Last Updated on May 2, 2022 by Audrey Scott
Giving is a good thing when traveling, right? But is it a good idea to give money and pass out things to children who beg? Will it really help those kids? Will it help their families and community? Does it really support child welfare and well-being? Or can giving to children who beg cause unintended harm?
We paused along the side of the road in what seemed like the middle of nowhere for a view over the hills outside of the Ethiopian town of Lalibela. Moments later, a boy of about four years ran up. He was shepherd to his family’s goats on a nearby hill. His clothes were torn, he poked curiously around us foreigners, using our guide as an interpreter.
One of the people in our group began pulling a toy koala bear out of her purse to give to him.
“No. Please don’t,” Fekadu, our Ethiopian guide, implored. “There are other kids around. He will tell his family and the others will hear that he got something from a faranji (the local term for “foreigner”). This is how the begging cycle begins. It used to not be this way. I don’t want this for my people, my country.”
To his point, within a matter of minutes, the hills were literally crawling with kids, palms upturned, echoing the words pen, money and candy. By this point in our journey, we’d faced this situation countless times. Some of the kids were plain curious, while others clearly expected stuff.
If you’ve ever traveled in a developing country, you’re probably familiar with this scene. Maybe you find it uncomfortable. Maybe your heart aches since the kids around you appear to have so very little. Maybe the contrasting privilege that carried you to the country is not lost on you.
So is it a good thing for travelers to give to children who beg? Or to buy things from children? Is it really helping?
A visit to Ethiopia and more generally to East Africa reaffirmed and crystallized my thinking on the topic. The answer: No.
Here’s why we believe this, followed by a few ideas how you can engage with kids and give responsibly to support children welfare and families where you travel.
Update June 2018: This article has been updated and republish to incorporate a wider discussion on child welfare in the tourism industry – including newly released Child Welfare Guidelines and Traveller Code of Conduct by G Adventures and ChildSafe Movement with additional suggestions.
The Don'ts: 7 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Give to Kids Who Beg
Here are a few reasons why we discourage giving handouts to kids while you are traveling. The big takeaway: our actions may have consequences unseen, ones we cannot even fathom. There are times where direct distribution may be appropriate. Travelers handing out stuff indiscriminately on the streets isn't one of them.
This list is compiled from our own experience and conversations with local people, organizations specializing in children's welfare, and well-informed travelers from Latin America to Asia to Africa.
1) Contributes to a cycle of begging and continued poverty
Kids learn quickly. If one begging encounter yields success, why wouldn’t others? When children hear that foreign travelers give away money and stuff, why not give it a try? And why wouldn't parents who are poor take advantage of this and send their kids to beg or sell goods on the street? Watch this short video and follow these 7 Tips for Travelers from ChildSafe that explains the cycle even better.
Not to mention, it furthers a culture of sympathy tourism and dependency, for which there is no productive place. [Editors update: To further explain, our definition of “sympathy tourism.” Sympathy is defined by “feeling pity for someone” and put into action it is when organizations and people engage in earning money with the technique of trying to get pity from travelers. We first heard this phrase used in Uganda after a discussion about being approached by numerous people supposedly representing NGOs and orphanages.]
2) Begging success = no school?
If a child makes too much money begging or selling, his parents might not send him to school. File this under the Law of Unintended Consequences. Now what traveler would intentionally try to prevent a kid from going to school? None that we know of. That’s why awareness of this issue is so important.
3) Reduces tourism to a transaction
The greatest disservice in all of tourism: reducing two people to a transaction.
Begging dehumanizes, it objectifies. It turns the traveler into a walking dollar bill and transforms the begging child into a walking collection box, thereby stripping everyone involved of his dignity. It erects barriers behind which there might otherwise be a connection. It takes the human-ness out of travel. It creates a stereotype of all of us, robbing us of our humanity.
4) Food money = drug money?
When a traveler gives money or stuff to kids, does she imagine the gift being used to get high? Maybe not, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.
While traveling in Uganda, we heard about GI-ASCO, a small home for runaway kids, in the town of Jinja. The founder of the home, Gerald Wandera, tells of children ending up in Jinja solely to beg from tourists and get enough money to buy their next hit — usually sniffing glue or petrol (gas). If travelers knew the child recipients of their generosity were using it to get high, would they knowingly contribute to this practice?
5) Creates an imbalance in the local community
The thing to note about children living in poverty: quite often the people around them live in similar conditions. Giving to some children creates a situation of imbalance where, by nothing other than luck, some have more than others. This can also contribute to bullying to even the score.
6) Supports begging mafias.
If you don’t know what a begging mafia is, read here. The concept was also brought to light by the film Slumdog Millionaire and the novel A Fine Balance. Begging mafias also exist outside of India and are more prevalent than most of us are aware. In fact, a well-established begging mafia used to exist in Prague, Czech Republic when we lived there.
The exploitation of children alone is tragic enough. To make matters worse, mafias kidnap, blind or otherwise injure and disable children so that they may earn even more money. The developed world isn’t quite free of it, either.
7) Contributes to other unforeseen dangers or unintended harm
When we were in Ethiopia we saw kids dancing in the middle of the road. “Cute!” was our first thought. The problem was that they were doing this to get money. They were consistently putting themselves at added risk on already dangerous roads.
The same principle was at work in Uganda where we witnessed travelers throwing pens and pencils out of an open overland truck window. One wrong move by the driver or one of the kids and you have another unnecessary casualty on your hands.
Another example of when a traveler's intention to “do good” can turn to harm is volunteering at orphanages. We discuss this in more detail in our article on volunteering and voluntourism, but research and studies have shown that this leads to a demand for more orphans, often including children who are not actual orphans (i.e., an estimated 80% of children in orphanages have at least one living parent).
In some places this has contributed to families being broken up as poor or disadvantage parents will give up their children to these “recruiting” orphanages because they feel their children will have better education and other support. However, studies show that children do best when kept with their families so the focus should be on trying to keep families together by supporting the parents.
In addition, with short-term volunteers at orphanages this leads to a cycle of a child becoming attached to or developing a relationship with a volunteer and then that person leaving. This repetitive abandonment can be a serious psychological risk for children, not to mention that not all volunteers have the appropriate skills and training to work with young children. For more on the potential risks stemming from volunteering at orphanages, check out this infographic by the Better Volunteering, Better Care Network.
Note: If you do see activities or interactions with children during your travels that don't seem right or that could possibly be doing harm to local children, be sure to report this using ChildSafe's resource guide with phone numbers, websites and child welfare support organizations in countries around the world.
The Do’s: 7 Ways to Give and Engage Responsibly
The desire to give and to give back to the places we visit is a good thing. It's something that ought to be encouraged, but we need to find the appropriate outlets or channels to give effectively.
What does “giving effectively” really mean? It means giving in a way that supports a set of behaviors and expectations that may someday obviate the need to give. Call it the Teach a Man to Fish precept and puts support in money in more effective areas of change.
So it's not only that you give, but how. Here are a few ideas for effective and responsible giving, also helping to make your travels more sustainable.
1) Give directly to an organization
Find an organization that you can trust, one whose work is paired with long-term values such as furthering education, supporting parents, providing opportunity and promoting self-reliance. You might be able to find such organizations through a recommendation from your tour operator if you are on an organized tour.
If you are traveling independently ask around where you are traveling or do some research in advance to find out about organizations operating in the area. Then give money or supplies to these organizations directly. This might include donating from home (e.g., online) or perhaps finding a way to visit the organization as part of your trip and donating directly.
Likewise, do not shy away from asking tough questions to find out how an organization uses its money and resources. The sad thing is that some people (locals and foreigners alike) have begun creating organizations to earn money from sympathetic travelers. Throughout Uganda, “sympathy” orphanages whose business model seems to run on referrals from local itinerants and opportunists seemed a popular choice. A few questions about the organization usually served to dispel any notion of legitimacy.
