Travel Ethics: Handouts

Hey, tourist!

Yeah, I’m talking to you in the tour group. And to you with the backpack traveling solo. Haven’t you ever read up on travel ethics??

One of the biggest things is that you shouldn’t give stuff to kids! Let me say that again a little louder…

DON’T GIVE STUFF TO KIDS!

I know, I know, they’re cute and all. How can you resist those needy looking faces, especially when they try out a little English on you. “Hello.” “My name is” so and so. Yes, it’s nice and charming and all, but you should NOT reward them for this!

Kid in Hasankeyf

If that sounds cruel to you than I’m sorry, but there’s a very good reason why you shouldn’t do this. Guidebooks will tell you that it encourages begging, and that’s true. But it gets worse than that. Take Midyat, a city in Southeast Turkey with a charming, honey-colored old town. It’s very pretty to look at…so long as you can enjoy it while being constantly assaulted by seemingly nice children.

Kid in Midyat's Old Town

But these kids have learned a new English word to complement “hello” and their names. “Money.” And that’s what they want from you. Heck that’s what they expect from you, just by virtue of you being a foreigner.

These kids are aggressive. Some would not let me pass. Others would follow me around yelling “Money! Money!” at me. One even hit me after I tried to get him off my backpack that he was clinging on to. What started as a seemingly innocent exchange, where they all crowded around me to say hello, had turned aggressive.

I don’t so much blame these kids for this behavior. I blame you, fellow traveler, who gives stuff to these kids! Why in your right mind would you ever give kids money??

But it’s not just money. It’s any physical object. Candy, pens. Oh yes, pens seem popular. A kid in Hasankeyf who insisted I take his picture then asked me for a pen. I didn’t have a pen, but even I did, I would not have given it to him. Clearly he learned this expectation from somewhere and I was not about to contribute to the problem!

Hasankeyf

Do you see what you’re doing to these kids? You’re making foreigners equal handouts in their eyes. Yes, you want to give a good impression of foreigners, but not one of expectations. You should convey that foreigners are friendly, warm people. Not friendly warm people who give you stuff!

Kid in Hasankeyf

It might seem harmless. What if I just give a pen to this kid? Then the kid expects it from the next one. And the next one. And the next one… These are impressionable young minds we’re talking about here!

Want to help? Make a donation to a community or aid organization or give something to the local school. That’s a pretty harmless way to make a real impact that doesn’t turn kids into little monsters that accost other travelers.

So please, think about the long term results of your actions when you travel. Others will thank you for it…

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24 Responses to Travel Ethics: Handouts

  1. Gillian @OneGiantStep June 7, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    I agree. It can be hard, and uncomfortable, but giving sets up an unrealistic expectation. I try to manage it by spending my money in the local economy at small, local, merchants. Still, it’s hard to look at the kids and not want to give in.

    • Aaron June 16, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

      Spending money to stimulate the local economy is a great way to help out. The key is to find a mom and pop type store rather than a big chain to frequent.

  2. Jeremy Branham June 7, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    I definitely understand where you are coming from. However, many other people may not agree with you on the souvenir stuff. The money I can see. The same argument is made about homeless people as well. However, I don’t think you will ever stop all the tourists from doing this. I think it should be the role of the city that takes the responsibility of these kids and creating programs for them. Not giving them stuff is enough. They need something to do with their time and energy. If they aren’t getting stuff, they may find other things to do which would get them in trouble.

    I think this is good advice. However, it’s not enough.

    • Aaron June 16, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

      The kids I experienced in Midyat were not homeless or did not lack things to do. They were playing soccer with other neighborhood kids. So the city creating programs for them would not have changed the situation I encountered.

      As far as gifts versus money, it still creates a sense of expectation from kids. Like the kid in Hasankeyf who bugged me for a pen. Or the kids who ask for candy…

  3. Megan June 9, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    I completely agree. Not only is conditioning children to approach strangers aggressively a bad idea, but this ‘charity’ is merely symbolic. Better to give supplies to a local school or money to a legitimate organization. A stick of gum or pen isn’t going to a kid any good.

    • Aaron June 16, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

      Yes it’s completely symbolic that makes you, the traveler, feel better. But it can do harm to the communities you’re in.

  4. Gray June 10, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    I’ve got to say, I agree with this…and if you think about it, it’s so ironically contrary to what we teach our own children about not accepting things from strangers and not talking to strangers. Yet, we think it’s okay if we’re the stranger who talks to somebody else’s kids in a foreign country and gives them little token gifts. How would we like it if tourists came here and started handing things out to our kids? It would freak us out, wouldn’t it? We’d start suspecting their motives and wondering if they were pedophiles. Or we’d be affronted, like “What? You think I can’t provide for my own child, so you have to?” The differences between how we act at home and how we act abroad….my goodness. I really don’t understand people sometimes.

    • Aaron June 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

      That’s a fantastic comparison Gray! People need to think about how we would react if those were our kids…

  5. Rease June 15, 2012 at 12:02 am #

    I’d also like to add that in some places the kids are sent out to get money, being used as bait basically. They don’t want to do it, but since it results in money, they are forced too. I agree with you, you should just be friendly but not give them stuff.

    • Aaron June 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

      True, though the kids I encountered in Midyat were just playing soccer on the street. But either way, we shouldn’t encourage the behavior or their being used as bait!

