When Is It Okay to Give?

This is a guest post from my friend Kris, an American writer living in India. She and her husband recently arrived in New Delhi to participate in an educational exchange program. The juxtaposition of cultures has been interesting for Kris and Jeff: every day, their hosts bring ample meals to their rooms, but just a few blocks a way, people go hungry. Kris comments, “We're from a small, rural community in the United States. Poverty is a real concern there, and we feel its impact every day. But it looks very different in this urban setting. Seeing so many street-dwellers on a daily basis is an intense experience for us.”

At the head of our road is a major intersection leading toward one of Delhi's commercial hubs. Traveling in our direction takes you to cultural centers and schools, while to the north is an international five-star hotel and to the south a number of large, colonial-style homes.

So a lot of traffic converges here, at the stoplights, in the dedicated turn lanes, and so on. Indian and international tourists also pass by on foot, coming and going between the hotel, metro, banks, restaurants, and shops.

Street children
Several small troupes of children work here as well. Each has staked a claim on its own corner or stretch of wide median. The group we see most frequently includes a little girl with braided pigtails who waves, smiles, and turns cartwheels between the stopped cars or at your side as you walk along; a tiny person of ambiguous gender who spins a wingding on her cap and performs backbends and contortions with her arms; and an older girl with a drum who keeps time for them both. They carry out their short routines and then ask for a tip.

Both before and after our arrival in Delhi, many people advised us not to respond to begging in the streets: As soon as you give even one rupee, you'll be swarmed by a whole crowd. They aren't as desperate as they seem, and you're only encouraging them. If you even look at them, they won't go away. And so on.

But it is so hard to be hard. The little girl in pigtails was the first ever to approach us, and how could I not look? Her cheerful ‘Allo! and big grin of white teeth, her flipfloppy braids, and my-goodness-her-cartwheels are all irresistible. That first day, she completed her tricks and then followed along for a bit chattering in Hindi, until we crossed out of her territory. Oh, it was hard.

We've been here for six weeks. Whenever we head in her direction, I hope to see her, and I dread seeing her. You all know the words that must follow here: she's beautiful, she's innocent, she's suffering, she's sad, she's abused, she's barefoot, she's dirty, she's adorable, she's neglected, she's a little girl, she should be in school. Can I talk to her? Can I take her picture? Can I make her mine? My friend?

We're local now
Last week, coming home on foot, I heard the familiar drumming start as we entered her realm. My heart skipped. Here she comes, here she comes, my pigtail girl, my cartwheeler. Keep moving. Ignore her. I can't. Keep moving. Where is she? Don't look. Blinders on. Forward.

And then. Quiet. The drums stopped, and she turned and dashed home. With a quick glance behind I saw her sit, relax, wait.

J: That was interesting.
K: She got called back. We're not worth the effort.
J: They recognized us.
K: As ones who will not give.

I guess we're local, now. But I can't stand it. Really. I keep wondering aloud, Can I give them food? Is it okay to give food? We have too much. We're always throwing it away. A few days ago I saw someone in a car hand her a packet of McDonald's french fries and I said, See? Maybe it is okay. I don't know. Is it okay?

Temple alms
Another group of people sits on the street outside the small Shiva temple nearby. Unlike the children at the busy intersection, they do not approach passersby. There are several elder ladies in this bunch, a few men (one in an arm-cranked tricycle wagon), five or six children. They sit in a line against the temple's courtyard wall, and people coming to and from prayers give them small alms: money or food.

Our breakfast today came with half a loaf of bread. We had on hand several slices of bread from yesterday's breakfast too. And dinner rolls in the freezer from an earlier meal. And two packages of chapatis, and two guavas going soft, and a bunch of ripe bananas, and I reached my limit. Packed a grocery bag of breads and fruit and stepped out to the temple. Caught the attention of a little boy who scampered right up at my slightest nod. He took the package from my hand as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

I didn't want to gawk, so I — yes — kept moving. Took a turn around the block, and on the reverse stretch used the corner of my eye to see the women and children sitting in a circle now, eating. And the world didn't end. And I did not feel exposed.

And now I'm left wondering how temple alms differ from street tips, and whether I might speak to the little girl with pigtails and cartwheels one day.

Today is Blog Action Day. The topic this year is poverty. This is the second of three posts about the subject today at Get Rich Slowly. Photo from India Street Children

More about...Giving

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

30
Leave a Reply

avatar
newest oldest most voted
CoolProducts
CoolProducts

In third grade, I went to live for a period of time in a city called Cuernavaca, Mexico, about an hour or two south of Mexico City. This city is paradise; that is, if you could get passed the fact that there was only extreme wealth and extreme poverty with very little in between. One of the most vivid memories of my time down there was when I was eating at the McDonald’s in town (yes they even have McDonald’s down there) and we went to eat outside to enjoy the beautiful weather that the city is known for. Surrounding… Read more »

