Do You Give to Beggars?

Desperate beggar in Bangkok, Thailand“Now, if I buy all your flowers, you’ll go home, right?” said the Aussie girl next to me.

“Yup,” said the little girl selling roses as she handled the bundle to my friend.

We were in Bangkok and I was watching my Aussie friend take pity on a little Thai girl selling flowers to drunk backpackers on Khao San Road in Thailand. She bought all the flowers, feeling good about herself and confident that she had kept a little girl from staying up all night, sending her home to get rest for school tomorrow.

“Oh what the hell!” I heard her say about 30 minutes later. I looked up and there, across the street, was the little flower girl, selling a new batch of flowers. She avoided us this time.

My Aussie friend was clearly disheartened. She felt as though she had done some good, only to realize a cruel reality of Thailand: kids don’t go home until their parents say so. After spending many years in Thailand, I knew this was going to happen. My other friends and I had warned her not to buy all the flowers, that the little girl’s parents would just send her out again. But she didn’t listen.

And now that I’m back in Thailand and I see beggars and little kids again, wandering the streets asking for money, I wonder if giving is doing any good or just supporting a flawed system. In much of the developing world, you see kids selling trinkets and flowers to Westerners. You see parents begging with a kid “asleep” in their lap in order to gain sympathy. After all, the parents know what we know: it’s hard to say no to a kid. You automatically feel bad for them. You think about the poverty they live in, the life they lead, and think, “Well, I’ll give a little bit and help out.”

If people weren’t giving, those kids wouldn’t be there. And as much as people protest and shoo the kids away, many other people open their wallets in hopes of doing some good. We look at the woman with the baby in her arms, reach into our pockets, and go, “OK, just a little bit.”

When I see these beggars on the street, I’m often torn on what to do. On the one hand, I don’t want to perpetuate the system. I don’t want the children to be out selling trinkets instead of learning in school. I don’t want parents using their children as a shortcut to quick cash. I don’t want kids to be used as emotional blackmail. I want them asleep at 10pm, not dealing with angry, drunk tourists who are annoyed at them.

Yet I know that many poor families often do this out of necessity. They simply need the money. I often think about Bangladesh. Back in the 1990s when child sweatshop labor became the cause du jour, the focus was on Bangladeshi sweatshops. There were boycotts. A crying Kathy Griffin. An uproar. Legislation. Clothing manufacturers cracked down on suppliers who hired children. Child labor decreased, and Westerners could sleep easy.

Yet years later I remember reading a newspaper article on a study that followed up on what happened to the children in Bangladesh. Turns out, they didn’t go to school. They ended up on the streets as beggars. The families needed the income for food. And if they couldn’t work making clothes, they could work on the streets.

The need for food trumps all other needs.

I remember once walking past this guy and his kid in a part of Bangkok I went to often with my friends. The man sold some junky stuff I didn’t want. But one day I walked past him, and the desperation, the pleading in his voice just made me stop.

“Just look. Please. Please,” he said.

I’d never seen such a sincere look of desperation on someone’s face as I did that night. I don’t know if it was all part of the “get money” game, but I just couldn’t look at that guy with his kid and stuff no one wanted and not be moved. I pulled out my wallet and handed the guy 1,000 baht (a little over $30 USD). He was dumbfounded by the money, but I just couldn’t walk past him anymore without helping. The sadness in his eyes was just too real…just too palpable.

Giving money to beggars often represents more than a black-and-white choice between supporting and not supporting a flawed system. Many of these people lack any real social support structure that can help them out of poverty. Thailand has no social assistance program. Neither does most of the developing world where you see such abject poverty and so many beggars. They’re on their own.

And so despite hating the system, I usually give. If there’s change in my wallet, I give it to the homeless and beggars of the world. It’s simply too hard to say no. My heart breaks for them.

And I know that’s sort of the point. They feed on your sympathy. It’s hard, especially with the kids.

What do you do? Do you give? Do you not give? What’s the answer here? Is there one? I’m interested to know how you deal with this situation as you see it unfold around the world.

  1. Haidang

    great article and great question. and you are absolutely 100% right. in an ideal world, there wouldnt be any beggars. in another ideal world, we could help everyone who needs that help. but you cant just keep on giving out money. for me personally, i give money to those who are disabled and i know they cant run around. as for children, no…never. thinking back on my donations, i only give to those who are disabled or if they are missing an arm or leg for example. nonetheless, its always a tough decision to give to beggars. i use my INTUITION usually. that never fails

    • jack

      when i first traveled to the far east. i would give money to the kids. then laster i got off the train from hong kong in china and was mobbed by a dozen kids all begging. it was a mess. i took the hong kong coins and threw them on the walkway. most of the kids when for the coins but one kid just hung on to me wanting larger money. i felt in my pocket again and got some more coins and give them to him and he would not take it. that taught me a lot.

      a few years later i was on the street in china. a kid come up to me directed by her mother to work me. i gave the kid some money and he run back to his mother. the next day or 2 later the same kid come to me wanting more money. i asked him in Chinese did i not give you money the other day? he just looked at me. then i realized i gave him money but he has to eat everyday. so i have him more.

      about 20 years ago a old woman waited out side a nice place we were eating. she told me she has not had any food for a while. while my table was full of food. her with her rice bowl in her hand i took it and filled it up with all the food on my table. she said thanks and when outside. later i saw her dumping it in the street so her bowl would be clean for the money she wanted put in it instead of food.

      the Bible speaks about the needs of the poor are no less than the needs of the rich.

      now when i give money i judge the situation. i still give money but there are times i give food.