Finally, do not underestimate the collective knowledge of your social networks and be sure to reach out on social media channels (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) to gather information and recommendations.
2) Seek out and frequent social enterprises
A social enterprise is an organization that is run like a business, but whose profits go to community projects that address a social or sometimes environmental need. Social enterprises will often train and hire disadvantaged single mothers or street kids, providing them employment and skills they wouldn't otherwise be able to obtain.
This could mean that as you enjoy lunch or a coffee at a social enterprise restaurant, your money is supporting that organization's projects with positive social impact. Same goes for when you buy handicrafts from a social enterprise. When the right organizations are involved, it can really be a win-win situation for everyone.
During our recent trip to East Africa we found the Nyamirambo Women's Centre in Kigali, Rwanda providing walking tours and selling crafts as a way to fund the organization's women's training programs. In Moshi, Tanzania we also visited a new project by Planeterra and Give a Heart to Africa (GHTA) whereby the proceeds from a local crafts shop and spa go to supporting a local women's education and development program. For more ideas on how to support women's projects when you travel, check out this article about what sort of travel and purchasing decisions you make can invest in local women and mothers.
We also recommend checking out the Grassroots Volunteering worldwide database of social enterprises before setting off on your next trip. Update: We also saw that ChildSafe has a good list of social enterprises for Southeast Asia on this page.
3) Find out what organizations actually need instead of giving what you think they need.
These may not be the same thing. Many people are apparently under the impression that kids need pens at school. Maybe so, maybe not depending on the school. If you buy goods and supplies, try to buy them locally instead of buying them at home. Not only will this strategy further contribute to the local economy via your purchases, but your bags will weigh less.
4) Engage with kids as kids
Play games (juggling or magic tricks work great), kick a ball around, practice English, ask questions, or just be present.
It may not always easy, but creatively turning the uncomfortable into fun is an art we can all benefit by learning. It also humanizes the interaction and your travel experience. Another important thing to remember is to let the child choose to engage or make contact with you first so that they initiate the engagement. Don't ever impose yourself on a child.
When looking at tour itineraries, avoid visits with children during school hours so as to not distract their educational or learning process. And steer clear of trips that incorporate orphanage visits.
5) Invest in a meal
If you really feel you must help a child who appears to be hungry, consider buying him a meal or giving him some food that he can consume on the spot, so that there’s no opportunity to trade it for something else.
6) Learn a few words in the local language that respectfully communicate no or no money and say them firmly
I found that worked effectively in Ethiopia. Once children realized I wasn’t going to give them anything, they began engaging me as a human being again.
7) Best practices for photographing children when traveling
Ask for permission from the child to take his or her photo and respect his wishes if he refuses. If the child is particularly young, then ask the mother or father for permission. Even better, take a photo of the family together. If you imagine money might be expected in exchange for the photograph, ask permission and clearly say “no money.”
If you take a photo, be certain to show the child her image in the viewfinder. In most cases, this is what everyone is interested in. Enjoy the giggles that ensue.
Remember that the child you are photographing is a human being, rather than a prop or an accessory in your image. Your bottom line ought to be: ensure that the photograph of the child demonstrates human dignity. As a rule, it’s better to photograph a child along with her parents or with a group of other children rather than on her own.
As an additional measure to protect the identity and location of the child from potential traffickers or others who may not have the best intentions in mind, do not publish the photo or share on social media with location metadata embedded or alongside specific information where you took the photo.
More best practices on photographs of children and social media here.
How the Tourism Industry Can Better Educate Travelers on Child Welfare, Begging and Effective Giving
We can’t assume that everyone traveling has the knowledge and experience required to understand the local context and the right thing to do. The tourism industry and all its players should aim to provide travelers with locally-relevant, practical advice on how to engage responsibly with children (and adults, for that matter) to ensure child welfare.
To enable all stakeholders to better assess the potential risks and apply global practices to address them, G Adventures and the Planeterra Foundation teamed up with Friends-International’s ChildSafe Movement to issue a series of practical child welfare guidelines applicable across the travel industry. The result is a set of measures and principles vetted by international organizations such as UNICEF, UNWTO, ECPAT International, The Code, Save the Children, and the Global Alliance for Children.
These Child Welfare Guidelines and Code of Conduct are available for free to any tourism organization or traveler – to download, read, adopt and apply to their own operations or daily behaviors.
The intent: to make this information clearly and freely available without paywalls or membership requirements so that the best practices embedded in them may spread more easily throughout the travel industry and the travel-going public.
The goal: “to ensure the industry and it’s clients never create unintended harm to children, their families and their communities through any visit or interaction.” – Adrienne Lee, Director of Development at Planeterra Foundation
1) Tour operators
For applicable destinations, tour operators should incorporate a section in relevant tour notes regarding responsible engagement with local children. This includes appropriate, non-harmful behaviors when photographing children and sharing images of them on social media. This information should also be reinforced in any tour briefing with passengers on the tour.
For example, G Adventures, in an effort to become ChildSafe-certified, has removed potentially harmful images and videos of children from its website and marketing collateral. It has also discontinued and removed from its itineraries visits to local schools, orphanages or other similar organizations – in an awareness that these well-meaning visits often disrupt activities focused on improving the education and welfare of local children.
If you are reviewing itineraries for a tour you want to take and notice activities like school or orphanage visits, it's worth questioning the tour operator about their child welfare practices and determining whether these activities do more harm than good. While we have visited schools in the past as part of our various trips, we now are more aware of the potential negative consequences of disrupting classroom time and potentially creating unhealthy dependencies on foreign visitors.
Adrienne Lee also offers this advice as to the top three things tour operators can do now to protecting child welfare in their tours and services:
“1) Integrate the child welfare guidelines throughout their operations – removing practices such as visiting orphanages and non-educational classroom visits.
2) Integrate the child welfare guidelines into their human resource practices – ensure that there are no forms of child labour, and staff are trained and educated on how to respond to critical issues
3) Integrate the child welfare guidelines into marketing and sales practices – do not use images without parental or guardian consent, and do not use children as promotional and selling features of tours.”
2) Hotels and accommodation providers
Provide guidelines on DO's and DON'Ts in the local community as part of the information packet in each room and in the lobby area. Kudos to Simien Lodge in Ethiopia for including an explanation as to why they recommend their guests not give pens and money to kids they meet on nearby hiking trails. Lodge management then provided an alternative where travelers could donate money to help outfit local schools with much needed furniture and supplies.
3) Local tourism offices
In addition to having written information displayed in the office about the local situation and best practices for responsible engagement, staff should be trained to talk about this issue and answer travelers’ questions.
4) Restaurants and cafes
Restaurants or cafes that are popular with tourists could prominently display a laminated page or poster with the do’s and don’ts of engaging with local kids. Ideally, your public service poster could also include a list of local, respected organizations where travelers can contribute supplies, time and money.
Conclusion: Travel Giving and Altruism
If your goal is to truly help others while you travel, think twice about what you are doing and how you are doing it. Don't confuse a good feeling of giving with doing what's best for the recipients of your gift and their community. For you may just be doing what’s best for you while doing a disservice to the very people you are seeking to help.
As travelers become more aware locally and globally, we can better align our giving decisions with our values and our hopes for making an impact and contribution. We can maximize the good we do and minimize the potential harm, especially as we raise our awareness of local context and socioeconomic issues.
What are your thoughts on this issue of child welfare and engaging responsibly with children in travel? Do you have any suggestions of other ways to give responsibly and effectively when traveling?
111 thoughts on “Should Travelers Give to Kids Who Beg?”
Yes to everything you said in both the Don’t & the Do. As someone who works/volunteers in the developing world I’ve witnessed first hand how good intentions without fully thinking it through have completely changed the fabric of a region in all the ways you’ve described. Much better to create an equal exchange such as sharing meal in exchange for a local language lesson or a drawing or sharing photos taken. Here’s to Listening to each other & seeing beyond pity/poverty to the Human Being who has just as much as you to offer in conversation, connecting &understanding. Please also know that poverty does not mean “simple” as in see that Everyone has potential & possibility and ideas. Thank you & hugs from my heart to yours! PS timely article. I’ve been focusing on this very issue in several recent presentations. I’d love to bounce a workshop off of you & hear your thoughts on potential collaboration. I’m in Paris/London/Romania in September, not so far from Berlin if you’re around! Hug!
