The sixth episode of our SEE AFRICA BREATHE AFRICA podcast explores one of the trickiest questions we get from travellers: What should I bring for children I will meet?
I already contributed some ideas to Miha’s article about the issue (swaying him away from his more ambiguous first draft) but since I couldn’t make it for the podcast recording, I want to add some thoughts here.
Trust me, I have thought long and hard about the question of giving things to kids. In the podcast you will hear a story about my experiences with begging children around Kibale National Park in western Uganda. However, the problem has little to do with one’s location.
I stopped giving to any kind of beggar a long time ago. On one occasion in Paris, a middle-aged man spat in my face when I refused to give him money. It showed me the ugly side of refusing a beggar, yet made me question begging even more.
In Lalibela in Ethiopia, hordes of children beg insistently. They will follow you around all day and can totally spoil your holiday vibe! It took them three long days before they realised I was never going to give in and they finally left me alone. Many fellow travellers gave in, some of them rather enthusiastically.
Often it was all about them, not the kids. Haven’t we all given and felt good to see someone smile? I certainly have; it’s a very human response but I do think we should all consider the bigger picture and the long-term impact.
One of the delightful things about travelling around the Gorilla Highlands region is there is little begging compared to many other parts of the world. Children will frequently say hello and “Muzungu (white person) how are you?” and not want anything in return other than an acknowledgement. However, travel to a popular tourist area and the greeting may come with a demand. It is obvious the tourists are to blame.
Tourism is on the rise in this part of the world and as things stand, begging will only get worse. If someone like me who has lived in Uganda for 12 years feels so bad about this begging experience, then what of a new visitor to this country? If I were them, I would sit tight in my safari vehicle and I would not jump out to interact with the community, nor would I shop in local shops. Then who is the loser?
I have spent time researching this topic and landed on some interesting global research related to begging in children. With access to easy money (begging), certain children will drop out of school and become illiterate. Uneducated girls are more likely to become mothers at a young age, perpetuating the cycle of poor health and a life of poverty for themselves and their families.
When I was growing up in the UK, my mum used to say “don’t take sweets from strangers.” I didn’t quite get her concern but what she meant was that I should be aware of strangers. She was worried that I would get abducted.
Let’s be honest, not all tourists are nice. Some travel the world looking to molest minors. For me it is not okay to “just give a sweet, a pen or a book.” In doing so, we are encouraging children to trust strangers. We risk exposing innocent kids to greater — far less innocent — exploitation. A child that is lured by the attraction of easy money could easily be a candidate for sexual abuse or prostitution.
I believe we should create “no tolerance zones” for begging in and around tourism hotspots. If we want to invest in the community, let’s do it through schools, non-governmental organisations and other entities that know the community’s needs best. Let us buy pens and exercise books, but from the local shops. Let us sponsor children’s education. Let us help build a water tank in the community. I believe there are endless more positive — and dignified — ways in which we can help local people and have a good feeling about ourselves.
My colleagues in the podcast episode, Joe Kahiri, Miha Logar, Chef Rama, Jolly Senyange and Jon Lee, add more to this and offer perspectives that are somewhat different to mine — don’t miss!
The Voice of Santa Barbara
Is It Right to Come with Gifts for Children?
photo by Samo Ačko