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What to do to make a better life for a beggar in Africa

Updated on March 21, 2011
Just another beggar on the street corner? Read on to find out why this man could be a symbol of hope...
Just another beggar on the street corner? Read on to find out why this man could be a symbol of hope...

A life-changing encounter

Hark, hark, the dogs do bark,
beggars are coming to town:
Some in rags, and some in tags,
And some in velvet gown.
- old Nursery Rhyme

Beggars are a common sight all over the world, and South Africa is no exception. Almost every intersection in every city in the country has its population of people begging.

Most motorists make sure their windows are up and their doors locked when they see the advancing beggars, and sometimes with good reason.

There are the women with babies, the elderly with tattered clothes, the sick and the lame, all hoping for someone to notice them, someone to give them a handout. And sometimes they are lucky and a hand emerges from the car window to deposit a few coins into their usually calloused and dirty palms.

But for one woman in Pretoria one beggar somehow looked different, looked unique. She made eye contact with him and something shifted in her, something made her look more deeply at this man, and that has made all the difference, both to her and to him.

The woman, Isabel Wagner, says she doesn't know what exactly it was that made her look a second time at the man standing in the intersection, but very soon she was embarked on a journey of discovery, the discovery of the man Amos Sibanda and the story of how he had to become a beggar at the intersection of General Louis Botha Avenue and Atterbury Road in Pretoria East.

Logo of the Amost Better Life Foundation
Logo of the Amost Better Life Foundation
Amos Sibanda
Amos Sibanda
Isabel Wagner
Isabel Wagner
Amos ion the doorway of his house in Mamelodi
Amos ion the doorway of his house in Mamelodi
Gracious and Amos inside their home
Gracious and Amos inside their home
The busy intersection that is Amos's "workplace"
The busy intersection that is Amos's "workplace"
Amos in the intersection
Amos in the intersection
Amos showing his placard
Amos showing his placard

Amos's Story

It turns out that Amos was not mentally deficient, as many who saw his deformed face assumed, nor was he unwilling to work. He was deformed and rendered unable to work through a dreadful accident which cut short his life as a farm foreman and turned him into a really needy person who had to pocket his pride and beg for a living.

Amos was born in Musina (formerly Messina) in Limpopo Province in 1978. In common with many, indeed far too many, people in South Africa, his father was unknown to him and his mother died when Amos was just 10 years old. As a result he only managed to get a Grade 4 education, but in spite of this he found work as a labourer on farms in Limpopo Province and eventually he was employed as a foreman on a farm in the Brits district of the North West Province.

In October 2005 the accident that changed his life irrevocably happened. His skull was severely fractured and his palate punctured. He was airlifted to hospital where he had to have a tracheotomy, was ventilated and intravenously fed. Most of his lower jaw was destroyed in the accident which left him unable to speak or eat or drink properly.

After being discharged from hospital Amos could no longer do the kind of work he had been doing on farms and so had to find other ways of making a living. He started by handing out advertising leaflets at intersections, but this work was intermittent and had to start begging to make ends meet.

Three years almost to the day Isabel came into his life and things started to change for the better. As she tells the story on the website of the foundation that has been started to help Amos, she and her family had been going through very bad times and she had started to see a therapist weekly.

“Then one morning on my way to my appointment I came to a stop right next to him. I had time to look at him, staring shamelessly. And with my medical background it was obvious that he must have had enormous problems even trying to function at the most basic level. By the time I reached home I knew that I had to help him,” says Isabel on the website.

Isabel managed to get a surgeon to operate on Amos, paid for by the foundation she had set up called Amost Better Life Foundation (ABLF). As a result of the operation Amos is able to eat and drink more easily and his speaking has also improved, though it is still rather difficult to understand him.

The next operation Amos needs is to rebuild his lower jaw, which was almost entirely destroyed in the accident. This operation will need some highly specialised equipment which will have to be imported.

Meanwhile Amos's wife Gracious is pregnant with their second child, due at the end of April. Their first child is a three-year-old boy called Tinos. They live in a rented home in the Pretoria suburb called Mamelodi.

Amos continues to stand at the same intersection where Isabel first encountered him, but now he holds a printed, laminated poster advertising the ABLF's website and carrying the message: “Thank you everyone for your contributions. First operation a success!!” instead of  the hand-written cardboard one he previously held.

Isabel, who does not want to be regarded as a saviour or heroine, would like to see Amos become independent and able to care for his family again, able to feel like a competent human being.

Amos himself wants to expand the modest photography business he has started, taking photos of people around Mamelodi and selling them. He has been given an old film camera and so is dependent on processing outlets but hopes to get a digital camera and a computer with a colour printer so that he can become more self-sufficient.

Slowly but surely his self-esteem and self-worth are coming back to Amos, though he still has a long way to go.

Grameen Bank logo
Grameen Bank logo
Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Bank
Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Bank

The end of the story?