Kristin, thanks for your thoughtful comment and we’re happy to hear your thoughts on the workshop! We will be in Berlin for a bit of September, but not for all of it.
You bring up such great points here. I couldn’t agree with you more about this idea of equal exchange. It reminds me of the philosophy of the Zikra Initiative in Jordan: “Everyone has something to share.” This created a spirit of pride an sharing amongst the women in an economically and socially disadvantaged area of the country. And yes, poverty definitely does not mean “simple” and that with the right support and opportunities, the possibilities are really endless. Hugs to you and glad this piece came at a good time!
I am from Lalibela, Ethiopia and I now live in North America. You really have raised a very important issue that have kept me restless for so many years. I worked as a tour guide in Lalibela and I just finished my Master’s in Tourism Management. My plan to undertake my graduate paper was on the very topic that you have described in your posting. But I already know what the results of my study would be and that people would fingerprint at me.
Because, it has become almost like a job for some group of the society – some have built hotels and some have used kids as source of funding not only from individual tourists on the spot but from networks of their contacts abroad. In short the issue is really huge and worrisome if it continues like that. Tourists good intention have been manipulated by individuals, family and organizations which is creating all the negative impacts that you have described….as an insider, for me, the negative impact is much worse.
I am deeply aware of the impact of inefficient way of giving (I would not call it irresponsible giving, but improper or inefficient).
Based on my first hand experience, I will be very happy to cooperate with you, if you are really interested in doing a thorough research in the topic and hopefully we can come up with some guidelines of best practices of giving efficiently.
Again, thank you so much for raising this issue.
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences from Ethiopia and your insider perspective. Although we talk to as many local people as we can during our journey to try and understand the insider perspective, it’s impossible for us to know the local context and impacts like you.
I am not a researcher nor an academic who is developing a research document on this issue, but I’d be happy to share our experiences and knowledge from the traveler and travel industry perspective for your research. I would also be interested in hearing your thoughts, based on your experience and knowledge, on best practices so that we can provoke those in the travel industry to take more responsibility in educating travelers.
Thanks again for commenting and sharing your experience. I will send you an email shortly.
Really fantastic post. Child begging is always heartbreaking, but I agree with everything you’ve said here – giving to them usually hurts (in the long run) much more than it helps.
Amanda, thank you! The situation is usually heart breaking, but the idea is not to turn off one’s desire to give or help…but to do so in different ways. Although it’s not always a black or white situation, I do believe that in the long run giving indiscriminately hurts the community more.
SUCH a difficult subject. Whether it’s begging kids or adults, this has caused discussion between us for years. We have, as you suggested, given street kids (especially in small town Cambodia) food but have always felt tormented we didn’t give more, all while knowing what a double edged sword it can be.
Rhonda, agree that this is an incredibly difficult subject. We’re talking about real people with real needs. We’ve also given kids food and water before, but we’ve also tried to contribute to teachers directly. The challenge is finding the way to give so that your money can address local issues the best. No easy answer there.
Thank you for this post, Audrey. Supporting NGOs or any local community directly is one of the most efficient ways how to help people in need. What comes to my mind now as the other option is to interact with locals as much as possible and observe as much as we as travellers can.
There is always a woman, a man, a child in a village/town where a traveller stays who would need some help. And sure, you cannot save the world by donating to someone once, but it’s important in my opinion to create by small actions a spirit of giving to individuals who sometimes don’t have an access to any community or they cannot read a note to get know that a special event is going to be hold in their village where they can get some hygienic supplements or food for free.
It happened to us in the Philippines, where we met a woman and her daughter, a 5-year girl who suffered from malnutrition and only after talking and using body language for more than a week we got a courage to visit her in her hut to see a very sad picture of where two of them were living.
We understood the girl needs urgently some vitamins and we gave to the mother some money the following day so she could buy her bottles of vitamins for 18 months.
We also told her about a local NGO that was going to give away some free food in the town and we can only hope in the best now.
Ivana, thanks for your thoughtful comment and sharing the story from the Philippines. I agree that spending more time in places to learn about the local situation and really understand the needs of people is one of the best ways to give back. Even if you are helping one family in what to you feels like a small way, that may mean a lot to that family. Sometimes we, as travelers, have access to more information on local organizations or in how to apply for assistance so one of the best ways to help a family long-term is by connecting them to a local organization. That way, the care continues after you leave.
Brilliant post. Thank you for writing this, Audrey! This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot as I prepare to go travelling long-term. When I was younger and travelling in Cambodia I gave money to children and bought the things they were selling. It’s only recently I’ve become more aware of the issues surrounding doing this and I’ve been researching different ways to give to local communities while travelling. This article gives so much insight. I think the best ways are giving time or resources to local organisations that work within local communities and also if you’re going to give things, it should be food that will be eaten immediately, like any leftovers from your own meal.
Charlie, thanks for your kind words about the article and glad of the timing before your long-term trip. For your trip I’d highly recommend doing research on social enterprises as this supporting these organizations by buying lunch or coffee there provides them a sustainable source of funding (instead of having to rely on outside donor money). There are many of these in SE Asia, if you’re headed that way. I also agree that taking leftovers with you and giving the clean & healthy food to people is a good option. I’ve done that in the United States as well.
This is not only a great subject, but you’ve laid out a series of great tips. Our guides in Uganda and Rwanda told us that unless we wanted to create baboons, we shouldn’t give things to begging children. While probably not PC, the comment hit the mark. We were also told never to buy drawings or figures from children during school hours, or on school days, as to not reward them (or really their parents) from taking them out of school–as you suggest in your post.
I think part of it is that so many visitors want immediate satisfaction or gratification–to see a child’s eyes light up when they receive something; to think they did something “good”. But so often immediate gratification runs contradictory to long-term gains, which as visitors, we may be much more difficult to see.
Heather, thanks for your thoughtful comment! I agree with you in that many visitors want the immediate gratification — it’s so easy to. This is why I believe that more awareness — and comments like the ones from your guides (who are local & know the local context) — help travelers understand the long-term consequences of that immediate gratification so it doesn’t seem quite as gratifying when the full picture is in view. The challenge is to be able to funnel that good intention and feeling into something that is effective, whether it’s giving to a local organization or frequenting social enterprises or something else.
This is really nicely written Audrey and i think you absolutely nail it.
I met a family in India that explained to me that most of the kids begging do have the oppurtunity to go to school but don’t because of the attraction of begging money is just too great. I also heard a story from a fellow traveller in the same area about a kid who got given 200 rupees (about 4 dollars) and actually got beaten up by the other kids out of jealousy.
Nick, thanks for your kind words and sharing these stories. It’s hard to know exact statistics of how many begging kids would otherwise be in school if they didn’t earn money on the streets. However, I believe that there are enough situations that have been documented to make the case for travelers not to give money on these grounds. I’ve also seen a similar bullying situation when little kids who have gotten candy or money from travelers because they are cute have gotten beaten up by older kids who want to take their stuff. Bullies are bullies, but travelers shouldn’t help give reason for bullies to act.
I am torn by this article. Yes, we should try to alleviate poverty through NGOs, community empowerment, and sustainable local practices. The reasons you give as to why one should NOT give to children seem to be extremely harsh and judgmental on the local citizens.
1) Ït furthers a culture of sympathy tourism….if this is true, then people would not and should not travel. Most travel for an experience. They don’t fly halfway around the world just to feel good about themselves.
2) School for many children ends around 6th grade. This is not a result of tourists, but poor governance.