      • Dave

        I used to give money. But then I decided to give only in the form of food from the nearest fast food place. A man in Chicago came up to me asking for money for food. I saw a nearby Mexican fast food place. He agreed to accept that. I bought him a full take-out meal and a drink. I followed him when he left. He went into a bar, and came out one or two minutes later with just the drink and left. I went into the bar to ask what the beggar did with the food. “he traded all of it for a pack of matches” was the bartenders reply. The food was thrown into the garbage.
        So, no, I don’t give any more. I do judge each situation though.

  2. I stick to not giving as having lived in India all my life, I am fairly certain that my giving will only fuel the flawed system. However, I do sometimes give to buskers, or anyone who actually puts in any real effort.

    • NomadicMatt

      But that brings me to one point- in India, there’s no real welfare system that people can rely on to get help. So the system is flawed but what is the alternative then?

  3. Most of my giving goes to reputable charities where I know my dollars are being put to good use. With street beggars, you never know.

    If I give to beggars it will almost always be food. If someone asks for money to buy food, I’ll offer to buy them a meal. Many times they walk way.

    • NomadicMatt

      You never know but I’d like to think of the good in people and think that they really need it. Maybe I’m just too optimistic.

  4. I seldom give to beggars. That said, I’ve never been to Thailand to see the situation there first-hand. Are there really no charitable organizations that serve the needy there? The poor box at a local church, if one is available, might be a better way to get your spare change to those who need it.

  5. See a begging child, especiallly at night, and my heart turns to mush. Especially in South Asia. Have squared the begging circle (for me at any rate) with direct debits (with gift aid) to Save the Children and Oxfam mainly because they are both excellent organisations by reputation and I’ve got chums who have worked for them both (and say the same thing). It is tough though. Food a good option. Always interesting to see what the locals do too….

  6. Shannon

    Funny, I have a similar story, but it is from right here in Boston. I was walking down Newbury St. one night and there was a young girl selling candy in the pouring rain, while her parents sat in their car. I was so upset that I told her I would buy the entire box ($50 worth) if she would please get out of the rain. She agreed, I bought all of the candy, brought it in to the place where I was getting my hair cut, and handed it out to random people in the shop (I mean, I love candy, but that was pushing it). An hour later I went back outside and there she was again, across the street, with a new box, and her parents still in their warm and dry car. I was furious. The only thing that tempered my rage was thinking that maybe she was only out there half as long because I bought the first one.

    Anyway, I decided a long time ago that while I know there will be times where I’m being emotionally manipulated or suckered, I’m okay with that, because there will be other times where the person/child/dog (oh god, people with their pets break my heart) really did need the dollar (or 50) that I give them that day.

    • NomadicMatt

      I would have gone up to the parent’s car and said something. That’s just despicable. Moreover, I may have called the police on those parents because that’s neglect.

      • Your response is excellent. A. Newbury St. is one of Several, specifically tailored to High end Name Brand & Couture Clothiers. Some of my best memories of my Father are from Newbury St., as he would take me into Brooks Bros., 2-3 times a year as I neared college,(He passed away my 1st semester at College). I bring that up because it specifically triggers a memory that is quite poignant after I read this. My Dad was as giving a person as I have known. Before I could remember till my last memories, he employed a, ‘disenfranchised’ person my whole life. He added an addition on the side of our house to give 1 man 18 months of work. He took in & trusted the most, ‘lost’ of men. To the point of 2, (two!) spent there last days on earth on our property & paid for their services as well. So when he went out of his way, to shelter me from the Newbury St., ‘hoofers’ ,(they buy boxes of Candy & ‘re-hoof’ individual pkgs, usually via their kids w/ pretense it’s for school fundraising), & I didn’t understand why until later in life. B. I, am like my Father in many ways, regardless of success, I never put much stake in material wealth, maybe even too little. I still remember the week after his Death, when our, ‘full-time’ carpenter, having completed almost everything, was working on, Invented Jobs, asked ‘if he would still be working?’. I instantly recalled a comment my Dad had made once when I asked him WHY he was opposed to the kids on Newbury St., but really all over Boston- I can’t remember a Bruins Game at The Garden when if I wasn’t with him, I would get badgered, almost blocked from walking in, by numerous kinds of pan handlers/hoofers. His thought, was ‘focus on tousled & staying safe, their are resources for people in need; “In our County”‘. As usually the case he was so very right, it wasn’t 3 years later getting off the T in SouthStation (Boston Garden, stop), when I was hit by 2 youths w/ the school candy thing. Like synchronized swimmer they somehow separated me from my 4 other friends, & the other passengers now gone. It couldn’t have been 45 seconds & I fell right in if I had taken my money out idk- maybe I would they would have just grabbed it, but instead I tried to mutter my way past, & before I knew it I was staring at a handgun. A few choice words, *remb this is 1988, no cells etc, and my cash was handed over, they were gone & I learned a lesson. At 42 I began dedicating 100% of the support from Photography to Animal & Human Rights Advocacy. Although I know, see, & inject myself into as many situations regarding poverty as I can, while still separating poverty from refusal to try and rise above adversity. The last time I saw a kid selling candy, he looked @ 16, AT THE OLDEST, I watched a few transactions, then he jogged 1/2 block down to his Cadillac Escalade….. So your right Matt- Parents should be responsible cuz it’s that example they set. Btw My Dad was in both WWII & Korea, & he couldn’t say enough about the Love he had for their cultures. It’s funny, as you know it’s common to squat down to talk, or hang out, vs standing, he did that all the time, & working w/ veterans, many from Vietnam their is a great deal of anger towards Asia..’ians, it is a contrast I struggle w/, especially as I follow an Eastern Philosophy of Life. Good Stuff Thnx