Amos's story though, should not end there. At least it should help people to see that beggars don't always beg because they are workshy, or have a drinking or drug problem. There are beggars who have genuinely got a problem and the only way they can keep body and soul together is by asking for help in public.

And not all beggars are going to spend the money they do get on drugs or alcohol. The difficulty of course is in knowing the genuine from the chancer.

The Nobel Prize winning founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus has made it a policy that every person in the Bank must lend to one beggar. It was a challenge he issued to the employees of the Bank. At first only a few lent to beggars, but after a while all 27 000 people working for the Bank lent to beggars – lent, not gave. There were no freebies, no handouts.

The Bank's policy is to expect the beggars to repay the loans in their own time, at their own convenience, but they have to repay.

Grameen Bank now has 100 000 beggars on its books, people who, because of their access to funds, have begun to turn their lives around, to regain lost pride and sense of self-worth. Surely a great way for people to be helped.

Beggars don't have to stay beggars, and maybe the story of Amos can be a start of something for the hundreds of thousands of beggars in South Africa.

Amos earlier this week
Amos earlier this week

Update on Amos: 19 June 2009

Amos went for another operation about two weeks ago, this time to rectify his tongue and give it more movement. The operation was a success and he is already speaking rather better, though he says his mouth is still very sore.

Another operation is due in December, when the bones of his lower jaw will be replaced.

The publicity and awareness of Amos' situation, including this Hub, has generated an unusual interest and most generous offers of various types of assistance.

The first offer is of a comprehensive computer course being offered by a company called Academy of Learning. This course, together with the digital camera and computer he has also been given, will enable Amos to get his budding photography business going in a more professional and profitable way.

He hopes that all these things will help him get off the street: "I'm really looking forward to not standing on the street corner any more," he says.

In addition to all this he has been offered some reconstructive surgery to get his face back to what it used to look like, though no date has been set for this yet. It will have to wait until the bone replacement operation has been done in December.


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    • msorensson profile image


      6 years ago

      I love the article. Thank you. It was what I needed to read at this particular moment.

    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Teresa - so glad you found me! So glad I've now found you! And thanks to saddlerider for that too!

      Amos is doing well and is almost through with the computer course he was donated some months back. He had a bit of a setback when his computer and camera were stolen, but they have been replaced and he off again at great speed! A proper entrepreneur he is turning out to be.

      Love and peace


    • Teresa Schultz profile image

      Teresa Schultz 

      8 years ago from East London, in South Africa

      saddlerider1 helped me find you - I was looking for fellow South Africans on HubPages, as have only recently joined. This is the first hub of yours I chose to read, and I think I made an excellent choice! What a story! It's wonderful to know of and hear about people who are as kind as Isabel Wagner, and to hear how Amos is being helped to get into a position of being able to work for himself through his computer and photography.

    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Jim - there are a hell of a lot of damn fine piano players that learned their trade in whore houses! I bet you're one of them! I just love this comment and feel very good about your words. And really, deeply grateful. Thank you so much!

      Love and peace


    • TheManWithNoPants profile image


      8 years ago from Tucson, Az.

      This was of course troubling to read in places but so beautifully written. You are amazing in my opinion. Of course I'm just the piano player in a whore house, but I saved this on my computer so as to get to it easily and read it once in a while. Thanks,


    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Christine - your idea sounds great. I sometimes wish I were a banker and could put ideas like that into practice!

      Thanks so much for coming by and commenting. I believe you are so right about Isabel - she is a great role model.

      Love and peace


    • mulberry1 profile image

      Christine Mulberry 

      8 years ago

      Wonderful story. Isabel may not wish to be a hero but she is an excellent role model on how to take action on an individual level. I like Muhammad Yunnus' idea. Hospitals here in the US which have a tax exempt status are required to provide a certain amount of charity care, similarly it would make sense that financial institutions could set up a program that says they must provide a certain percentage of loans to the homeless which offer extremely flexible terms and very low interest.

    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      RunAbstract - thanks for coming down from the foothills of the distant mountains to visit my Hub. And thanks also for the kind comment - glad you liked it.

      Love and peace


    • RunAbstract profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      Very inspiring article.

    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Pastor Walt - appreciate your dropping by and commenting. Thanks very much.

      Love and peace


    • Pastor_Walt profile image


      8 years ago from Jefferson City, Tennessee

      Very well told and touching story. God be praised!

    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Brother Al - thank you so much for your kind words. I appreciate them very much. Isabel and Amos are indeed "wingless angels"!

      Love and peace


    • Mystique1957 profile image


      8 years ago from Caracas-Venezuela

      My brother Tony...

      This story has touched my heart so deep you wouldn´t believe. I hope that now Amos has had all the necessary surgery and get back to work with dignity and provide for his family. I see the story as an awareness call for both Isabel and Amos. She did something so humane and loving, and he re-gained his self-worth by not giving up. These are the ones I call "wingless angels"

      Rated up,bookmarked, and Stumbled!