4) Food money = drug money? That’s the same reason many people stay away from the homeless in the US. More often than not, poor people (especially children) DO NOT use money on drugs and alcohol. They’d rather survive another day.
5) Imbalance in the community and dumb luck? Many people who beg do so to support their WHOLE family, not just themselves.
6) While begging mafias do exist, I believe this is a scare tactic. There is no worldwide conspiracy against foreigners.
I agree that the DO section is very educational for people who have never traveled to a developing/least-developed nation. Social enterprises are a great way to meet and learn what locals are doing to empower themselves and their communities. Engaging with kids, and adults, as humans allows one to actually learn about the culture.
My reasoning on this post is based off of my present experience in Kinshasa, DRC (still residing in Kin right now). Living and working in the poorest country in the world, you learn that most people just want to survive. The begging culture has come about from poor governance. Corruption reaches the top of society, and the masses learn from those who lead. While tourism can help perpetuate this facet of life, it is not the cause of it.
Steven, thanks for your long and thoughtful comment. I appreciate you sharing your perspective on this, especially regarding the reasons I wrote on why I don’t believe travelers should give to children who beg. I definitely agree that this is not a black or white issue. I’ve also seen this when working in Peace Corps and spending time in Tanzania and Ivory Coast when I was younger, observing the good and bad of big aid programs.
This article is geared towards travelers and children who beg primarily from them (and not locals). In our experiences traveling through most of Asia, South America, and parts of Africa we’ve found that more harm is usually done by travelers who give indiscriminately and in turn, tourism has changed some communities and local culture. We’ve found that when we’ve gone through places like Bangladesh or rural India, Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala (on microfinance projects) we’ve seen some of the worst poverty, but the least amount of begging. I believe one of the reasons for this is that they are not used to foreign travelers coming through and giving out handouts. It is impossible for tourism not to have an affect on places, but I am a believer that educating travelers on making them aware that their actions, even if they are small, may have other consequences is incredibly important.
I wanted to respond to a couple of your comments:
1) Sympathy tourism: I realized that I didn’t define this properly so I’ve added an update in the post to define better what I mean by this. Sympathy is connected to having pity. So what I mean by this is that some places are trying to elicit pity from travelers in order to earn money. I believe that tourism and exchanges based on the philosophy that everyone has something to share (see this article on Zikra Initiative) is a more dignified form of tourism development.
2) The school issue I was trying to get at was less about the sad state of schooling in many countries and more that if kids earn too much they might not go to the schooling that is provided, whether it is to 6th grade or above. This is why I’m particularly concerned about giving to very small kids who should be able to attend primary school, which most countries do provide.
3) Using money for drugs. Agree with you that this is not the norm, but there are enough cases we’ve heard of that it is something to take into consideration. This is why we suggest buying someone a meal in the section below.
4) Yes, agree that many children are likely supporting their whole family. But the imbalance can occur with an entire family doing better than everyone else.
5) Not sure I agree with you here. The begging mafias are quite real in some countries (i.e., India) and we’ve also read in-depth reports from other countries. My opinion is that if you aren’t sure, it’s better not to give directly.
Couldn’t agree more with your comment: “Engaging with kids, and adults, as humans allows one to actually learn about the culture.” That’s the ultimate goal of travel, in my opinion.
Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. Given your experience, I’d be curious to know what advice you would give to travelers who encounter children who beg. Would you mind sharing?
Awesome post and very informative. I definitely struggled with this in Cambodia, and had to remind myself that the kids selling bracelets should be in school. I also think volunteering our time is a good way to ensure that we’re making a small difference.
We definitely have to look at the long-term repercussions of our actions while traveling. Sure putting our hands in our pockets feels great at the time, but knowing the consequences may help people think twice in the future.
Stacey, thanks! Glad you enjoyed this post. Volunteering, especially for good length of time, is another way to give back to a community and really get to understand its needs. I would advise that the volunteering position is not one that other locals could do, so that you’re not taking away local jobs. It’s difficult to know the full local context all the time, but being aware of some of the potential negative consequences can help travelers act in a way that really makes a positive, long-term difference.
Very well written Audrey. It is a touchy topic and some people unfortunately ‘give’ the wrong way. I am the kind of person who caves easily, that’s why I don’t carry our money. Jazza carries our money and he is so strong with these situations, We do give to organisations that will help the community and we feel this way is better.
Lesh, I agree this is a touchy and sensitive topic. We also try to find local organizations that are invested in the community to give to, either in money or supplies they need.
You are spot on! We are all about “teach a man to fish” not “give a man a fish.” Africa has received more aid than any other continent and it has by far the most poverty. The reason is most of that aid is handouts and not handups. All of the giving I am sure is done with pure hearts. Unfortunately, I am not confident the ramifications were considered. Pure hearts and right minds will help solve the problems. I love what your guide said, and I love your suggestions! We are personally invested through our church in a chicken farm in Zimbabwe that employs AIDS orphans. The farm was opened through and micro-loan and is operated with the aid of business coaches. Right now, the farm is ahead of schedule on the loan and the farm is employing more than expected.
Bryan, we began to address the aid issue in this article, but then felt that it was getting off-track from the main topic so we cut it for another piece. Thanks for bringing it up in the comments. While there are some situations where humanitarian aid and handouts are necessary, I completely agree that the aid approach should be focused on investing in people and businesses so they build themselves. Microfinance is definitely not a panacea for poverty, but we have seen some great programs in India and South America that not only gave credit, but also business training as well to be sure the loan recipient has the right business skills. The chicken farm in Zimbabwe is a great example of this.
This is a fantastic post. I’ve always generally been against giving to beggars as I don’t think it will help long term, but this article raised lots of issues that I had not thought about and now I’m REALLY against it.
Zoe, glad this helped solidify your thinking and brought up some issues you hadn’t thought about earlier.
We couldn’t agree with you more! This is a well written post and covers the topic very well. We also came across many children with their hands out especially when we were in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Many weren’t looking for money but for sweets and we never gave them any.
The only time that we gave children anything was when we stopped for a lunch break at a roadside rest area in Namibia and some local children came over as we were eating. We shared some crackers, carrots and apples with them, so they ate with us. After that we took their pictures and then showed them, as you said, in the viewfinder, they loved it! This was one of our best interactions that we had with the local children, I am smiling as I type this, when I think of the happy faces and laughter we had with them.
Loved the story of sharing the food so that the kids were able to eat with you. There’s something about sitting together and eating that breaks down the divide and barriers. And yes, one of the most fun things to watch is when a kid sees his/her image in the viewfinder and breaks out into huge smiles and giggles. Glad writing the comment brought back this wonderful memory!
This is a great post. I face this daily living in India. Even after a couple years, it’s hard to not give especially when I’m in Bombay but these points are what I’m always trying to remind myself when it gets hard.
Rachel, the begging and poverty in India is so heartbreaking to see. It really is so challenging not to give when you see such physical need around you. But remember that there are other ways to channel that feeling. Perhaps getting involved in a local organization might be interesting to learn more about the local situation and context.
Thank you for writing this. You not only answer the question about what to do in a begging situation, but also provide useful information on ways to help instead. Well done.
You’re welcome, Susie! Our goal was to provide useful giving and engagement alternatives so that travelers could funnel their desire to give to something else.
A very well written article! Will share along. Wish more people thought about this stuff more.
Thanks, Rebecca! And I really appreciate you sharing this as well. We’ve found that when we start talking about these issues with other travelers, they are interested in learning and even changing behaviors. The biggest challenge is how to raise awareness with mainstream travelers.
I know it’s all the rage to not give to poor people when travelling, but I don’t agree with a total ban on giving to the poor. Many of the reasons you listed are many of the reasons we hear in opposition to social welfare program in rich countries. That is, if we give to the poor, they’ll come to rely on it. And while that is true in some cases, I think the immediate needs of those less well off should be addressed. So if I see a blind guy with no legs begging on the street, I’ll often toss the guy a coin in the hope that his situation might be slightly better because of it. I’m 100% sure he wasn’t maimed just so he could beg for a gang.
