for four hours, not the 10 hours they work. In addition would they be able to bear the smell from the garbage containers? And will they bear the humiliation sometimes they receive from people.


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