I remember my first experience dealing with street kids. Although I acted with the kindest of intentions, I made a huge mistake and perhaps a common one among people traveling abroad who encounter children begging for food or money.
I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. It was a bone-chilling late winter night, and I was being followed by a street child begging for a loaf of bread. Since she wasn’t begging for money (and since I had little money myself as a PCV), I caved in and went to a road side kiosk to purchase a loaf. I gave the packaged bread to the tiny, freezing little girl who actually thanked me before running off into the night.
Not 10 seconds after she vanished into the darkness, I heard yelling, scuffling and then a high-pitched scream of agony. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the poor soul I had given a loaf of bread to was getting beat up by other street kids who were just as cold and just as hungry as she was and wanting her food.
Since then, throughout my travels, I have never, ever given anything to a begging street child.
Still, it’s such a difficult situation to face. You see these poor children enduring the worst of conditions and you just want to do something. As a traveler, you often don’t know what to do – giving away money or food is the first thing many of us think of, but as I learned the hard way, it’s not the best thing to do.
There are other options though and with the exception of #3, this list of “10 Ways You Can Help Street Children Without Giving Money” is a great guide for travelers faced with the conflict of how to help the needy faces we see in the streets overseas.
Really, what it all boils down to is giving your time, whether it be to local organizations that are in need of short-term volunteers or supplies, or a little one-on-one time with the kids themselves. You can even help long after you leave the country you are visiting. Read “7 Ideas for Helping the Locals You Leave Behind” for inspiring ideas on how to help from your own hometown.
Street children, poverty and overt begging can be just a few of the many culture shocks those of us in developed countries witness during our travels, and of course we want to help – immediately. But as I learned, there is a wrong way and a right way to do this. When you help a street child responsibly, you’re helping them ten times more than you would by simply giving them food or money. And I believe that is the kind of difference we all want to make.