Beggars while you travel

They approach you with their puppy eyes, they pull on your clothes.  “I’m hungry,” they say. “I’m sick.”

Photo: Stine Olsen

You suddenly feel a sense of guilt washing all over you.  I’m here travelling on the other side of the world, you think, my ticket here would have probably saved all of this child’s problems.  So you dig into your pocket and hand them whatever small change you have, it converts into much more in this country, you tell yourself.  They give you a cheeky smile and you walk away, feeling like you’ve done your good deed of the day.

You might dislike me for a while here, but let me tell you – you’re doing it all wrong.  In my opinion at least.  Here’s my take on it.

I met many beggars as I travelled.  Sure you say, she’s travelled to developing countries.  True.  But hey, I’ve come across kids begging for money in Valencia, Spain too.  Poverty is a reality for people anywhere in the world.

Persons with disabilites

A couple of years ago I was walking the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal with a friend.  As we walked under a bridge, on a main road, there on the pavement, lying on his back, was a fully-grown man, resting on his elbows and waving around his 2 amputated legs from the knee down, with a container in front for people to throw money in.

I saw this and kept walking past him.

“Why?” my friend asked.

“Why what?” I said.

“Why did you not give money to that man? Why did you actually walk faster past him?”

“It’s like this,” I told him.  “That man back there, had 2 arms, strong enough for him to lean on them, work his abs and wave his feet in the air.”

My friend nodded.

“Well those 2 arms and hands can possibly play a percussion, paint, make food, clap to his singing – anything.  He could make an effort and get money for a quality of his.  Maybe one he hasn’t even discovered yet.  I won’t give money to someone asking for pity,” I said.

This my friends is why, I don’t pity beggars – I want them to earn money yes, food costs money and medicine, if they need it, too.  I want them to earn money, but not out of pity.  Instead I’d like to see them empowered and know they are worth that money, I want them to enhance their qualities and be proud when they hear the caching of the money dropping into their hat.


Never, and I say never give children money.

Think.  What time is it? Should they be at school at this time? Why did their parents opt to send them on the street instead of sending them to school? Because they live day by day, and the fact that school can be good for their children’s future is probably something so far they can’t even imagine it.  And a child begging always hits harder on a tourist who feels almost guilty for having the money to travel and have fun.

For some parents, unfortunately, it is more feasible to send a child to beg and get money at the end of the day, than it is to send them to school.  Do not support this kind of thinking.  If a child asks for money.  Ask them. “Isn’t this time for school? Go to school! They’ll give you food!” Which is true.

In most countries, school means a plate of food – which means one meal less for the family to provide, every, single, day of the week.  So hey, just think, they might not realize it right now, and still give you the puppy eyes – do it anyway.

If the parents still won’t send the kid to school, when that kid grows up and has his or her own kids, you’ve planted this idea inside their head.  Maybe he or she eventually, will send their children to school.

That’s my take on it.  It might be unpopular, and they might not be richer at the end of the day with my reasoning, but they sure would be happier and have a healthier, prouder outlook at life, because those kids can eventually grow up to have a better job to assist their family better later on.  Or that man asking for pity for his disabilities can live a more dignified existence, knowing that people gave him that money because they liked what he did.

Giving money to people just for the puppy eyes or out of guilt, strengthens their self-pity.  Invest in their future and their pride instead, encourage their will to learn more.

And if you really want to put your money into good use here are a couple of ideas:

  • buy a bag of fruit and hand them to the children – no, not chocolate.  Fruit is healthy for the children, it gives them vitamins, hydrates them and the peels are biodegradable, unlike the plastic covers on the candy.
  • find a trustworthy charity and donate where you know that a long-term, sustainable project is in place and whole communities benefit.

Don’t know of one? My NGO of choice is Right2Smile. I have seen this organization grow for the past 5 years, as it collaborates with local organizations to run long-term, sustainable projects for the children and rural communities in Kenya, Cambodia and India – see more about them here.

Opinions? I’ll be very glad to listen.

4 thoughts on “Beggars while you travel”

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