  7. When I used to live in Greece the same situation was on the streets or the children passing by at cafes. And was also the rumors that the children were even beaten if they didnt bring any money at home. What was adviced was to just advice children that if they are being beaten they can ask for help and to buy what they need than give money. That was what I was doing, I was taking the kids and bought them something to drink or eat. For buskers I always give something cause they do something so is an exchange than asking only for money.

  8. I also seldom give to beggars, particularly at home (Toronto). On the road, though, in developing countries, it’s a little different. It’s sometimes harder to say no (I know that sounds odd).

    In Camana, a small town in Peru, our tour group of four stopped for lunch on our way from Puerto Inka to Arequipa (I think…). After lunch, we were bombarded by a group of about eight children selling little knitted finger puppets.

    I’m pretty sure they were there because they knew that our tour company brings people to the restaurant almost every day. Hm.

    My mum and I felt badly, and stupidly started looking at the puppets (all different types of animals) and just thought to get one, a condor (local bird). It was only one sol, however, and all we had was a 10 soles note (can’t remember how much that was, but about $2 CAD?). Anyway, we decided to just pick ten different ones and be off. We plucked ten different animals from the children’s fingers, and handed the 10 soles note to the mother…suddenly the children all turned away from us and screamed at the mother, “Me, two!”, “Me, one!”, “Me, three!”.

    They were telling her how many puppets we had taken off their hands, specifically. They were trying to get credit for their sales. I’m not sure what kind of credit, but it bothered me.

    I despise being seen as a walking dollar sign, and while I know it’s inevitable sometimes, simply because I’m Western, I don’t necessarily thing it’s my responsibility to support the country’s beggars. I do my best to travel locally, and use local suppliers etc when I travel, and work hard to see my money spent in destination go to the locals. I think that’s one of the best ways to support locals through travel – eat at their restaurants, stay in their guesthouses, and use local transportation and tour operators.

    Great article, Matt – you really nail it when you say that giving to beggars isn’t a black and white choice. It’s not like that at home, and it’s not like that abroad.

  9. Just recently came across your site, really great discussion of a difficult topic. I had never really had to face this issue until I moved to Paris for a semester abroad. I’d known those who were homeless where I grew up, but nobody was out begging. There were food pantries, churches, etc. where we would give to help. The rule I came up with was that I wouldn’t give to those hanging around the major tourist places (I lived right by Notre Dame) because I knew they were trying to take advantage and I didn’t want to get sucked into that. But I always gave to the old ladies in the métro. Something about them broke my heart. I’d also frequently buy breakfast for a homeless man whose home was the sidewalk near me. I don’t know if it made any difference, but I did what I could.

    Now back in the states (California, major metro), it’s different. There are so many homeless. Some chronically, many due to foreclosures. I rarely have cash on me, but if I do, I’ll give what I have. What gets me the most is homeless veterans. My friend says that I don’t know if they’re REALLY vets, it’s probably a lie to get sympathy. My thinking is, “What if they are?” Especially now that it’s getting colder out, I’d rather be duped more often than not than not act on someone’s behalf when it could really help.

    • NomadicMatt

      I never give in Europe – they have a strong social welfare system and you can get enough money to survive from the government. In the states, I think it’s a bit different because we lack that system and often what we do have is grossly inadequate. There should never be a homeless vet. It is a national shame that we would let those who serve fall into such disrepair and do nothing about it. It boils my blood.

  10. I’m more than happy to buy someone a meal or clean water (or coffee if it’s cold out), but, having seen the same child that tugged at my heartstrings (and wallet) selling more, not 5 minutes after I bought their “last” necklaces/sarongs/keychains/mulberry papers, I’m one of those who “just say no” now. I still feel guilty when I see children or disabled people begging, but after working with a homeless task force in the U.S., I strongly believe that giving cash exacerbates the issue.

    We definitely try to keep things “local”, as Lindsay mentioned. It makes me feel heaps better paying “locally” for a service or product I actually need/use.

  11. Usually, when I see a kid working really hard on the streets I’ll take them aside and buy them ice cream, candy, a hot meal or some kind of special treat. Something that they wouldn’t normally get, something to let them be a kid even if just for a few moments. One year when I was traveling during the holidays I saw some kids picking up trash in their neighborhood the day after the town’s festivities. I went and bought candy and toys for the kids… individually they thanked me and invited me into their homes. They were really grateful, whereas in the “begging” part of town the kids (and parents) demanded that I give them what was in my backpack. Two completely different experiences. I choose to reward what I see as positive behaviors.

    I don’t like to encourage begging, so I don’t give in those instances for the most part. But I hate to see those kids working, missing that part of their lives. However, I’d rather see them working because it’s teaching them how to earn a living rather than learning to beg on the streets, which sets a pattern for their life. The more you give to beggars, the more that is a viable way of life and the more you will see of them.

