Charity Cases? An LG Quandary

Finances & Savings, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Peru, Volunteering & Giving Back — By on August 28, 2006 at 1:01 am

In a post earlier this month, we wrote about how the angel-faced children of Peru had the power to melt both our hearts and our resolve: Quite often Hol, Jen and I often would save our spare change just so we could distribute it among the palms of little ones who wanted to buy candy. While my conscience told me that this might not be the most effective way to help, it was my know-it-all ex boyfriend who gave me the download in no uncertain terms.

After hearing about my daily “contributions,” he wrote to tell me that simply handing over cash is probably the worst thing I could do for these kids. As he put it, the ones begging on the streets are usually are forced to do so by their parents, who either keep the money to feed themselves or worse, use it to buy booze or drugs. Another group of travelers working in a local Peruvian school told us that some young kids are made to sell trinkets and cigarettes so late into the night that by the time school rolls around, they’re too exhausted to do much more than sleep and drool at their desks.

This line of reasoning gave me major pause. I understood that providing handouts might not be the best way to improve these kids’ lives…but I still wrestled with the idea of doing something cool for the hungry ones without causing trouble. The Ex, a purist, believes that you shouldn’t even give a skinny kid a candy bar (and I thought his not paying for dates was stingy!) because it perpetuates begging. Jen and Hol are still believers in doing something, even if its giving a child a box of crayons or a pack of crackers. As for me–I’ve got one hand in my pocket, but have no idea if I should keep digging for change.

I’d love to know what you think…is charity abroad a bad thing? Is there a time and a place to be generous? Whether you’re a traveler, a parent or just have an opinion, drop us a post below.

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  • Tiara says:

    My cousin experienced something similar while travelling to Cambodia with her husband. They met this girl selling trinkets and chatted with her for a while – turns out the girl wanted to go to school but never got the chance. So they took her to a local school and paid for a year’s worth of fees and her uniform and everything else, making sure there was someone in charge for her. Amazing.

  • Anonymous says:

    this is such a timely post, since i just sent my friend an e-mail to tell him about my experience in cambodia before he goes there. i also felt torn – there were tons of little kids at the killing fields site who were adorable and tried to get everyone to take a picture of them, and then once you did, they asked you for money. but after money, the thing they kept asking for was pens, so we wished we had brought a few boxes of pens with us, since we would have gladly given those to them. so i told my friend who’s going there to bring a few extra boxes of pens and other school supplies (i bet crayons would be a huge hit), since that’s what a lot of the kids were lacking. (certainly not as generous as paying for a year’s worth of school, but i guess we all do what we can.) we’d also sometimes bring out rolls or bread to the street kids outside this bakery we ate at a few times, since we knew at least it was (somewhat) healthy food (better than candy or gum, which they often asked for) that they could eat directly. a few women there also had signs saying they needed money to buy formula for their babies, so i’d take them with me to the store and buy some for them. but it can be a tough call.
    happy travels (which i’m enjoying reading about!), allison

  • M says:

    Wow I guess you showed me how to do this. Thank you once again. When your Dad and I traveled to Mexico City, there were little half-naked children begging in the street. The people that we were visiting there told us not to give them anything. Of course the money goes towards something not very worthy. Save your money. You need it yourself,don’t you? TEACH people, don’t just give money. Keep up the good work. Thank you…

  • Autumn & Danny says:

    Hey Girls:

    Danny and I just returned from Thailand and Cambodia where we experienced the exact same delimma. Having been to Peru a few years ago I am quite familar with the little faces you mentioned previously. As a general rule, we say “no thanks” because I hate to encourage the dependency on tourists. As a matter of fact, our LP guidebook specifically says NOT to give “hand outs” in Thailand becuase it underminds tha parent’s ability to provide for the family. This is not to say that some gifts will not be appreciated but what about giving pens to schools? Ultimately in Cambodia I asked my guide whether the children were raising money for food for their families or were hired to sell for others. He said that they were indeed selling to help support the families and so we gave in and purchased some bracelets. What happened after that was amazing … we can appreciate it as teachers … the children started to make us gifts, follow us around asking questions, engaging us in English conversation. I was amazed at their appreciation for our company and I am glad that we had the experience. Read about it at

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi Ladies,

    I am from India, where poverty is rampant and I see little children begging for money all the time. You are right on two counts: not giving them your spare change makes you feel like the world’s biggest loser, but at the same time, handing over your cash doesn’t benefit them in the least: instead, it just perpetuates the begging cycle as their parents encourage them to beg more and focus on school/other activities less.
    My solution? Offer to buy a child a hot meal, a toy or some candy. Better still, if the situation really moves you, locate a local charity that works directly with underprivileged kids and donate to your hearts content.

  • Romerican says:

    You’ll soon find out that this situation exists in most parts of the world. Basically, your Ex was correct — never give in the way you were faced with.

    If you want to help the people, donate to a known charity organization whose results you have checked on and trust.

    See, what you’ll find is that some of these kids are forced to beg, under threat of being beaten by parents. As you give them anything, it encourages the parents to keep the kids out begging. Even crayons, because it shows the parents that begging gets things.

    You’ll also find a whole LOT of kids who beg and pull at your heart strings, but sadly see you as a real sucker. A piece of meat to leech of off. They’ll cry at the drop of the hat to get money out of you and laugh after you’ve walked away. Because they think you’re stupid. And all tourists are stupid. And this is such a great way to live. (If you sit back somewhere and study them, you’ll see this is true more often than not. It’s a scam.)

    And then there’s the third group. Teens (14-19) who keep right on begging even though they are dressed better than you! It’s just that they never were forced to stop. Amazingly, I still see people give these kids money (for pretending to be deaf, for example) even though the guy is wearing Fubu. Crazy!

    Lastly, the adults. Lifelong beggars who could, yes, could make a living another way. Working is never easy, so they choose to loaf around begging from the naive who “feel sorry for them.”

    Again, never give anything to anyone who actually comes up and begs for it. The overwhelming odds are it’s a scam. Plus you’ve done the worst thing by reencouraging their behavior.

    If you spotted some kids who looked really poor but weren’t beggars, well then these might be candidates for your crayons (not money).

    If you REALLY want to help the downtrodden, stick exclusively with a known and trusted charity. Period.

  • The Lost Girls says:

    The Lost Girls just wanted to thank you all for your comments. We love learning from your shared experiences and hope to someday start a Lost Girls Foundation to help the women and children we’ve encountered on the road become self-sufficient so they don’t have to depend on handouts from tourists. Soon we’ll be volunteering in Kenya and hope to get some ideas on how to start such a foundation after this experience.

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