To Give or Not to Give (aka The Guilt Trip)

“Please, I’m hungry.”

A filthy boy, perhaps ten years old, stretched his hand towards me, seizing me with his large black eyes.

He looked hungry. In fact, he looked desperate. He brought his fingers to his mouth, miming that he needed to eat, in case hadn’t understood him.

“I’m sorry, I can’t.” I averted my eyes and kept on walking, my heart twisted in regret. Of course I could. There was no reason I couldn’t help this young boy, or any of the many beggars I passed. A few coins, a little something, just to fill his stomach for the moment. But I didn’t, and I wouldn’t.

This Guilt Trip is old news to all who travel to third world countries. Of course you want to help. You are very well aware that in comparison to the people you meet, you are incredibly rich. Your weekly wages are most likely equal to a yearly salary for them. So why shouldn’t you help?

The answer, of course, lies in the shades of gray. Most countries advise travelers not to hand money to beggars because it keeps them on the streets. Children, such as the young boy I met, may find it easier to make a living on the street than go to school or get a job. It may actually be so cool to get money and gifts from strangers, that he encourages his friends to leave home, too, for a life on the street. But what happens when this cute kid turns 15 or 20, and his innocent pleading doesn’t appeal to tourists any longer? Will he turn to crime, drugs or perhaps even prostitution? And what happens if I don’t give him anything? Will he starve to death, just go hungry, or will another foreigner be more soft-hearted than I? If no one gives him anything, is there a chance he will go back to his parents?

In Kathmandu there’s a new kind of “scam” going on. Instead of asking for money, children ask you to buy biscuits from the store. Ladies ask you to buy milk formula for their babies. Once you buy it for them, they sell it back to the store for half price. Everyone wins, except you.

This dilemma can certainly ruin an otherwise wonderful journey. It’s true that I prefer to travel to poor countries because they are more interesting, there is more to see, and a dirty child is somehow a lot cuter in a photo than a clean and proper one.  Does this mean that I’m taking advantage of their misery? Or am I actually helping indirectly by bringing in foreign currency to their country.

Eduardo and I decided to remedy the issue (clear our conscience) by paying the education for a child in a third world country who would otherwise not be able to afford it. Who will be the lucky one? Not sure. We just know that we will make sure it is the child who profits, not an organization.

And thus one less child will go hungry.




2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dikshant
    Jan 21, 2013 @ 11:54:18

    I m from Nepal too and some of the things u mentioned are true, unfortunately.. but some are absurd !!


    • Kristi D
      Jan 21, 2013 @ 20:14:02

      Absurd like what? I’m only on my third day in Nepal, and am relying on first impressions and what I’ve read. I would be very interested to know what things you found absurd, and what your understanding of the situation is. Thanks for reading my blog!


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