I once had street kids asking for my food at a restaurant. Of course they needed it. But if I said to them, “sorry kids, I know your hungry, but just wait until the big white land cruiser from the NGO comes by in a few days”, that would be totally unreasonable.
So yeah, I generally don’t give to beggars because I believe they often don’t have immediate needs. But ones that I judge do, I’ll try and help. If the kid doesn’t go to school, I’m sure their social situation is the reason and not because I gave them 10 cents. Child workers in busy places like Angkor might be a different situation though….
Thanks for your comment. Definitely understand the argument you make for these reasons being similar to those often made on why we shouldn’t give to adults or support welfare programs. And I completely agree that the needs of those who are not well off should be addressed. But I do believe that before acting it’s worth evaluating what the most effective (with a longer-term view) way would be to address these needs.
The goal of this article was to raise awareness in travelers about some of the things they should think about when choosing to give money, pens, etc. to children that are begging — and whether giving directly or indiscriminately accomplishes their goals of “helping” best. That’s why we provided alternatives and suggestions, including frequenting social enterprises and buying kids a meal or some food.
One of the reasons why we focused this article on begging kids is that it was something we saw a lot of on our recent journey in East Africa (as well as other parts of the worlds). When we got into discussions with some travelers it that showed that they were not aware that their actions could have unintended (often negative) consequences. I think that when giving to adults many of the principles still apply, but it’s not a black or white situation either. I also give to disabled adults or single mothers when I feel that the need is there.
(Btw, I actually believe that the big white NGO SUVs are part of a larger problem in developing countries, but that’s for another discussion.)
Yeh, the big SUV thing has really bothered me in a few places. One was in a remote part of Laos. They would drive really fast along these narrow dirt roads and shower everyone in dust as they flew past in their air-conditioned vehicles. There was absolutely no connection between aid organisation and locals. Anyway, as you said, that’s for another post…
Oh yes, have lots to say on that topic but best in person over a beer (or a few). Agree that in many cases there was no connection to locals and out of touch with real cost of things, community needs and politics. Not sure if you’ve traveled in Sub-Saharan Africa yet, but your opinions of the big SUV & int’l aid organizations behind them might get even worse.
Have not yet been to sub-Saharan Africa. Sounds like it could be nightmarish as far as the NGO thing goes…
Great article, Audrey!! Thank you for writing it. To your point about photos of children, have you heard of Dog Meets World and if you have — what do you think about it as it relates to this issue?
Thanks, Kirsten! This isn’t an easy topic to tackle, but felt the need to do so after our recent trip and seeing some of the negative effects of tourism because travelers were not aware of these issues. Anyway, I have heard of Dog Meets World and really like the idea behind it. However, I’ve never signed up for it (or similar programs) because I’m not sure how it would work in practice. Sometimes we’re surrounded by lots and lots of kids and how to take and give photos fairly so every child gets their image. I’m imaging running out of supplies and disappointing people. But, perhaps I should just give it a try and see how it goes. When we visited a school in Namibia as part of a pre-trip for a conference, one of the guys in our group collected the digital images from everyone and made a book for the school. That’s another good alternative.
A great post. I don´t give to people who beg any more because it will only teach them that begging is a way to make money of the tourists.
I remember one time I was travelling in Nepal and I gave a loaf of bread to 2 children because I wanted to help them, the next minute 4 other children followed me expecting me to give them also something. They looked at me with “what about me?” in their eyes.
It hurts to not be able to help them but by giving them something it will only make things worse, they will become depend on others. They need to learn to trust on themselves, go to school and be able to support themselves.
I hope everyone will be able to read and learn from your post, good post.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment and sharing the story from Nepal. While it often feels for the traveler that what they are giving is small and “doesn’t matter” (to him), the bigger issue is exactly what you write – that it creates dependency on others and takes away from what they can do for themselves. Thank you again.
I think those are the same kids I played soccer with when I was in Lalibella! I certainly know the street, anyway.
I absolutely agree with your post.
I hit the school sales here in the US and load up with everything I can. Once I start traveling, when appropriate, I will go to an orphanage, (where kids are schooled on the premises), and go into the administrator’s office to leave things – not directly to the kids, but in control of responsible adults, like the monks and nuns in Tibet, who will distribute things appropriately.
I have often told my tour guide what I have with me and we work together to distribute things to appropriate organizations.
Years ago, before I knew better, I once gave a pen to a little kid. I watched as he was chased down and beaten up for that pen. I chased off the other kids and helped clean up the little one. So, Steven, while it may not have been a “mafia”, smaller kids are beaten to get that pen or other object..
I do my best to share as I go, but to give those things responsibly. Or, sometimes, I will use them as barter for some small trinket. I still have the best homemade mouse trap you have ever seen! (Uzbekistan)And a bread stamping thing made from wood and nails. I has the BEST geometric pattern. (Turkmenistan)
A good, timely, and thoughtful post, Audrey.
Pamm, thanks for your comment and sharing what you do now on trips. Great idea to tell the guide in advance of what you have so he can find the best matching organizations to stop by along the way. And yes, it’s important to give the supplies directly to the local people in charge so that they come from them to the kids and it’s seen as a reward for good behavior (or something similar). One thing that you may also want to consider for future trips is to bring from home things that are hard to find in-country, but buy the rest of the school supplies locally so that it also supports the local businesses.
And how funny that you also played soccer in Lalibela!!
Great post, really thought provoking. I definitely agree that there are much more productive and useful ways to contribute to the lives of those less fortunate. And it’s great to give back to the people and countries that host us in our travels 🙂
I always know that I shouldn’t, but it can be very hard not to at times. I love that you’ve included some ‘do’s’ as well though, will definitely be giving some of these options some more thought.
Catherine, I completely understand. My heart and stomach often goes into summersaults when I’m faced with a group of kids in front of me who have very little. Glad that you found the alternative ways to give and engage useful and hope you can incorporate some of them into your next trip.
What a great article. And lots to think about. Yes, here in Belize it is HARD to look past a child…but all of these reasons make so much sense. Especially making sure kids get to school.
Rebecca, it is hard not to give directly when you see a child who does have needs. But in finding alternative ways to contribute it will be a more sustainable way to solve the problems that are causing the child to beg in the first place. Glad the article caused food for thought.
Man, this makes me feel bad … I felt I was doing good all this time by contributing a bit of money. What you’re saying makes total sense, but it will be tough to not give to the poor when they beg in front of me on the next trip. I will seek out the organizations you mentioned though!
Selma, the idea is not to make anyone feel bad, but to raise awareness of some of the issues that travelers might not know about because they are traveling in a country with very different socio-economic situation. I think the idea is to keep the desire to give, but find organizations or other ways to do so rather than directly to the children who are begging. Social enterprises are a great way to do that.
My husband and I scuba dive and that can bring us to some remote locations with children in poverty. We really enjoy shopping for the Roatan Children’s Fund from the shopping list they provide before every trip.
A question I wanted to ask (and forgive me if I’ve missed this point) is why not give out candy? I can’t imagine there is a big cash demand for small, single pieces of sweets that reward us with lots of smiles.
Blake, that’s really great that the Roatan Children’s Fund provides a list of things that the community needs. Fabulous idea. Thanks for sharing.
I realize I didn’t elaborate on why I don’t think giving sweets is a good thing in the article above – I’ll try to add it in. In many places where you will find children who are begging, they don’t have access to good (or any) dental care. And sometimes they don’t have access to toothpaste or ways to regularly clean their teeth. So in addition to sweets not being particularly healthy, they can also contribute to dental decay that wouldn’t be there with their regular diet.
Additionally, when kids are used to getting sweets from people they look at foreign travelers as sweet dispensers rather than people, which dehumanizes the engagement.
