October 3, 2006
Streets of London, streets of KL
by Ralph McTell
Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the paper,
with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
And held loosely at his side
Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news
So how can you tell me you’re lonely,
And say for you that the sun don’t shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind
Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
She’s no time for talking,
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags.
In the all night cafe
At a quarter past eleven,
Same old man is sitting there on his own
Looking at the world
Over the rim of his tea-cup,
Each tea last an hour
Then he wanders home alone
And have you seen the old man
Outside the seaman’s mission
Memory fading with
The medal ribbons that he wears.
In our winter city,
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn’t care
About a month ago I had the opportunity of tagging along downtown to the streets of KL. A pastor set up a street ministry approximately 8 years ago that now runs every Saturday for the homeless and poor. Having personal conversations with these people reminded me that indeed, these are the most marginalised of society. They live literally from hand to mouth, live in bus stations and on lonely sidewalks. Most are unfortunately drug addicts, and have little chance at getting long-term employment. It is difficult to gain the trust of society once you throw it away at will. I thought about many things.
First, that once they are released from prison, or are convicted of drug abuse/pushing, or leave from a half-way house, they need a second round of socialisation. Sociologist wrote about the resocialisation process of a prisoner, and this is another sort of entrapment. They are caught in a cycle that they cannot get out of. Yet, the best way of showing love to a fellow “neighbour” on earth is to give an opportunity, time and time again. Such cycles take such great willpower to break, and most give up, choosing instead temporary pleasure over long-term pain (I did my thesis on such a theory, but it would bore you to death).
Second, that the gazillions of dollars spent by the government has done little to turn people away from drugs. Sure, you have the regular anti-dadah and anti-smoking campaigns running each year, but how effective are these, really? Does anyone actually do a post-mortem to check whether these campaigns and advertising money work? Do they make statistical comparisons between the periods before and after campaigns have been carried out? Plus, might I add that the government uses such Horribly Old-School advertising methods to get their message across. It Does Not Work I Tell You. The target group does not give a d*** about the fact that their bodies will rot to death.
The government needs to study the motivations of druggies, not scare them away with the effect and consequence of drugs. Negative reinforcement does not work in this case, as this segment of society is already so dejected and suicidal. You think they’re going to listen to your regular radio jingles and look at taxi banner advertisements?
My final thought was a theological one. Talking to a drug addict recently released from jail (who promptly went to get hooked on drugs all over again) was interesting. He was a Catholic from childhood, believes in Jesus, has parents who constantly pray for him that he’ll quit drugs, and is absolutely sincere about wanting to stop – except he admits that his willpower is too weak… He says “One day, one day…” It pained me to see this soul so desperate but so weak. This is the epitome of what the divide between soul and flesh is. Paul says in the Bible that “what I do not want to do I do, but that which I should do I do not”, or something to that effect. This brought upon the question of whether this person’s soul was saved or not. Is one whose heart is for Christ but whose body fails him terribly – able to call himself a child of God? I hope to death for his sake.
If it is really the poor and marginalised in our world we want to honestly take care of, let’s for a minute or two forget about paper and computer work. Let’s for a moment be out there where it really counts, standing a foot away from heroin-inflicted men, showing that truly this is what reaching out is all about. Government policies may fail and falter but the human touch can do this much. Kudos to the Streetfeeding Team!
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