  12. It’s tough to say no but there is really no point giving fish to the poor either. The significant help is to teach them to catch the fish. I would rather do whatever possible at an NGO that works from the grassroots towards uplifting the marginalized.

    • NomadicMatt

      I would agree with that statement but one of the biggest problems in the developing world is that they don’t have a really good social system than can help people and teach them to fish so to speak. But that’s another problem in itself.

  13. We got into a bit of a ‘situation’ with the street children of Phnom Penh.

    I’ve no idea what the solution is, but am sure if you buy from them and not, you’re not really helping *them*.

  14. Seth

    I don’t give cash to beggars for two primary reasons.

    1) Perversely, it actually encourages begging and draws more beggars to that area
    2) 90% of the time, at least in the states these people are primarily con artists looking to finance their next chemical fix, whatever the dependency might be.

    Offer to buy a beggar a sandwich or do some work and you’ll find out real quick if they’re legit or not. The con artists will practically spit in your face. They are not interested in food or an opportunity to work for $$.

    IMO giving beggars money directly actually harms them long term. People need work opportunities and to feel like they have a place in this world. It’s important to have a sense of self worth. Handouts destroy that.

  15. It’s such a hard issue to deal with, especially when you’re confronted with it over and over in almost every country you go to. It’s particularly difficult when you know that such a small amount of your money will go a long way for them.
    Having said that, I think the comments about donating to a charity are good – it’s not the perfect way to get money to the people who need it but it’s probably the best available.

    • NomadicMatt

      I donate to homeless shelters back in the states. No matter how bad my day is, I have a warm bed to go to. Not everyone is so lucky.

  16. I guess it depends. If it is just someone sitting on the street, then no I usually don’t. I have a soft spot for musicians, especially if they are good, so I might drop something if I’ve got it.

    Then there was the time I hiked the Simatai section of the Great Wall. It was middle of winter and I didn’t pass another sole the entire time…except for this couple that tagged along for my entire hike. At first I was annoyed by their presence, but after a while I was glad they were there cause I realized how bad off I’d be if I got hurt or something. Then at the end of the hike the reason for their tagging along became clear…they wanted me to buy a book on the Great Wall. They asked for about $8 and I gladly handed over three times that much…

  17. It’s a tough one! When I lived in London, the homeless people really upset me but I didn’t think giving money would help. So for X’mas that year I volunteered at the X’mas shelter. I was away from home anyway, so it was something to do. I think when people give money/food to people they are just trying to pay off their conscience rather than participate in the solution.

  18. Charlie

    For incredible insight on US “beggars” (will work for food), see John Stassel’s broadcast. He even tries it, with a sign that says, “I want beer”. He made about $20 in just a few minutes (his crew chased down the people and gave them their money back). Once in Paris my wife and I saw a gypsy woman with a child laying in her lap with a cup in her hand. My wife gave her some change because, “any woman who can keep a child in her lap without it moving, deserves some money”!

  19. Maybe because I grew up in large cities but I never feel bad about not giving to beggars. I never, ever give.

    But I’ll gladly give to buskers. Entertain me and you’ll get something.

  20. sonia

    This is always a hard decision. I am an international development student and it seems that the more I know, the more complicated the story is. This year I did an internship with an NGO in a developing country and I faced similar situations. Children asking for money, but I usually dont give money because sometimes they take that money, give it back to the adults and these adults buy drugs or alcohol with the money you just gave to this kid. What I do instead is directly buy food for the kid. There is usually restaurants or mini-stores around so I ask the kid what he/she wants. This way I ensure the kid has food and that money is for him/her.
    However this is just a temporary solution under a huge issue (inequality, injustice…). So if you want to go the extra step you can always volunteer with an NGO. I think that it is always better to help in action than just money. For example visiting a local small NGOs when you travel. During my internship in that NGO it made me realize that the best way to help others is by empowering them (exchanging new skills such as how to do agriculture sustainably, how to start a microenterprise). Basically it is like the phrase “you give a man a fish and you feed him for one day, you teach the man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.
    And if you dont travel as much just try to help people close to you. It doesnt have to be by giving money, you can help newcomers into your country learn English or just helping someone carry groceries. There are million ways to help people!

  21. I struggle. Here at home (in Canada) I am more likely to give and to give freely, meaning that it’s not up to me how the money is spent – they can use it for whatever makes them comfortable – I am lucky to be in my position and they are unlucky to be in theirs.

    While travelling I don’t give individually. I will purchase something if it is something I wanted anyway but I don’t give money or buy otherwise. Mostly b/c of the avalanche effect – when one sees you giving it can become uncontrollable and I don’t feel any better in the end. It’s hard but I’m under no illusion that either giving or not giving is helping in the end – it just is what it is.

    Great article!

    • NomadicMatt

      Yeah, sometimes I feel sort of hopeless about it. I often think both choices are the wrong choice and that makes it really hard sometimes.

  22. Tracey

    My personal solution for the beggers is to offer them food. Not money.

    Especially the kids, because there is a big chance that by giving them money, not all of it will be spent on food. Some of it might go to dad’s ‘drinking fund’. Who knows.

    At least by offering them food, I feel a like I have done something positive.
    And if I offer them food, and they don’t accept? Well I guess that means they are not that hungry after all!!