What a great article! I live in Bolivia and here the problem of begging children is not so common, yet. That can change, because more and more tourists come to this country and because Bolivia just legalised child labour. I’ve seen already children begging on the streets of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the biggest and the richest city in the country and I am almost sure, it hasn’t been for food… Interestingly, not only tourists are guilty of encouraging begging but locals themselves! Rich Bolivians very often give the money to people begging on the street without asking where the money go to. Just to feel better about themselves. And this is the biggest problem…
Greetings from Bolivia
Thanks for sharing your experiences and insight from Bolivia. You are right that in many countries kids are not always targeting foreign travelers, but are also begging from locals. And the issues are very similar in my opinion, as are the ways that locals can give in more effective ways to try and solve the issues that are causing the begging. But I agree that for many to give directly is a way to get rid of guilt or something else. I also saw the news legalizing children working from the age of 10. Thanks again for your comment!
Thought-provoking post. I’ve also enjoyed reading the comments, where people appropriately raise issues of social welfare, NGOs and the development industry, etc. As a professor of development and children/youth studies, I agree these are all relevant but complex issues, so thanks for keeping the discussion going.
I’d just add that we should be careful about contributing to orphanages. Whenever an orphanage is opened in a poor community, it actually generates ‘orphans’ where they didn’t exist before. About 80% of children in orphanages worldwide have living, locatable family – and it’s both cheaper and better for children to support them within their communities rather than needlessly institutionalize them. I’m doing research now on the ‘orphan industrial complex’ that spans from establishing orphanages to mission trips and voluntourism to international adoptions, which are often presented as altruistic but can have very adverse effects and even be very exploitative of children. ChildSafe Network (where I found your blog) has a lot of good information on this.
Donors, whether individuals or NGOs, can severely disrupt the development of child protection systems if they don’t do it carefully and thoughtfully. You can view my Prezi on this topic here: http://bit.ly/1iG9kB5
Kristen, thank you for coming over from ChildSafe Network and sharing your knowledge on this issue. I completely agree with you regarding giving to orphanages and how important it is to thoroughly research organizations before giving to them. It can take a lot of work, which is why I think some travelers get scared away from it. Do you have any websites that you can recommend where organizations have been “vetted” to help travelers know which ones are operating responsibly?
Your comment about the orphanages strikes a chord with us. I’d be really interested to read more about this when you finish your research. It confirms what I felt, especially during our last trip to East Africa, but didn’t have the research to back up my feelings.
Thanks again for adding to the discussion and sharing your knowledge.
Great article. I’ve always wondered about giving or not. I’ve always thought there are better ways to assist but do get that dreadfully guilty feeling when I don’t give to direct requests. Thanks for not only clarifying the reasons not to, but also sharing ideas of what we can do.
You’re welcome! It’s hard not to give directly, but when you know some of the alternative ways to more effectively give it makes the decision easier.
I’ve had this conversation so many times around the world so thanks for publishing this, I can now just send offenders off to read this. The two worst occasions I witnessed was an idiot throwing sweets from a moving truck in Africa and an Italian guy who intervened and handed over some small change to a young girl I’d been interacting with for 40 minutes, playing hide and seek on the way to a waterfall. Unable to engage with her, he patted her on the head and stuffed her hand with money she hadn’t even asked. “It’s not much money to me and it made her smile.” was his reasoning. I can’t explain the fury I rained down on him…your article might have been a calmer way to express my point so I’m storing it on my iPhone for future educational purposes. 🙂
I can definitely understand your anger and frustration having seen similar scenes ourselves. That’s one of the reasons we wrote this with the goal of educating travelers, as well as nudging the travel industry to step up and educate the travelers they work with as well. Perhaps you can take a screen shot of the main points so that way you have it handy when you don’t have a data connection 🙂
YES, YES, and YES to everything you’re saying! Sometimes having good intentions isn’t enough, it’s important to be conscious and examine all of our actions and their possible consecuences. Than you for writing about this!
Lucia, so agree with you when you write that “sometimes good intentions isn’t enough.” And often it’s just a bit of awareness and education that makes the difference with how people act.
Thanks for raising such an important subject and for valuable points you make. We’ve all heard about it, many have seen it and most certainly felt conflicted about what to do in these situations. Recently, as guest of the Nicaraguan government to promote adventure and cultural tourism, we participated in many events and travels within the country. While on the organized events and travels, things were secure and nicely orchestrated; no begging. As we drove through the cities and countryside, poverty was described as it was, a real hardship, but always framed with “you should have seen it before, this is much better”. Hardly comforting but likely true.
As soon as we ventured on our own, reality set in and begging followed us in the streets, squares, markets, everywhere. Adults and children. The most memorable situation was in colonial Grenada on a street filled with blocks and blocks of outdoor cafes, bars and restaurants; frequented by locals and tourists alike. Here the scene played out all day and all night. Children begging, hands up, saying nothing or more creative, smiling and saying “hola, one dollar”. The most disturbing aspect was the mother (or leader) who stayed along the edges of the tables, pushing her children back into the table areas to beg. Bombarded by children, adults and street performers, it was impossible to stay for very long without feeling conflicted. Waiters and shop keepers kept the mothers and adults out as best they could, but let the children roam freely amongst diners. While poverty was evident across the country, the begging culture was most prominent in the tourist areas. While many cultures are able to maintain a sense of dignity or self-worth that forbids begging, many do not. While I believe Nicaragua is a worthy destination for those willing and able to see beyond poverty and begging, many can’t.
I also believe that travelers have introduced and continue to foster begging; sadly, by giving a couple of bucks some of the tourists feel good, less guilty, or makes them feel “connected” to the locals.
I appreciate your clarity, the alternatives and the suggestions of the others commenting here. With your permission I would like to republish to and for the benefit Central America and those traveling there.
Jerry, thank you for your thoughtful comment and sharing your recent trip to Nicaragua. Your experiences echo what we saw during our visit there a few years ago. We spent several weeks in the country in places like Leon, Esteli, Isla de Ometepe, Grenada, as well as in small towns/villages working on a photography project for a microfinance organization. The area with the worst begging and hassling was definitely Grenada, even though it was the most economically developed of the places we visited. Tourism development there was not all for the good of the culture and place. And I’m sure most of the tourists who contributed to creating the situation today didn’t realize that by giving something here and there directly to kids would lead to this.
It would be great to share this information for more people. Could you send me an email so we can discuss what you’d like to do with republishing the article?
Wow excellent post and something I think about often! I ran across this problem in China. The organized begging is, of course, systematic and the children used as pawns. So very disturbing and also against labor laws. While in China, I saw the same nearly comatose boy “begging” with a sign written in Mandarin.
I went to China’s UNICEF page which had a link to China’s child labor laws (it even had a section to submit possible offenses, which I did). I printed the page out and showed the local police officers near where the boy was seen (on multiple days). The cops shrugged. So I had the concierge at the hotel help me submit in Mandarin to the labor law page.
I’d add to the list to always take notice of where you see such organized begging. The children seem to be put in the same spot as routine. Then go to that country’s UNCIEF page and follow the instructions given. Though it’s not what we typically think of as breaking child labor laws, it is.
MG – thanks so much for this suggestion. I had not thought of this. What a good idea to report a child who begs (on the behalf of others) as child labor and how this might not only help the child get more support, but also go after the people behind the organized begging. Thanks again for this!
Highly appreciate this blog entry of your, Audrey. fighting against the child slavery, we encourage the efforts of volunteer to come to India & work for deprived communities in the projects of child education, women empowerment & community development.
Volunteer in India while travelling could be a great exposure for the local communities & travellers themselves. I want you to have a look at what we do.
Thanks, Ronan, for sharing your organization and the volunteering opportunities it offers. I do agree that volunteering can be a good way for travelers to give effectively and responsibly. Both the travelers and the community can learn so much from the process. It is important that the volunteer opportunities do not take away what would be jobs for local people and that volunteers an stay for a decent amount of time (e.g., at least a few weeks) so that they can better understand the place, culture and people.
