Lisa Imogen Eldridge, Girl about the Globe travel writer discusses the limitations of ‘ giving money to beggars and offers some suggestions on better ways travellers can help.
It was on my trip to South America that I finally understood the meaning of ‘eco-guilt.’ According to a survey by the Lonely Planet, over 93% of us now experience the feeling of guilt when we board a plane. My guilt wasn’t so much in my carbon footprint but in what I took for granted coming from the western world. Having been abroad more times than the average Joe, I thought I had seen it all: children in Cambodia begging on the roadside, Dominican children who had walked for miles in blazing heat to wait for tourists, but I’ve never witnessed children taking such risks before. Children stopping moving trains and running alongside coaches just for a handful of pennies, prepared to risk their lives for the change that I ignorantly disregard.
Witnessing the sights of these children, I felt compelled to put my hands in my pocket and hand over my small change hoping it would make a difference. It was barely enough for a coffee in Starbucks and didn’t rid me of my guilt. Even if I had made a difference to one child, what about the other twenty million on the continent that the BBC estimate live in filthy conditions. I couldn’t help but think as tourists are we really helping them or putting their lives in danger by encouraging them to beg?
Leo Hickman, author of The Final Call thinks that tourists should see themselves as development tools and try to ensure that much of the money we spend abroad in visiting developing communities should benefit the communities. He believes we should give something back to the local people.
I visited Cafe Yanapau – a Peruvian restaurant in Cuzco ran by volunteers who donate all of their profits to their children’s project. Children are encouraged to participate and many come to the restaurant to sell their hand-made goods such as dolls and purses. Christopher Strong has been a volunteer since the project began and says it helps to keep the children off the streets and get something back. It’s organisations like this that are beginning to make a difference to families in poverty. Maybe by giving away my small change I put one meal on their table but the solution is only short term. So in future what can we do as tourists to help make a difference long-term? By making donations through charities or projects, we have a guarantee that our hard earned cash is being used in the right way and children are given the necessary skills to help them long-term. It’s hard to turn a blind eye to a poor child’s pleas but we need to take the right routes to really help make a difference and act sustainably.
Street Children of Peru – a charity which helps street children before they turn to begging, stealing, scavenging or worse still, prostitution. They provide day care centres and refuge for boys forced to live on the streets, giving food, clothes and the chance to gain a proper education.
“Tourism is good for the economy because it will open more channels and jobs. I’d rather give kids food instead of money but if that’s what they need. It’s poverty and happens in lots of countries.” Hilary Barrie, Tourist.
“The kids from the villages make gifts that they sell – which is good for tourism as they can make a living. We should encourage tourists to buy these gifts instead of giving money for begging.” Manuel Rodrigeuz Llanos, Edgar Adventures, Peru.
“The government used to provide free schooling to hill tribes but now they cost so families have to sell things. Why not give the the money if it can give them a proper education.” Carol Yanez, Interpreter.
“I know it’s just money to survive for schooling and not for drugs but if people want to give money, they should set up a proper fund.” Virginia Pitkin, Tourist.
“Lisa Imogen Eldridge is a travel journalist specialising in solo travel. Her background in the travel industry fuelled her passion to see the world and since the age of 21, she has travelled extensively as a solo traveller, living and working in numerous countries and has now been to 100 countries. Lisa’s aim is to empower women to travel solo with her website, Girl about the Globe, a travel resource for women travelling solo.”