E.
E.

Children beggars are a very hard thing to ignore. I spent some time in a country with children beggars recently, and one thing I’d warn you about is that at least in the country I was in, people we know who have worked on the issue warned us that a lot of time the kids are often pimped out/managed by older children or thugs- so the cash you give them they may not even keep much of. I think you are allowed to speak to her, and I would encourage it- find out more about her. Food as well is… Read more »

Matthew
Matthew

It’s stories like these that lead me to give my money to more reputable sources, those that are held accountable by some governing board. I’m not saying these people don’t need the money, but it’s people that do this kind of thing for a living that make it difficult for benefactors to trust that those they give to really need it. Anyway, as I was saying, there are plenty of reputable, accountable sources out there that are working to end poverty and injustice. Just last week I was at a concert where they were discussing the goals of the International… Read more »

Anu
Anu

Please, just go ahead and give them food. As an Indian who lived in India until a year ago, I’ve heard more than my share of “Don’t give them things, it just encourages them.” I definitely don’t give money every time I see a beggar (though I do that too on occasion, it’s such a small amount of money, who cares if they keep asking you for more?), but food is something I think is always worthwhile to give. One of the moments I still think about and feel guilty about is when my friends and I ordered a vada… Read more »

Ryan K from Going Carless
Ryan K from Going Carless

While I am wise with my money at the same time I am reckless. It is more blessed to give than receive. There is no harm to give! I’ve the “encourages them” sentiment as well. It encourages them to what? Stay alive? Eat?

Give! It’s always okay to give!

Lisa
Lisa

Hi! If I see someone hungry & don’t give them food, when I can , what kind of person am I? Where is my compassion for my fellow human beings?MY belief lies in the Bible scriptures.If someone has need of something & I have two , you get one.I have shared my food, clothing, even our apartment with others in need. Just like if I knew someone on this list needed somethinng & I could help I would.I fee that we need to think about it this way, what if it was Me in that situation. [email protected] Lisa

Amy from Saigon
Amy from Saigon

I will say No to all beggars as I grew up in one of Asian countries, except old people who reminds me of my old grandmother. In my culture and in my country, old people are supposed to spend their life happily with their children’ families and their grandchildren until they pass away, not in the street as beggars. Other than those old people, I will always say No, even with kids. Let me explain my thoughts. Some people beg for food or money because that is the last thing they could do, and they have to do it in… Read more »

Nathan
Nathan

I too have been to Cuernavaca, Mexico I spent a month there while in college studing Spanish. Its true its marked with both the very rich and very poor. We were told not to give money to the begging children but it was hard sitting out drinking and eating when others went without. I would always “lose” money next to some child who looked to have been beaten perhaps for not bringing in enough money? But would know as it was not my reality. Maybe I got suckered but I can live withit.

Amy from Saigon
Amy from Saigon

(Oh well, I am being negative) What’s better: giving money to beggars or giving money to prostitutes? One works (prostitutes – selling their own body) and one doesn’t (beggars)..

Caitlin
Caitlin

I saw this in Cambodia too, though usually they were hawking postcards rather than out-and-out begging. It’s best not to give money to child beggars or to buy things from child vendors either. Very often the children actually do have the opportunity to go to school but the money from tourists gives their families an incentive to keep them out. So really it’s kind to be cruel in this instances.

RenaissanceTrophyWife
RenaissanceTrophyWife

How heartbreaking. I’ve seen similar situations all over Asia and even heard that parents will intentionally lame or blind their child in order to garner more sympathy, which translates into more money. Frankly, I couldn’t say whether there is even a difference between temple alms and street tips, but you should give whatever makes you feel comfortable. I have a strict policy not to give money except to larger organizations, but to give food or other items to people on the street when I can. Maybe it’s arbitrary, and I’m sure some people might call me a sucker while others… Read more »

Lars
Lars

I’m torn about this. Rationally, I know that begging is an industry. By giving money to beggars, you are basically fueling that industry. I believe that the amount of beggars on a street is not an indicator of how poor a country or city is, but how inclined richer people are to give money to beggars in that area. That’s why you see more beggars in larger cities, especially where there are tourists. Go to rural areas, which are often much poorer, and you’ll see hard working people, but no beggars. I think most people would be amazed at what… Read more »

Charlotte
Charlotte

Having grown up in a third-world country, I’ve seen both. Some kids are being exploited by some older relative by making them beg for money. Others just don’t have the option of working due to overpopulation – not enough jobs for everyone. Either way, it is heartbreaking to see them. There is also another group who use the money to buy drugs. You see these young kids in corners drinking up cough syrup etc. My parents did not give so I did not either but when I was old enough to drive, I would always have food in the car… Read more »

Justin
Justin

As far as I’m concerned, giving food outright is always an OK choice. Especially if they immediately all sit down and eat it. So many things can be done with money, but food can only be eaten. Then again, I guess the food could be bartered… I’m thinking too U.S.-centric. But at least then you can almost be assured that your food does in fact end up in some hungry mouth. As opposed to your money ending up who-knows-where. I’m reminded of a visit I made recently to a US college town. Had a beggar come up to me and… Read more »

Ryan McLean
Ryan McLean

I believe it is ok to give when it will truely benefit that person. When giving something actually holds the person back in life you should not give. Like smothing your children. The best thing you can give someone is education and the ability to get out of the situation they are in. That is…if you have the time to do it.