  23. It’s a difficult world and you’ve summed it up well here. I seldom give to beggars, partly because I’ve mostly encountered them while travelling and at a point in my life while I did not have an income, also because its hard to know if you’re supporting a cause you believe in. How do you tell the difference between the beggar who is starving and in need of immediate help and the person who has taken begging as an easier alternative to earning money? You don’t want to support a bad system. Mostly I don’t give but sometimes I have; the tiny Thai girl selling roses, the homeless guy in Seattle – perhaps they really deserved, more than everyone else, or perhaps they just caught me at a time when giving was convenient…

    • NomadicMatt

      I generally give to the homeless in America. I tend though to buy food for them. If I see them on my way to dinner, I get extra and then bring food out for them. Though once in Chicago, a woman told me she didn’t like pizza and gave me the food back! I guess beggars can really be choosers!

  24. Twice.

    Once, to a man in India who had no arms and no legs.

    Once again to a band of Cambodian landmine victims who played music for money (not sure if that counts, as they were playing music, not “begging” in the purest sense).

    But kids hitting me up for a cigarette/spare change, etc? The hell with ’em…

  25. As a rule, we typically do not give to beggars. The only time we do, is when I have a ‘gut feeling’ that I need to, which doesn’t happen often.
    There are plenty of opportunities to offer skills, whether it be music, dancing, reading a poem outloud…doesn’t matter…provide a service or entertainment, and I call that work. I’ll gladly give you some change for entertaining me or giving it some effort.

  26. A great topic Matt and it is one that I have pondered myself a lot, especially while travelling through Asia. I personally don’t give to beggars. It is definitely hard at times, particularly when a little kid looks up at you with their sad brown eyes.

    I don’t think it’s possible to have a correct answer to the question. It’s just one of those things that aren’t right about the world. If people give them money then they will continue to beg for it. If no one gives them money…will they starve? Possibly.

    The only time that I do give money is in the form of a tip. For example I hired a sherpa to guide me through the Himalayas in Nepal, and his price really wasn’t very much for the incredible service that he gave me. A generous tip for his service was earned and deserved. Not the same as a beggar.

    • NomadicMatt

      I also tip pretty generously too, even to cab drivers. A little bit goes a long way for them….longer than it would go for me.

  27. I was actually homeless for a few months in my late teens, and have been in the position of having to beg, borrow or steal if I wanted to eat. So if I see someone who is truly in need and I have small change or bills to spare, I will give. But I am MUCH more willing to dig for a $5 or $10 bill for someone who is actually working, playing music or offering some sort of service in exchange.

  28. Living Outside of the Box

    I have a hard time with this, too. The hardest part is when I see the kids out begging…I really want to give, and I really don’t (for the same reasons you gave). BUT…from a Christian perspective (sorry, I don’t know where you stand), it seems that I must do what I think Jesus would do, and that would entail being generous and giving to all. After all, I AM better off than them. Their ways won’t change whether I give or not…so why not help them have an easier day, and a bit of extra comfort?

  29. If I was just traveling or visiting there I’d probably give. If I was living there long term, I probably wouldn’t give.

    How would you feel if the didn’t used their kids as emotional black mail? Would that change anything?

    I would prefer them to be honest and straight up and not deal with the emotional black mail.

    It’s a very tough, and a very sad situation, that’s for sure.

  30. I am really glad you wrote about this here Matt! I am faced with dilemma almost everyday…streets in India have beggars everywhere too. And often its impossible to either look at them, or to look away. Their existence is real and saying a no makes me so uncomfortable…

    I often buy them a meal, and not just give alms, unless its eid or some other festival. Its a tough choice, as you don’ even know where the money is going. But often I have seen their families also close by, and the kids even take the ice-cream you buy for them back to the huddled group of people to share with…

  31. Ken

    I donate depending on where I feel the money’s going.

    While working in Vietnam as a ESL teacher, seeing children selling
    trinkets was not uncommon. I was tempted to give them money but
    my wife who is Vietnamese advised me that this money actually goes
    to a “higher authority” (not necessarily their parents).

    Apparently, the most sickly and desperate looking people are strategically
    positioned around HCM City and other major cities knowing that some
    tourist is bound to feel sorry for them. Knowing this I was completely turned
    off giving money to homeless in this region.

    What I’ve done instead is donate money to charities and organizations
    recommended or run by foreigners living in Vietnam. One example is restaurant
    called Huong Lai in HCM city that helps disadvantaged youth get back on
    their feet by training them in hospitality and funding their education.

  32. Colleen Setchell

    It’s so hard this topic. I always think, ‘Here I am travelling around the world and having a great time and this person probably doesn’t even have a house!’ I give sometimes but at the moment I’m in South Africa and if I gave to every beggar, I would be broke. We also tip the ‘car guards’ and very soon this all mounts up. I would prefer to give to an international charity really but when you’re faced with a dirty child begging for food, it’s hard to know the right thing to do…

  33. Muca

    Never give money to kids, most horrible thing you can do, since kids are used by criminal gangs or their families. If we would all stop paying money to begging kids, we could do something against it. Just paying to make yourself feel better is a selfish thing to do.

  34. I lived in San Diego for a few years, where there are a lot of homeless people (temperate climate, large veteran population, etc.) and I tried to give whenever possible. I really hate it when people say “I won’t give to homeless on the street because they’ll just use the money to buy booze… or maybe they’re not even homeless!” I get it, I really do, but it’s too easy to assume everyone is gaming the system… and then use that as justification to help no one.

