The wind blows the child’s makeshift sign, which reads “Homeless and Hungry, Please Help,” and she leans forward to straighten it. She’s sitting alone on the street with only a piece of cardboard to protect her from the cold, hard sidewalk. The girl doesn’t look older than ten, maybe 11 at a push. Most people just pass by, though, until someone finally sits down to chat – and then we find out something remarkable.
In the video, posted on YouTube in December 2016, the girl’s long hair hangs out from her beanie hat as she looks up imploringly at passers by. A mom with a stroller rushes by, no doubt hurrying to get someplace else. The girl, though, doesn’t seem to have that option.
Between her snow boot-clad feet, she holds a styrofoam cup, maybe hoping to beg for enough money to buy herself a hot drink. Some people look at her as they walk by. One woman glances back over her shoulder from a few steps away, perhaps not quite sure what to do. Meanwhile, others bend down to put some loose change in the cup.
Finally, though, a woman breaks her stride to talk to the little girl. Slowing down as she approaches, the passerby crouches down and says, “Hey, why are you homeless?” However, the youngster simply shrugs her shoulders, so the lady ventures another question. “Are you okay?” she asks. In answer, the girl gives a slight nod – but still doesn’t speak.
Undeterred, though, the passerby tries one more time, asking kindly, “Why don’t you have anywhere to go?” But when the child gives another shrug of the shoulders, the well-meaning stranger decides that there’s no more she can do. “Here,” she says, dropping some coins into the cup. “I hope you’re okay,” she tells her, reluctantly moving away.
The girl is then on her own once more. She looks hopefully down the street, perhaps wondering who else is going to come her way. More people walk along the bustling sidewalk, wrapped up from the cold and no doubt wrapped up in their own thoughts, too. The child stares blankly ahead.
Then, a woman in a red plaid shirt approaches. Judging from the fact that she slows down to look at the girl and read her sign, it seems as if she might just stop walking. But she carries on, and the child must be left thinking that another would-be savior has given up on her.
However, the video clip cuts to a few minutes later. Amazingly, the lady is walking back to the girl, clasping two packages. From face on, the viewer can see that the woman’s own clothes look mismatched and worn. “Hi,” she says to the child as she lowers herself down to talk to her. “How are you?”
Next, the good Samaritan hands over the packages of food and puts a $20 bill in her cup. “I don’t have much,” she tells the girl, “But this is for you. Some money and some food.” Remarkably, the only person to stop, sit down and offer food seems to be living on the streets herself.
“Are you homeless?” the caring stranger asks, concerned. “Where are your parents? Are you okay?” As before, the girl shrugs. “I’m here to help you if you need something,” the lady reassures her. Subsequently, while the girl remains silent, her friend sees someone else approaching to talk to them.
That someone is in fact the man behind RobbyTV, a filmmaker creating the video to post on YouTube. You see, the girl isn’t, in fact, homeless after all. It turns out that she is a child actor called Laila who’s pretending to be destitute as part of a social experiment to see if anyone would stop to help.
Robby has stepped in to thank the woman, as it was clear that she had given what little she had to help the young girl. Crouching down to shake the hand of the good Samaritan, he explains, “I just wanted to say thank you very much. We’ve got a camera over there; we’re shooting a video.”
Obviously wanting to help, Robby carries on, saying, “I just wanted to ask: looking from your pants, are you homeless?” The lady nods sadly to confirm that she is. Overcome with her generosity, the YouTuber says, “Honestly we saw you give $20, and you brought food. You were trying to feed her, and you felt so bad for her.”
Standing up, Robby then says, “All that we can really do for you is give you 50 bucks.” He hands the unknown helper the money, and her face shows that she is clearly shocked by the gift. Next, the YouTuber bends down once more, this time to give her a hug.
Incredibly, however, despite her impoverished circumstances, the woman wouldn’t accept back the food that she had donated or the girl’s earnings. A caption in the video reads, “We tried to give the woman the food back and the little money we made, but she didn’t want it.”
Instead, the video shows Laila donating the money and food to another homeless lady. “Here, I’ve got this for you,” she says as she hands it over. “Thank you, sweetheart,” the grateful recipient tells her, clearly emotional at the act of empathy. “Thank you so much.”
And having had a brief glimpse of what life might be like on the streets, the girl gives her a hug, too. Perhaps she bore in mind the fact that the only person to stop and offer real help was homeless herself.
Understandably, viewers of the video were amazed at the lack of aid offered to Laila when she was posing as a beggar, and they were touched by the generosity of her new friend. One poster, palmerplantagenet, said, “Goodness sakes! I so hope that homeless lady – the only one who really offered help – gets some true help herself.”
But another person who commented on the video wasn’t so convinced by the scenario. judithdl wrote, “This is a staged experiment to see if anyone cares. THIS is why no one stops or ‘cares,’ since they expect situations like this to be fake.”
Hopefully, the reason that people didn’t stop was because they were suspicious that it was a set-up, as judithdl suggested. In any case, to see a child begging on the street is such a terrible thing. Thankfully, though, if this had been a real scenario, at least one kind-hearted person was willing to stop and check that the little girl was okay.