  6. Talon June 22, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Yep, definitely agree with you! The ones that bother me most are when a really young child is sent to go begging while the parents are sitting nearby relaxing. And I agree it isn’t just about not giving them money. If you want to interact with the kids, volunteer, play soccer with them, etc, but don’t give them handouts.

    • Aaron June 22, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

      Yes those are particularly obnoxious. Though the kids that inspired me to write this post weren’t being sent out. They were playing on the street. No parents in sight. But yes, talk to kids. Many lack inhibitions that adults have. Just don’t give them anything for talking to you!

  7. Ali July 2, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    I’ve always heard that the stuff people give the kids instead of money ends up being sold to someone else for money, so in the end it’s the same thing as just giving them money. All of it just teaches the kids that they don’t need to get an education or a job to make money, that they only need to beg and pester others to get money. Seeing kids begging and selling things at Angkor Wat in Cambodia broke my heart, but handouts and pens (which I still find really random) don’t help and only hurt them in the long run.

    • Aaron July 3, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

      Interesting. I’d not heard that before, though it makes sense. The larger point here is that as travelers, we need to be extremely aware of our effect on a country. It’s not just dealing with kids, but there are a myrriad of ways that travel can have unintended consequences on a society (look no further than places that pretty much exist solely for tourists that have no “soul” left).

  8. chris October 9, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    Totally agree! This sort of reminds me of a summer I spent teaching English to school children in Chiang Mai. At the end of the term, the children were very eager to exchange e-mail addresses with the teachers and, naturally, I was happy to stay in touch. One of the other teachers who’d been around for a while told me to give them a fake address because, as had happened to her, the children would begin writing and begging for help with their families or moving. She said it was heartbreaking.

    • Aaron October 9, 2012 at 7:05 am #

      Wow…that’s crazy! And sad… Thanks for sharing your experience!

  9. val November 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

    I definitely agree with this! Not just because of the foreign portrayal, but because it’s honestly not good for the children. As someone who has a master degree of social work and plenty of international experience, I can tell you that giving to the kids actually hurts them. When parents realize their kids can make more money from begging, it encourages them to not send their kids to school.

    The best thing you can do is look at them in the eyes, give them a big and genuine smile, and then donate to an organization that helps street kids or families in need. Your dollars spent at the agency are going to be stretched much farther and effectively this way.

    • Aaron November 10, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

      I agree. It’s definitely not good for the children. And, as you said, it not only encourages begging on the kids part but encourages parents to send them out begging. Even small items like candy or pens shouldn’t be handed out as it creates a certain expectation, which is what I encountered in Turkey.

  10. George February 5, 2013 at 12:25 am #

    I think you have to make the comparison between kids, who have normal homes etc but just want things from tourists, and kids who are basically slaves and are trained to go out and beg.

    I think the ones asking for money more often than not belong to the latter group.

    Either way you shouldn’t give them money because it gives the people who enslave children more reason to do so and to abuse them, however, it might be a good idea to give them food or drink as they may be abused and not get any. I often don’t think there is too much harm in this. And yes if this makes others beg even harder that’s bad but better than having a kid starve to death.

    • Aaron February 8, 2013 at 1:38 am #

      I can almost guarantee you that the kids in this scenario were not part of the latter group, just normal kids off the street. I mean, they were playing soccer and just hanging out. I walked by late in the day when there really weren’t any other tourists around when I got assaulted just about everywhere I went.

      As for food and drink, I agree it can certainly be helpful, but you also need to be very aware that often times kids may be sent out there as pawns for that too, and we don’t want to condone that sort of behavior.

  11. Trudi Topham February 28, 2013 at 7:19 am #

    I couldn’t agree more. Egypt is filled with people who have all grown up learning the lesson that tourist = handouts, and they grow quite rude and aggressive when you don’t comply. Children who are trained into believing this turn into adults who believe this, and soon you have an entire culture who expects handouts and refuses to accept that you just cannot afford to throw money around like confetti.

    Because if you can afford a flight, you’re just oozing cash out of every pore, right? And everyone before you has done it, right?

    It’s maddening, and turns beautiful destinations and friendly people into places you never want to return to.

    • Aaron February 28, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

      I’m asuming you’re talking about the “Baksheesh” that everyone in Egypt is after. I too found that to be quite obnoxious and couldn’t believe when I arrived in Jordan to find that nobody was interested in it! I agree, it’s pretty madenning. People don’t think about the potential consequences of their actions, not just for other travelers but for the cultures around them.

  12. Nat April 17, 2013 at 1:01 am #

    Aaron ; I wrote about these kids as well but my experience was totally different to yours. Maybe because we were speaking Turkish but they actually turned out to be good guides. I never would have found out about the culture house in Midyat if it was not for them.

    http://turkishtravelblog.com/midyat-old-city-near-mardin/

    I did actually see them though telling one Turkish guy that they would look after his car for him. You could tell that the guy knew his car did not need looking after and if anyone was going to cause damage to it, it would have been the kids.

    Didn’t stick around to find out how that transpired.

    • Aaron April 17, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

      I’m sure speaking Turkish helped. I, unfortunately, seemed to live up to those things you had read about kids following Western tourists around asking for money. But I’m glad that they were able to be helpful to you! I’m sure had I spent more time in Midyat I would have had a better experience, but it was literally just a transfer point for me to get to Iraq. And after the experience with the kids I didn’t want to spend another second in the Old City!

      I should emphasize that I had a great experience with Turkish kids in Hasankeyf. They weren’t after money and wanted pictures taken and so on. It was a lot of fun!

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