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hither/thither A journal of my travels in 2008 I will be traveling to: New Zealand Costa Rica India East Africa

A Question of Charity (The World Wants To Be You!)

INDIA | Thursday, 10 April 2008 | Views [856] | Comments [1]

When I was traveling in Cambodia I read that the government had asked people not to give food, money, candy or handouts to street children. Candy for the obvious reason that there is no good health or dental care for people living on the street. The rest because it perpetuates a much worse outcome; parents sending their children into the street to beg instead of taking care of them or worse in Cambodia's case, there were a number of adults who maimed their children so they could make more money when they begged. Here in Kolkata it's hard to go anywhere without seeing beggars, both young and old.
Here is where my dilemma begins. In a country with such a high rate of poverty (27.5% of the population) does 'perpetuating a begging culture' even make sense? I've read a lot of opinions about this. I understand the dangers of creating an ideal that children can be money makers if the parents play it out right. But what then is the right answer?
Carrie and I talked about it for a while and we are both stumped. The government doesn't seem to do much. NGO's don't reach enough of the street population. Volunteering while traveling has recently come under attack as being a band aide cure and due to short stints ends up creating more problems by having less consistency within the NGO. So where do you begin?
On top of that you are talking a bout a country where you can get a meal for 50 cents! When I give a beggar 5 rupies (almost a meal from a street stall) I'm basically giving them 15 cents. 10 rupies and I've given them a quarter. This is in a country where one does not tip for their meals in restaurants. A lot of the arguments seem to me to simply be that travelers find it 'annoying' to have a pack of kids running after them everywhere they go.
I don't feel there is a clear cut answer to this. I try to constantly think about what I do and how it impacts the world and people and culture around me. But I'm at a slight loss here.

Any suggestions?




it's hard. they say give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime. but how do you teach someone to fish when there's no river, or the river is dirty and the fish poisoned? it's so overwhelming. Does giving a child a few pennies in the street really perpetuate the cycle of poverty when there's no way the cycle is going to be broken without a remodeling of the entire infrastructure of society?
i suppose you could carry food products, vitamins, vaccinations, shoes and pass those out instead.
i have no answers. i don't even have suggestions.
Personally, i find it extremely difficult not to give in to a begging child. it may not always be right and it might just be a worthless bandage on a wound that's never going to heal.
but what else is there?
i don't want to be the man that can simply walk by and ignore a child that's only crime is being born. i think that loss of humanity is how the problem began and how it remains.

  paul Apr 12, 2008 10:22 AM

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