Really amazing post! Child begging is always heartbreaking, but I agree with everything you’ve said here
Spot-on commentary, and spot-on advice. It’s tough to say no, but in many cases it’s really the only responsible thing to do.
Michael, thanks for your kind words on the advice. Know that you’ve experienced this a lot during your travels, so have a lot of perspective on this issue. It is difficult to say no, but when you think through the reasons & unintended consequences it is often the most responsible way to act.
This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read – thank you for putting it together so comprehensively! I live in a third-world country (Honduras) and although the travel brochures for the island I live on would like you to think it’s not, it is, and child begging is a problem here….although certainly less so than other places. We have more of the kids selling trinkets and gum than direct begging – one distracts you with the bracelets they’re trying to sell, the other steals your wallet while you’re not looking and they both go turn over their spoils to mom or dad at the end of the street. I am constantly asking tourists to visit a school and sponsor the school fees for a child rather than buying their crap and thinking they are ‘helping’ the kids. Keeping kids uneducated and out of school is one of the worst things you can do for them in a country like this.
Rika, thank you for sharing your experiences and stories from Honduras. Very sad to hear about the kids who use the premise of selling something as a way to steal. Unfortunately, that’s not the first time I’ve heard (or seen) this. We’re hoping that with more awareness and education, travelers will realize that their actions (giving or buying directly) can do harm and that there are alternatives out there that will accomplish their goals to help — giving to schools, sponsoring a child, shopping at a store that supports a community program, etc. Couldn’t agree more with that last sentence. Education should be the most important focus, and anything to keep children in school should be supported.
Thanks for writing this Audrey, it is very comprehensive. I am inspired by you and will write one that is India specific when I am there. It’s such an important topic and touches everyone who visits countries with large populations of impoverished people. I stopped giving to street beggars in India when I found out about the begging mafias; they are very real. Also, I read an emotional editorial in a newspaper in Kerala, India imploring people to STOP giving to beggars for all the reasons you outlined above. The beggars in Kerala were actually doing well financially — but this just exacerbated the problem and kept the kids out of school. Well done!
Mariellen, thanks for your kind words and I’m so glad that this spurred you to write something similar for India. During our travels in East Africa we were disturbed by what we saw both on the negative effects that tourism had on certain communities and by what travelers were doing. It took some time to unpack all that we felt and knew on the topic, but we wanted people to understand the idea of unintended consequences while providing responsible alternatives.
For your own article regarding responsible giving in India, it would be great is if you could put together a list of social enterprises in India so that travelers have this with them during their trip and can frequent them as they go. I’d also suggest sending this to Shannon O’Donnell so she can add some of these to the Social Enterprise Database she’s maintaining.
What a great post. I am currently reading When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. So many “ah ha” moments for me in this book. I think our definition of “poor” is very different than that of those who are living in that very definition. We feel like we are helping them by giving them money, food, clothing… and completely are not seeing through their eyes into what their needs really are. You pointed out one idea of just playing with the kids – that is meeting a need and having them feel valued and loved. Oftentimes our “good gesture” actually devalues them and has them feel inferior to the giver. I am revamping my whole outlook on mission trips and how to meet needs, recognizing that these trips are to change us, and that we are to be intentional to get into their world and just be a part of loving them with a check in our spirits to any sense of superiority.
Rhonda, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment and perspective. One of the reasons why we have always liked microfinance programs (although we do know that these are not panaceas) is that they invested in people instead of giving handouts. It’s amazing the difference this makes in people’s self-esteem, interest in developing new skills, and more.
And, thank you for recommending the book When Helping Hurts. I’ve bought the Kindle version and look forward to digging into it soon. I have a feeling that it will affirm much of what I’ve seen on the road, but provide research and facts to back up why.
The real problematic thing to think before giving anything to a kid is the MAFIA. There are people who are behind such begging kids which direct them to take things from tourists or locals as well. But we have to understand that despite of offering them stuff we should think or if possible help some organization who are present to help such kids and let them free from the MAFIA kings, but that’s not in our hands either. The point is we should not give he kids anything. Because it will only make them weaker, the more they ask the more are chances that they will continue to do so when they have to settle down and this cycle will continue through generations.
But yes personally I think if they ask for food one should give them as if you give money to them or any other thing that will not come to their part. The Mafia will surely take those things and the kids will get nothing. Feeding a food is much better than gives some other stuff to the innocent kids.
U loved reading your blog, as its my first visit, but I promise it won’t be my last.
Thanks for your long comment that supports the approach of giving to local organizations or giving food directly to kids. This is a way to avoid contributing to mafia or other bad influences.
Great post. Very helpful and thank you for providing alternative ways to give. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on kids selling items to travelers? For example, when in Cuzco, Peru, there were so many kids selling items, and groups of kids in traditional dress dancing for money, and I was concerned that these kids weren’t in school. But, it’s also not quite the same as begging, and seemed to be contained to the main square in Cuzco. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Thanks!
You ask a very good question here. I usually avoid buying items that kids are selling to travelers for many of the same reasons I list above. If a kid is selling during school hours then I definitely will not buy anything from him, for fear that his sales are keeping him from school either on his own accord or his parent’s. However, when traveling on public transport in Central America (aka, chicken buses), I occasionally bought from kids who were selling items to earn money in the late afternoon (e.g., after school). The best alternative I’ve found is to frequent a social enterprise that invests in children and training disadvantaged youth.
Stunner of a post, covering quite a complex topic and I think you mastered this tightrope walk in an exceptional way indeed Audrey… 🙂
It’s never easy to make a decision if the eyes of a child face you with a mix of expectation and desperation, so “being prepared” for such a situation may help indeed. I think the human instinct would tend to giving, but it certainly might be a double-edged sword. I still remember the perspective my girlfriend came across when the two of us have been travelling SE Asia: whenever you give in such a situation you probably make the child a bit more “rooted? in that very spot. So ask yourself if the kid should be where it is at this moment and if they should be doing what they are doing. If you answer either of these questions with ‘No”, that’s probably the same answer you should give in that moment. As you said, success will keep them in their situation, make them advance in the wrong direction maybe. So in the end giving would most likely turn out to be rather quicksand for them than a firm spot to stand on, if only for a little while…
Thanks for writing such a considerate post on “the art of giving”. A great reminder that what we basically should pay is attention…
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. The goal of this piece exactly as you described – to help travelers be prepared for when they are faced with the situation of a child who is begging and can think critically through the options and consequences. And yes, the upshot is that we should pay attention to all those around us, so we can act in way that promotes our values and goals.
Thank you so much for this post, Audrey (if anyone could tackle a tough issue so thoughtfully, it’s you guys!). I will be sharing this with my community.
Since the early days of my RTW trip back in 2004, this has weighed on my mind and often been a struggle. Of course there are so many children that tug at our heart strings, but there are also many beautiful situations that are simply ruined by begging children who have been trained to go after foreigners. (I’ll never forget an amazing hike on the Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca that was soured because I was hounded by kids asking for pens and toys at every turn. I would say no, and then look up to see another foreigner further along the path give them something, further perpetuating the situation.)
To keep things “easy.” I usually take the across-the-board stance that I don’t give to anyone begging on the streets, but of course there are sometimes unique situations that sway my opinion. Unfortunately, in some of those moments where I give because I feel good about it or just have a gut reaction and it starts off feeling like a happy interaction, then something happens to sour it (they want more, or it brings more kids/people out of the woodwork, etc.), and I’m reminded that it’s usually better to stick to my “policy” and find other ways to give. (The kind of social enterprises you described are one of my favorite options.)
Thanks again for this!
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment and sharing this piece with your community. This was a challenging topic to think through and a difficult piece to write…so that it didn’t become a short novel. The experiences you shared are unfortunately all too common. I do have hope that as more people become aware of the greater issues — that giving directly can do more harm than good — and seek out alternatives that we’ll be able to stop some of those bad traveler behaviors. Like you, social enterprises are one of my favorite options. And they are usually great places to get into conversations and learn about the socio-economic issues as well.