      Warmest regards and infinite eternal blessings,


    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks Dim - Amos and Isabelle have certainly started a good thing going and I hope that other people in such difficult situations can be helped. And your faith in humanity!

      Love and peace


    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 

      8 years ago from Great Britain

      That was such a moving story. Almost restores my faith in humanity.

      Thank you Tony, for a really interesting and encouraging hub.

    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Thank you Frogy - Amos is such a great guy and I really hope he gets ahead now. At least he is no longer having to stand on the street corner and beg any more.

      Love and peace


    • frogyfish profile image


      8 years ago from Central United States of America

      This was an amazing and satisfying hub even vicariously! Wonderfully told and such a success story! Thank you for sharing with all of us.

    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Lisa - yes Isabel is wonderful and this story grabbed my attention the day I saw Amos standing on the corner with his board. I have now made him a new one, BTW!

      Amos is at present studying computing with a business college and doing very well at it. I think he'll be able to teach me a thing or two soon!

      Love and peace


    • lisadpreston profile image


      8 years ago from Columbus, Ohio

      This is absolutely the most wonderful hub I have ever read. If you only knew the joy my heart is feeling right now. What a beautiful success story! Muhammad Yunus is a true humanitarian. What an amazing concept of loaning to the beggars and having them pay back when they can. Why can't rich American bankers do this? Isabel Wagner, you have restored my faith in people. Tony, Will you will post more success stories in the future, please? I hope these concepts will spread and that others will not be so afraid to help other human beings. Imagine how much pride one has to swollow to even ask for help. To be ridiculed for it must give one a feeling of total worthlessness and despair, only adding to the already devastating situation. Giving one back their pride and usefulness is a great gift. Anyhow, thank you Tony. This is going to be a good day!

    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Festers - thanks for commenting

      Maita - many beggars would chose not to beg if they could. And as people they deserve their dignity always.

      Thanks everyone for visiting and commenting - I appreciate it deeply.

      Love and peace


    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      8 years ago from US

      Thanks for sharing, it shows where your heart is. Yes beggars are not all the same, his story is touching, and I wish many people will understand that some beggars are really helpless, Maita

    • festersporling1 profile image

      Daniel Christian 

      8 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Very touching Tony!

    • 2patricias profile image


      9 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      In the process of experimenting with my new laptop I found this Hub. It made me stop cursing my expensive new gadget and instead express a bit of gratitude! Plus, when I go into town later today, I will speak to the Big Issue seller. Thanks for an interesting and inspiring Hub.

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 

      9 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Reading this was a great start to my day. Thank you for sharing this story with shows to go that we should be grateful for our blessings, and help those less fortunate to rebuild. Very inspiring.

    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks you all for your comments which are very much appreciated.

      Love and peace


    • Happy World profile image

      Happy World 

      9 years ago from Slovenia, Europe

      What a great hub, Tony. All the banks should follow the Muhammad Yunu's idea.

    • VioletSun profile image


      9 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

      What a beautiful story! No matter what horrors goes in our world, there is still love, kindness, compassion being expressed in our planet. Thanks for sharing Amos story, and the work of his angel.

    • Gillsie profile image


      9 years ago from Oregon

      Great Hub to start my day. Thanks! : )

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 

      9 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      In Chicago some of the homeless people have taken to playing plastic-bottle & bucket drums to earn money. It adds a musical touch to the day, but with the weather harsh in winter, they need to earn as much as they can when the weather is nicer.

      Cheers! Chef Jeff

    • Hawkesdream profile image


      9 years ago from Cornwall

      Brilliant once again , Wouldn't it be great if this practice could be adopted all over the world, I expect like Amos there are many beggers that could benefit their neighbourhoods with their hidden expertise.

    • Teresa McGurk profile image


      9 years ago from The Other Bangor

      The Grameen bank sounds wonderful. Imagine what untapped resources there are waiting inside folk that could shine if only they had such loans to get them started. And of course the ABL Foundation is exemplary. You are producing some great hubs recently -- I always perk up when I see a new one from you!

    • sixtyorso profile image

      Clive Fagan 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Good hub Tony. I salute you for bringing Amos's story and the Almost better Life foundation to the fore.

    • packerpack profile image

      Om Prakash Singh 

      9 years ago from India, Calcutta

      A very good story tonymac04. We really need people like Isabel to help people like Amos. Now just saying that will not do, we all should have this kind of feeling and if not help them directly then we must have an attuitude to do so at least indirectly. If we cannot help financially then at least we can help such organizations in other way. These organizations fall short of manpower most of the times. Helping them will not only do good to the needy but will make you feel satisfied from inside. I feel like that.

    • Russ Baleson profile image

      Russ Baleson 

      9 years ago from Sandhurst, United Kingdom

      Thanks Tony, well told and touching. I was really impressed with Charis on my last visit to Jo'burg. She has developed the habit of making eye-contact with every beggar. The people I saw seem to be grateful for the connection.

      Go well. Russ


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