    In other countries it’s a little different because of the kid situation, as you mention. It’s hard because in some cases I think the kids might be in school instead of begging/selling if the begging/selling wasn’t profitable. I don’t know how common it is, but there are those stories of kids being used by people turning a profit in the “begging industry.” BUT I’m sure some families really do need the money the kids bring in to survive.

    It’s such a tough call. I want to do the compassionate thing, but I’m not always sure if that means giving so they get food in their belly or not giving so maybe the kids will be allowed to go to school instead.

  35. I just spent another month in Cambodia and my eyes were opened wide to a lot of the harm that western tourists do when trying to assuage the guilt they feel seeing children on the street. Good intentions are NOT enough.

  36. This debate comes up even in countries like the U.S. where we do have some (extremely limited) social services for people who are begging. I think it comes down to this, give to the individual or give to the NPOs that help. Either way, the important thing is to give and not just ignore the problem. Educate yourself about the causes and realities of homelessness in whatever country you live in or visit. It won’t make the emotional side of things easier to handle, but it may mean you are ready to take advantage of real opportunities to make a difference when they are presented.


  37. I have loved reading this discussion! Purely because I have struggled with it so much, both at home and in my travels. But I have really tried to banish guilt out of the equation, because it just doesnt serve anyone, least of all the poor person begging in the street. I have given to beggars, both at home and abroad, but have decided to support positive change instead. I support a children’s orphanage/shelter run by an amazing Aussie woman in Cambodia called Even in my RTW savings mission, I cant bring myself to forgo the monthly donation, and I really hope to visit when I go to Cambodia next year.
    This post has renewed my resolve to support wonderful charitable organisations with my time or money or both, instead of giving to beggars, but it’s easier said than done!

    • NomadicMatt

      Great. I am a firm believer that we should give to those in need. As travelers we are blessed and I think it’s important to give back to the people we go and gain so much from.

      • Qwertyuio

        Gain from them? How? They gain from you. All you do by giving them is stopping those countries and people from developing by supporting bagging life style. It’s called responsibility! If they can’t feed their kids they should be fought not to make them. Simple responsible logics of a developed person. And by giving you teach them to use kids and the disabled as a money making tools!!!

  38. I do, but on a case by case basis. I see some drunk asking for cash for his next bottle, then I am unlikely to, but a women and child, I am likely to give more than I usually would. Some are there by way of their own idiocy and others because of poor circumstance.

  39. Great article Matt and one that has made me think a lot. I recently gave food to a child in Cambodia. I later saw him with a wad of cash in his hand and am quite sure he just threw the food away. The next night he was beside me again. This time I offered him a plate of food. He didn’t want it. He only wants money which I am quite sure he just passes on to someone else. The same of course applies to the many children selling books on the streets of Cambodia. By buying it may be seen to be perpetuating the problem of them selling books rather than going to school and reading books! But what I’ve realised along my route has been that it’s never black and white, it’s always shades of grey. By not buying the books will the child’s parents send him to school instead or is his income so much needed that he will find another way to make it? If he goes home empty handed what happens to him? I’m not sure of the answers to these questions and your article has really given me cause to ponder this further.

    • Qwertyuio

      May be some parents figure out not to make kids if they can’t provide? If you buy the will not! And make more kids to use!

  40. Its really hard, especially if there are children. Who to give to and who not? Some young guy, in sterling good health who makes begging a profession and I have seen those – definitely not. Someone with a limb missing, yes. In some countries, like Lesotho, you get crowded by the local children from the village and if anyone gets looked-over, it can start a clan / tribal clash and ill feeling in the village between those that got and those that didn’t. So, although one wants to help, you still have to be cautious and take into account local conditions in the countries you’re visiting.

  41. Megan

    I am so pleased that I got home and read this article, as I have just had a huge moral struggle on my way home. I was in Dublin city just this afternoon, where most travellers know there are a lot of beggars. I am from NZ, so we dont seem to have such a huge homeless population as they do here, and there is generally someone on each corner, or outside every supermarket – or so it seems sometimes. The thing is here, is that there is an overly generous welfare system, where the benefit is almost as much as a part time job, and people collect on the street while getting a benefit, and are better off that the rest of us who get work for a living.

    Today, however, I came accross a man who was shivering, not wearing any shoes, and almost crying, holding his cup out to passers by. Despite my usual ‘not giving’ attitude due to the welfare system, there was something about this guy that almost broke my heart, and yet I still walked away. At that very point in time, I wrestled with myself, but I decided to put myself first. At the moment, I am fairly broke after 12 months travelling. I am currently waiting on a cheque from my last job to come in as I only have 40euros to my name, and am at the mercy of some (luckily) very good travel friends.

    I dont usually give to beggars, yet I wanted to give to this guy, and I didnt. I now feel like a terrible person, because I know that I have good friends and family to fall back on. This guy probably doesnt.

    I feel like this image will haunt me forever.

  42. Very powerful article, and such an interesting discussion. My approach in Peru and Bolivia was to always get a take-out box in a restaurant and save some of my food to give to the beggar I’d invariably pass on my way home. The street sellers were often very poor, even though they weren’t begging, and they’d always appreciate it if I offered them something to eat as well. If children came and asked me for money, I’d often get them something to eat instead. A woman with a baby came up to me in Lima, asking for money. She was almost in tears because she needed money to buy food and nappies for her baby, so I took her to a drugstore and bought her some nappies and formula milk. It cost more than it would to have just given her a couple of soles, but I don’t give out any money, because I’m not convinced it does any good, whereas giving someone who’s vulnerable and hungry a bit of sustenance and care might. It also gives you a chance to make a real, human connection with people, which, in the long run, could be a powerful tool for change.

