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Begging Children -- what do we do?

Writing paper in short supply...
I note that one Journeywoman suggested giving pens and pencils to begging children. I was told that sometimes these are asked for so they can be sold. In less developed areas, I carry pencils and small pencil sharpeners, but take them to schools and give them to the teachers or headmaster. Note, as well, that writing paper is frequently in very short supply, so small notepads are another item welcomed in schools, as is chalk (but chalk is heavy to carry). I also take world maps to give to school principals. They have been very well received.

I have often found that children are happy just to be smiled at and acknowledged unless they are already "hard-core" beggars. The Journeywoman suggestion of the rubber stamp designs on children's hands is quite inventive and, I would think, fun for the children.
Jackie, Canada  

My Guatamalan teacher says no...
I agree that gifts should be given out to children for appropriate service or special deeds - not because they are begging on the streets. My Spanish language instructor in Quetzaltenango, Guatamala, informed me that giving gifts or money to street children encourages that lifestyle. Instead, it was suggested that I seek out an institution, such as a Red Cross equivalent, that provides meals or services to street kids and make a donation.
Linda, Inuvik, Canada
Let's all eat together...
I also agree that handing out gifts to all children is not good practice. Definitely do it where you have received hospitality at a home, or when a child has particularly helped you find your way or something you want. My practice on occasions was to buy food for a child, or children, and sit and eat with them. Everyone got something from the encounter then.
Lorraine, Brisbane, Australia
Don't create beggars...
I feel that tourists should never give things to children -- not candy, gum (obviously a bad idea due to dental hygine issues), pencils or pens. What it means is that we are helping to create beggars! It's hard to resist those adorable faces, but I think that tourists to out-of-the-way places should do their best not to ruin them! One time when I was in Siberia an older woman started berating our group saying that by giving the children pens (which we'd been doing) we were turning their children into beggars. She also made a really interesting point, that we were undermining the authority of the parents who were not able to give their children these things. Those of us in that group resolved not to contribute to the problem, but to consider bringing items (note pads, pens, etc.) to give to the adults -- school teachers, parents, church organization groups, and so forth. Believe me, once you've been to third world countries where tourism is common and have been surrounded by clinging, begging, yelling children, you can see the benefits of not contributing to the problem.
Laurie, Palo Alto, USA
Hand out toothbrushes...
Since I used to work in a dental office, and my Doctor was very generous, I would bring boxes of toothbrushes to give to children whenever I travelled. It was novel and useful.
Kathleen, Tuscon, USA
Ignore them for their own good...
Never give anything to child beggars unless you want them staying on the streets for their rest of their lives. Their parents or the people controlling them think the child beggars are profitable and don't let them go to school. Ignore these children, run as fast as you can, although it seems a littel bit cruel and makes your hearts uncomfortable. Approach a local charity organization if you really want to help them out.
Anonymous, USA
Coins in Egypt...
When I was travelling through Egypt I experienced the same situation ...
kids were begging for pens, etc. But I gave small coins of the local currency instead and there was no fight among the kids. Besides, you never have enough pens with you.
Dr. Gudrun, Basel, Switzerland
Swarmed by children...
I know some women hand out small bottles of shampoo. I can't imagine carrying that many small bottles of shampoo around India! It isn't necessary to give anything to the children and giving to some of them can lead to you being surrounded by swarms - it happened to me. Westerners may feel bad not giving anything, but it isn't really necessary. When confronted by children or swamis begging, I usually just gave each one a very small coin and then walked away quickly. In one city I was rescued by a local shopkeeper who shooed away the horde of persistent children and scolded me for giving them anything.
Margaret, Cortez, USA
Beggars are a nuisance...
Do not give anything to beggars. Ever. Anywhere. Only help persons that you know directly. If you want to help the poor in a certain country, give money to an organization that helps them. Children have no business hanging around foreigners, they should be at school or at home and their parents should teach them to stay away from strange adults. If you give money to beggars they will probably not be able to keep it for themself but be forced to hand it over to some criminals who control the neighbourhood. It is not unthinkable that in a very poor country even such simple items as ballpoint pens are going to end up somewhere other than the classroom where the beggar child studies. Besides, beggars are a nuisance to all of us who travel. They should not be encouraged.
Elina, Finland
MacDonald's .....
While I was in Egypt about 4 years ago I wish I had taken some McDonald's Happy Meal toys . I believe the kids would have loved that.
Linda, USA
Donate to a local charity...
I agree that random gifts should not be handed out to begging children. Although it SEEMS like a nice thing to do, it only distances you further as the rich Western tourist. If in doubt, always ask someone from that country their opinion on the subject. I feel that it is much better to spend your time and money donating to a local church or charity and therefore not contributing to the culture of begging. Of course, giving a small gift to a child or family who has helped you in some way is always a nice gesture.
Stacey, USA

Candy rots teeth...
About giving small lollypops to children who beg, DON'T! Dental care is very scarce in developing countries. Innocent seeming candy (unless sugar-free) will rot children's teeth, causing pain and mouth disease and usually requiring the tooth be pulled (without painkillers). If they don't get dental care, the infections can spread. The problem of travellers' candy causing cavities is so bad that a service providing free dental care from volunteer dentists in well-touristed areas has begun. Please don't give candy to children while travelling!
Julie, Hamamatsu-shi, Japan

Children fight over ballpoints...
Please, please do not give ballpoints or balloons to children in developing countries! Children will fight over them (you can never bring enough) and both items pollute. Very often the most extroverted or strongest children end up with something and the shy child is left behind with nothing.It also gets children used to systematically ask for things. One of my friends travelling alone in Asia was cornered in a side street by a crowd of about 50 to 60 very insistent children and she found the experience rather unsettling... If you want to bring pens, pencils ( a better choice in my opinion) or small pads, find a school teacher you can give them to. This is a much better use of limited resources. Or contribute to an organization like UNICEF. It's like at home. It is always better to give money to the shelter than to give money to the panhandler...
P.S. I always read your wonderful journal with great interest. Thank you!
Louise , a passionate traveller (37 years of travelling) from Ottawa

Women's words on charity...

To have and not to give is often worse than to steal.
(Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, 1893)

I don't want you to give me your surplus. I want you to give with personal deprivation.
(Mother Teresa, 1987)

You have no idea, sir, how difficult it is to be the victim of benevolence.
(Jane Aiken Hodge, 1961)

Charity degrades those who receive it and hardens those who dispense it.
(George Sand, 1842)




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