Pigeons and poverty: A new perspective

winkle, kateSpongebob Squarepants and a matador prance around Madrid’s main plaza. No, this is not the beginning of a bad joke.

Street performers earn coins in exchange for pictures of their fantastic costumes or for listening to their jazzy saxophone tunes in Madrid, Barcelona and other Spanish cities.


Some don’t use such creative pretense.

“Help me. I have a baby at home and no work and we need food,” covers cardboard signs on street corners or cards handed out and then recollected on trains and metros.

People sleep in the foyers of banks.

What is it about the needy of foreign countries that incites pity and compassion? Maybe it’s because they don’t belong to us, they’re not really our problem. We selectively recognize humanity and just as selectively dole out sympathy.

Like the rest of the world, Spain is experiencing an economic crisis. As of January 2013, the unemployment rate rose by 2.72 percent: almost 5 million Spanish citizens are unemployed, according to Spain’s Ministry of Employment and Social Security. Many find “work” on the street.

I participated in a number of mission trips in the last six years: building houses in Mexico, organizing community events in Guatemala, teaching English in Cambodia, translating for a medical team in the Dominican Republic. Each of these trips was rewarding; in the week I worked on each project, I made a tangible difference in the lives of real people. A focused effort brings reward.

Each trip had the added perk of an exotic location.

It doesn’t take a high unemployment rate or a foreign country for people to be in need. The Fort Collins-Loveland area has 10,600 unemployed as of December 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the area has its share of shelters and soup kitchens.

We see pictures of malnourished African children and the check book flips open of its own, righteous accord. We see needy people on our own streets, and we ignore them.

Some people do take time to volunteer and “make a difference,” and that is laudable, but general actions seem to show our care for others is to the contrary.


We don’t have time to help. We don’t have change. We don’t believe in giving money directly to the poor.

There is a plaza in Barcelona carpeted in pigeons — writhing, flapping, begging pigeons. My friends and many other tourists spent 2 euros on a small bag of birdseed to feed the masses and take pictures with the friendly fliers.

We feed the birds, but we won’t feed the people.

Maybe because pigeons are fluffy, maybe because they’re not really helpless, maybe because there’s no commitment involved, we’ll gladly shell out the equivalent of almost $3 to provide them sustenance.

Sometimes, when people are watching, we’ll toss spare change into grimy cups and trundle on our merry way, good deed done for the day. How does that help? Coins may buy food or drink, but in the end our actions and our attitudes do nothing.

When there are homeless people on every corner, can you genuinely care and spare time for each one’s story?

Instead of guilt or disregard, please recognize humanity — whether at home or abroad.

Someday, volunteer at a shelter or a soup kitchen, pay it forward and buy a cup of coffee for someone on the street. Acquire a perspective of humanity, not statistics.

Don’t let it end there. Invest in people because they are more valuable than pigeons.