  43. John

    This always is a difficult one for me. I grew up being told not to give to beggars, and several times I walk past and hang my head in shame. I am involved with other charitable organizations, so I justify it to my karma. But then sometimes I think, if the person was well-off, they wouldn’t be begging in the street. Or at least I feel that I’m better off than they are, so then I give some change, food or something. But in some places, you have to be careful. If there are several kids nearby it could become dangerous–for you or for the child–to give to just one. Good article…tough situation. All of us able to read this are very fortunate.

    • NomadicMatt

      I always feel that if a person has been reduced to begging on the street then they are at a low point in their life and need help. And I’m happy to give it to them.

  44. Irini

    It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot the last few months – being living in East Africa. When I was living in Greece I had decided never to give money – but rather to buy food to kids. One time there was a kid begging outside a church. I told him that I would buy him a sandwich and his reply was – “can I bring my friend as well?”. So I went with the two kids to the shop and I let them choose what they wanted to put in the sandwich. I also told them they could take anything they wanted to drink from the fridge – there was coca cola, sprite, juice, chocolate milk and many other sweet drinks. I was amazed when they chose a half litre of fresh milk each! Since that day I used to buy something to eat and a small pack of milk for the kids in the street.

    In Africa though is a different situation and I’m always wondering what to do, exactly because, as you say, there is no welfare system here. In Arusha there are many street kids, you seen them begging and spending their nights sitting all together or sleeping in the corners. I am worried whether the money will be spend for their good – food, clothes or in things like drugs and alcohol so I prefer whenever I get the chance to buy some food for them. As for money I give but only to disabled and elderly persons for whom is difficult – or impossible to work.
    What bothers me here though is that many people in the neighbourhoods or in villages that happen to see you walking by will come direct to you and tell you in English “give me my money” or in Swahili give me 100 or 500 shillings (8/40cents of USD). I never give to those people and it gets me frustrated as they do this in front of their kids – thus teaching to the kids to have the same behaviour and to beg for money.

  45. I see this beggar with a stick in his hand everyday at Mobil gas station Dunkin Donuts. 1st time I met him , he told me a story that govt is not sending his check for disability. Next time he lost the key to his locker. Now everytime I go, either ask for coffee, cig or dollar. I guess when we start giving these beggars money, it encourage them to ask again. So I just stoped giving him money. Asked him if you are interested in getting a job then let me know. His answer was no. So plz stop giving these kind of people, because they get addicted to begging.

  46. Stacey

    I’m a kiwi, currently living in San Diego and recently moved from Chicago. I’ve been in the states for over a year now and I can’t believe the amount of homeless people here. I have yet to make my way to Asia or Europe so I only have NZ, Aussie and Fiji to compare it to, but it breaks my heart how many people are living on the streets here. I’m on an exchange visa and pretty broke but I was giving money to every homeless person I saw- until my last night in Chicago.

    I was giving money to a homeless guy who had approached us outside a bar when two cops came over and told me off . I started going on about how people are heartless and it’s ridiculous how many people are on the streets etc etc.
    It was then explained to me that this guy lived in an apartment across the road with his mother and probably made more money then I do.

    I guess it’s making me more cynical but I needed to harden up anyway 😉
    It’s sad that these people ruin it for the people who are genuinely in need.

    • NomadicMatt

      Yeah, people like that give homelessness and beggars a bad name but I still like to think more than not, they really need it.

  47. Jo

    I never know what to do on these occasions. Like you say, on the one hand indulging begging just encourages more begging. Especially somewhere like Asia which has a constant flow of not just tourists, but tourists who are already probably drowning in ‘white guilt’ who know little about the society and so assume that everyone begging must be in dire poverty, when in reality that isn’t necessarily the case.

    I used to say ‘well I won’t give to beggars who just sit there, but if they do something to earn it then I will’, but that feels like I think I’m some kind of feudal lord making people dance for me in order to receive my benevolance. I can’t really square that with myself anymore, it feels like an offensive middle ground. Even buying from street seller beggers doesn’t sit right with me. I believe that if people are going to give to beggars, it should be to those who genuinely need it. In which case, you can’t morally stipulate that they ‘do something to earn it’ without being fairly repulsive and entitled. I usually square it with myself by saying I won’t give money for nothing, but I’ll pay the inflated prices if they had something I wanted, or could be used as a souvenir. But even that bothers me, as it makes things worse for the tourism industry and the kids- the kids selling start to see white people as easy marks ripe to be ripped off, which increases the hassle for future tourists, and gives the kids incentives to keep doing what they’re doing rather than getting an education.

    It’s difficult. In an ideal world I would say trust your instincts and only give to those who look like they need it. But I know how easy it is to be badgered even when you know the person is a con artist not someone genuinely in need, and doubly so when it’s a cute little skinny Asian kid with big brown eyes.