Brilliant! You can empower or disempower any human being you meet; whether the human is 4 or 104.
My fiancee and I have been in situations like these again and again, in places like Cambodia and India, specifically. One homeless guy in Kathmandu took a bite of my arm when I didn’t give him money for a roll, as he asked. He made it easy to say No, but the others, not so much.
A child in Phnom Penh followed us for 10 minutes right on the riverfront. We’d only relegate him to a pitiful life by giving him money, and it would 100% our fault, because we have an awareness of the situation, and we can empower, where the kid is just doing what he figures is the only way to survive.
I’ve only given beggars money a few times in my life, and the people were like 90 years old, on their way out, with no other people around to see it…..and I gave to a few men with leprosy, who were beyond crippled, and again, no other beggars were around to see it. Even then, I could have held back, but with nobody around to rush in, and to be programmed by my behavior, and knowing these folks would be either dead soon, or live the last few years of their lives being horribly crippled, I helped em out.
Absolutely LOVE this post, and I hope more folks read it, and listen to your advice and the reasoning behind your tips.
Thanks 🙂 and happy travels guys!
Thanks for sharing your experiences and approach to this issue. I’ve been fortunate never to have been bitten by anyone for refusing to give money – yikes! As you said, it’s about being aware of the issues and making a deliberate decision that will be in line with your values. Like you, there are some situations where I do give to adults who really have no other way to support themselves. It’s never an easy situation.
If anyone lived or traveled through Africa, you probably heard “Muzungu. Muzungu, give me my money”.
Take note of the “give me” and ‘My”..they have developed almost an entitlement to the money, or believe that white person (muzungu) must give them money. Decades and generation of gifts, foreign aid, donations, money ect..given by foreigners have created a culture of such, and giving more money will just reinforce this behavior and this belief. Not to mention the crime it creates in parts of Asia.
Yes, we did hear “mzungu, money!” quite often during our recent travels in East Africa. It dehumanizes the entire encounter. Fortunately, we never experienced any of the crime that you described in Asia (nor in Africa).
Absolutely amazing article. I have been traveling the last 39 months, mainly in areas where there is plenty of begging going on. I’ll admit sometimes I caved and gave, but most of the time, I didn’t for many of the reasons you discussed here. The point about the ‘law of unintended consequences’ was particularly poignant, and I think will be a major takeaway from this post. Like you said, our life of privilege can really make us feel guilty, and in many ways, the giving is more for our benefit as it serves to alleviate it. Sometimes things that seem ‘good’ on the surface create even more problems, and this is a perfect example. This site is amazing by the way, and I look forward to exploring it more!
My main goal with this article was to get people to think about the “law of unintended consequences.” I do believe that many people who give directly don’t realize the negative effects that action can do when multiplied over and over again by many travelers. It’s important to dig deeper to learn more about the local context. Thanks for your thoughtful comment and sharing your own experiences!
Great post which certainly makes you think twice.
Thank you for writing and sharing this; it’s the same set of conclusions that I’ve come to personally but such a difficult place to arrive. I think it’s so easy to indulge our personal sense of guilt in the moment, to show someone that obviously needs what you have more than you, that you are a generous person.As you point out so well, the impact is too often not what we intend. I have had the pleasure of traveling to a few places where tourism was undeveloped enough that people treated me like a real person and a curiosity, and it’s really a gift.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Completely related to what you’ve written regarding wanting to show that you are a generous person and to do something about the inequality you see, but how the impact of direct giving might have other consequences.
Your comment about traveling to places where tourism is undeveloped and how you were treated reminds me of a conversation I had just last night regarding our travels in Bangladesh. This is a country with many people living in poverty, but we were welcomed as people everywhere we went. It really is a gift to experience that. Ironically, the only place in the country where we were repeatedly approached by beggars was in a wealthier neighborhood where a lot of foreign NGO and Embassy people live.
Thank you for this article, well explained. I have made similar experiences all over the world. Locals are always telling tourists NOT to give to begging children for the exact reasons you gave, and to rather donate things like pens to schools or money to organisations. I like the alternatives you list- because the impulse of giving is entirely good and human, as you said. It is strange and tragic that this humane impuls can actually de-humanise a relationship if you give directly to begging children. But the ideas in this article about how to give without unintentionally doing harm are rally good and will help in the long run. Greetings from Berlin, Germany, where we also have begging problems involving children, though not to the same degree by far…
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. We originally thought to divide this piece into two parts – the reasons why not to give and then the alternatives – but we decided to keep it together as we didn’t want to discourage people from giving, but to do so in different ways. And yes, often people don’t think of the unintentional consequences so we wanted to give specific examples of this as well. One of two actions may not do much, but the result of hundreds and thousands of actions do add up.
In some countries in Asia, giving alms only endanger the lives of children as they run across the busy streets begging, which is why it’s best not to encourage the practice.
Will, thanks for your comment and sharing this. Yes, this is another example as to why giving to children who beg might end up doing them much unintended harm in the end. Better to find alternative ways to give.
This is such an important topic. As hard as it is to think about, realizing that there may be a lot under the surface when you see a child begging is really important. When I traveled to Guatemala with a group of teens a couple of years ago, we leaders had the opportunity to discuss this because we had some kids asking for money outside of our van. I certainly don’t want to imbue cynicism in others, but I DO want to help them see that things are much more complex than they appear on the surface.
I love your suggestions on what TO do. I read this article awhile ago, and it has a few practical things you can do when you want to do something positive for the child in front of you (traveling with a hand stamp or teaching how to braid).
Have you ever talk to them why are they begging they could have their own problem but you know what makes me angry before u Post u must have information why are they begging please think before speaking guys
Habtamu, yes we have talked with some children — either directly or through interpreters — to ask why they are begging. As mentioned in the article, poverty is real and we are not denying that reality in many parts of the world. However, as we wrote we believe there are alternative ways to better support these children and their families — through local community organizations, purchasing food, supporting schools, etc. — than to give directly to children who beg from tourists. And that is why we have advocated for tourists to look for alternative, more sustainable ways to give and try and help.
I couldn’t agree with this post more. We JUST spent a month in Ethiopia and it was the worst country we have encountered for begging in our 3 years of travel (and we’re in India right now!).
Sometimes it’s so difficult to say no but it is 100% better to go through a better channel like the ones you mentioned above.
Well done guys, I’ll be sharing this post!
Thanks for sharing this, Ross. Although your experiences with begging in Ethiopia were challenging, we are glad the approaches we suggest in the article resonate with you.
I love this!! We travel with our children and it’s so hard for them to understand when it is and isn’t appropriate to give their stuff to other kids. I’m constantly looking for ways to engage with the local community and give back in a sustainable way. This post helps with that a ton!!
I can imagine it is quite challenging to try and explain the nuances to your children. Really glad to hear that this post helped with finding some creative and sustainable ways to engage with local communities, and offer a good example for your children.
Giving sweets and sweet drinks to children puts them at risk for tooth decay. A disaster in
areas without medical care.
Here are two articles about it
New York Times article in 1991 — Tourists and Toothache
Responsible Tourism in Nepal.
Agree that tooth decay and other health problems are some of the unintended consequences of giving sweets or sodas or other foods foreign to an area to kids. Thanks for highlighting this in the articles.
I witnessed a lot of begging in Siem Reap. The worst part was, you’d often see the parents sitting in their cars close by waiting for the kids to sell whatever. The items were usually counterfeit tour guides of the area. I’m a firm believer in not giving to beggars and I often try to find a charity to donate to. Excellent post.
Thanks, Nancie, for your comment and sharing your experiences and observations in Siem Reap. That was actually the first place we became more conscious of this issue ten years ago and I remember discussing it with a couple who had been working with local community organizations for several years. Their advice was also to avoid giving to the children and they opened our eyes up what could be behind it, and the harm it could do.