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  • Writer's pictureKirk

Should I Give Money to Beggars when Traveling?

Beggars are ubiquitous in the larger cities of many countries. Some go to extremes in their posture by laying face on the concrete as they hold their bowl before you.

Some mothers are sure to have a small child with them, whether for lack of child care or as a sympathy factor, I'm not sure.

As a westerner you are targeted in the lesser developed countries. They are aware it is the best chance they have to extract a payday. If you can see them far enough in advance you can spot them preparing for you. In most humble posture the entreat begins, not to their fellow countryman, but targeted to the foreigner.

I'm not saying these tactics make those begging any less needful (is begging ok to say these days? In a time when political speak is so complicated, I'm unsure). I'm just informing the foreign traveler of what to expect.

You will encounter many children partaking in the trade. Unlike the western world, many less developed countries will have small children of 10-12 years old requesting help. And they are alone when doing it! They give the appearance of abandonment.

When I first began traveling to these areas, the begging children always pulled on my heart and wallet strings. They were my priority when administering any charitable funds. Until I was educated by locals on the matter

Begging is a refined art. Those who have made a living from it are knowledgeable how to extract maximum amounts. Children are employed in the trade because it's known they can extract maximum sympathy and therefore maximum dollars. However, it is done at a cost to the child. The child is kept from school and getting an education that can break the cycle of poverty. The child's future is mortgaged for the present day dollar.

This practice was exemplified to the extreme in the movie "Slum Dog Millionaire". There, the orphaned Indian children were intentionally blinded by burning the eyes to put on the streets to solicit ultimate sympathy to add to the coffers of his "caretaker ".

After I was educated in this I no longer give a child money on the streets. Instead I carry candy with me. M&Ms are an international favorite, I buy "fun size" packages to give to children soliciting money. That way they leave happy and it does nothing to reward a parent or caregiver who forfeits their child's future. Other's have a different philosophy, I know, but I feel this is the right strategy for me

As for others who solicit, I tend not to give to men. I was informed several times by locals the men will spend it on cheap homegrown whiskey. Probably not unlike those in the western world either.

I tend to give to women the most. Especially if they have a small child with them. Sure, the child could be used as a sympathy prop, but I expect it's more likely she has no choice. Women are less likely to be wasteful and spend on drugs or booze. They are more likely to be committed to the family's needs.

Now, what to give? Remember my charitable mistake in India?

It is possible to give too much. What might seem a small sum to you may cause a major stir and even unsafe condition if done in the wrong circumstances, as I found out in Delhi.

If practical, give food rather than money. That's what I did In Zimbabwe.

It was well appreciated and I know it will be used for it's intended purpose. But, of course, that's not always practical.

I try to give an appropriate amount for that economy. Even a few dollars is enough to feed a family for a day or more in many countries. Then you can afford to spread the love more to others.

There is no doubt you will be taken advantage by scammers along the way. I consider that collateral damage. It's ok to be taken advantage unknowingly at times. Just do your best to minimize the probability of causing more problems than you solve by following a few simple guidelines.

We should have more than a "your heart's in the right place" mentality. We need to also get our "head in the right place" too, so as not to cause unnecessary damage in foreign lands.

This is my take on the subject from the things I've learned in my travels. Others who have different experiences will approach in a different way. When I offer advice here, it is simply an opinion from my point of view.

I think this is a difficult subject, for me anyway, to know the right thing to do. But I do know that giving is more than offering your money to the less fortunate. It can mean even more, in some circumstances, if you can donate your time. I find this especially true among the children. I'll post some stories on that soon, including one tomorrow.

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