  48. Maria Flores

    I give to those who ask… without discrimination, he may be rich or he may be poor, ask and he will be giving… and he who steals from my home is forgiving, I would talk to him and tell him, all you had to do was ask

  49. The Globetrotter

    Anyone seen that? It’s a debatable topic. I personally feel that the only way you can get them to do something in a place like India is to give them work-alternatively, adopt them if they are kids, etc.

    The point is, if you think there are con artists, why do you think circumstances have forced them to the streets? They can con someone else, can’t they?

    A simple “solution” (well, not exactly) could be to organize a service that patrols streets, collects people as and when they come, and then give them some work-especially useful for those forced into begging.

    A small beginning…

  50. Rachael

    As a follower of Jesus I take my standards from God’s word. In Proverbs 19:17 it says “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.” Remember though that just because you give, you are not buying your way into heaven, because Ephesians 2:8-9 tell us that only God’s grace saves us and not anything we have done ourselves.

  51. Laura

    Theres no right answer to this. I let myself be guided by intuition. In India I met a young girl who needed to beg to get her father a half bottle of whisky each night.

    If she didn’t make the money she was beaten. One night she persuaded me to come to see her home. I met her dad. He was bringing up his five kids alone in a miserable shack. His wife had died 2 years hence from dengue and he drank to kill his grief for awhile. There was such sadness in him.He didn’t seem like a bad man.

    its so hard to know what to do, there are so many scams and so much genuine,immediate need. Sometimes the act of human compassion can uplift a sad needy person more than the small amount of cash.

    Sometimes you will be stung, sometimes fund a corrupt system, and sometimes you may touch someones life in a meaningful way.

  52. leny

    isn’t there a right answer to this? there’s always a right answer. there’s no shade of grey when it comes to moral actions. A beggar says, “the society calls me a parasite. but how do u call the society that reduces me to this?”
    have you asked yourself? do I reduce people to poverty? reflect very, very hard.

  53. Ethan

    I picked up a flyer from Last Resort in Kathmandu.

    Wanna share the content:

    Think about it:
    How could giving be selfish? Don’t give me anything! Please – Don’t be selfish! I need reasons to get off these streets – NOT to stay on them!
    I’m too young to know that ANY of the nice things you may kindly give to me, WILL encourage to continue begging on the street- which is NO place for a child like me.
    I just don’t realise that ALL the money & foreign coins & biscuits & fresh fruit & powered milk & chocolate donuts & coca-cola & kindly bought sandwiches & unfinished pizza & heartfelt hugs & random trips to cinema & novelty key-chains & coloring pencils & street-side language lessons & unwanted t-shirts & new sandals & warm blankets & ALL the other nice things that MANY generous people DO give me EVERY day, WILL do nothing more than keep me on these VERY dangerous streets!
    Here on the street MANY other children like me get trapped in destructive & violent lives of petty-crime, drugs & prostitution. Each extra day that I’m ENCOURAGED to spend here by people like YOU, the chance of the same thing happening to me grows & hope of the better life that you might wish for me gets smaller & smaller…
    If I keep on getting “help” from nice people like YOU, I will NOT take the LONG-TERM help that IS offered to me by the MANY local organizations that DO work VERY hard to HELP children like me.
    With an endless flow of kind tourists I CHOOSE to stay here, but once I am no longer cute enough to beg from people like you, I WILL eventually be TRAPPED in a hopeless life of hardship.
    Of course, giving me something may make YOU feel a little better, but I promise you that it will NOT help ME at all!

    • Qwertyuio

      Think of it this way: you think you can not efford children even though you are a professional teacher, sympathetic and generous with what you have? Your kid could be well bread, developed, loved and could grow up bringing great things to the planet? Yet you think your income is not yet enough, while those who have no income make kids to have it! And their kids are not developing while bagging, what will they most likely grow up as? So, why the heck supporting and encouraging their parents to make more kids as labour?!!! I suggest to buy a pack of condoms, wrap in paper with a note to parents:” please use!”. To let them know that they are not encouraged and supported abusing their kids! That’s the best help!

  54. This is a wonderful discussion with great info & unique points of view.
    I lived in both NYC and Los Angeles, and there would only give to someone performing. Here, I know the tricks, statistics, and options available to those outright begging so it’s much easier to say no.

    In another country, it’s harder I think to make an educated decision, especially once emotions and empathy get involved. What’s sadder than a grubby, sad, hungry looking child?
    In Rome and Paris I would see the woman-with-baby bit and the often fake cripple bit – you could never see their face, and their hands were usually mostly covered too.

    It’s impossible to make an accurate judgement about what to do (or not) for someone in the position of begging/working on the street without knowing their individual story. Adults are one thing, but the knowledge that children are manipulated, taken advantage of, and/or abused by adults (parents or otherwise) will hopefully help my heart break a little less when I force myself to say no.

    I’m also happy to hear any suggestions for reputable charities/NGO’s where most of the money donated really does go to directly helping people in these situations build a life and way out.

  55. I have the same mental debate when I see beggars. I usually have peelable fruit in my pack wherever I travel of which I will always offer to share. This doesn’t mean much in Thailand, but in western Europe or even the United States this is a viable option. If I feel good vibes from that individual, I will ask them if they would like a coffee. I’ll get a coffee too and every once in a while this can be fodder for a truly fascinating conversation. I always feel the burning desire to root my way to the truth. I want to know why this individual is on the street.

  56. geetika

    regarding no limb; there is a motivational american speaker with no hands n feet: people create job and profession. they dont cry for money.

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