Miss M
Miss M

I’ve seen the begging children doing tricks for tips in Mexico too, their parents are never far away and it made me sad they exploited the innocence of children for this. I’d rather the parents go out and beg and keep the children at home. I think giving food is always OK, whatever the circumstances.

Susy
Susy

We had lots of begging children that came to our house when we lived in Colombia. We always had little bags of rice, beans & potatoes and we’d throw in some fruit if we had some. My parents would often befriend the person then after a while help them develop some kind of trade, beekeeping, horse carting or something else. They would buy them the items needed to start with an agreement that they would pay back the money, but give it to someone else to also start a business (sort of paying it forward). They helped so many people… Read more »

Money Maus
Money Maus

Having been to India twice, I know exactly what you have experienced. Thank you for sharing your story – the real experiences and feelings are what matter. Poverty is a serious issue that most well-off people do not realize unless they see it first hand, and those who have seen it are changed forever, like you and me.

Good luck.

Tim
Tim

Working overseas for majority of my life, this is the perennial problem with tourists and visitors. Don’t give them anything. if you want to give, give to old ladies and the handicapped is what I tell them. Better yet, for non old ladies and non handicapped, give money to people who are providing a service (don’t over pay though). I routinely would get shoe shines from shoe shine kids even though i didn’t need one really, because it is better to reward someone who is working than someone who isn’t but is capable to do so. don’t give even at… Read more »

Derek
Derek

If I went to a foreign country, I don’t know what I’d do. But I do know that as an American citizen who lives within a short distance of a Salvation Army that it’s almost never okay to give money, and almost always okay to give food(if they really wanted your money for food, they’ll take the food itself w/o complaint). I’ve been approached for money a few times, and the most common story here is that the person is stranded. Either they ran out of gas, or they came here with someone who left them behind. The only proper… Read more »

Kristina
Kristina

I have lived in India and several other “developing” countries, and I suggest that you give generously and often to local nonprofit organizations that you trust. I also suggest that you find ways to directly help local people, such as through hiring them and treating them well, shopping at local establishments and food carts rather than chain stores, etc. And there’s no excuse for throwing away food in a country like India – leave it outside and people or animals will eat it. However, I generally do not give to beggars. First, it’s often an organize “industry” and the benefits… Read more »

Gary LaPointe
Gary LaPointe

Sorry, but as long as it doesn’t look like I’ll be swarmed I’ll give money (and Egypt is the only country where that was a concern); this is NOT at the tourist attractions where I”m sure they’re more organized. But then if I see kids scraping for money in the US in line at a restaurant or asking how much something is to see if they have enough money I’ll cover that too (I’ll do it for adults too f they don’t look like they’ll get pissed off). If they’re selling something little, I’ll always buy it. Sorry, but they’re… Read more »

Tim
Tim

@Gary, that’s the problem, your actions have far greater consequences once you leave than you think about at the time. you may just see a poor kid, but you don’t have to stick around afterwards for the aftermath. it isn’t about you having more money relative to them. what matters is what you are leaving behind in your wake. too many people do not think about what impact they have. that is the worst part. what happens once a whole sector of a country depends on begging and suddenly the tourist industry shuts off (yes, it happens a lot)? you’ve… Read more »

Anjelica
Anjelica

This is a big problem in the Philippines, particularly in Manila. We have a huge population now, some 90 million people, most of whom live in the cities. The result is many children begging on the streets. My brother, who was always so affected by their plight, used to give money, and then when he discovered a foundation that worked to help them, contributed his time and effort. He used to spend his birthdays with a particular group at the local McDonald’s. My mom was always nervous when he did that… The foundation would take in street kids, house them,… Read more »

Lord Kakabel
Lord Kakabel

I walk one mile through the inner city of Harrisburg, PA going from my day job as an accountant to my seasonal job at Spirit Halloween store. For the second day in a row, I passed an old man with a walker begging for change. I carry my dinner in a backpack and eat it while walking. He asked for some change (which I of course do not carry on foot). I asked if he would instead like some cookies. He said “what am I supposed to do with cookies? I’m in PAIN!” I didn’t get offended or anything, I… Read more »

Amber Weinberg
Amber Weinberg

I have a weird thing about giving money. i don’t like to do it because there’s too much corruption in charities, and homeless people I’ve given money too have walked straight into a liquor store to use it to buy beer with. I give a little of my money to my church, and the rest, once I get out of debt and am able to give 10% I want to use to support things I care about like dog shelters. And instead of giving money, I want to go to a store and buy as much dog food, blankets, and… Read more »

Yohan
Yohan

These people are sick.

They have EXTRA food that they refuse to give away for fear of the beggars bothering them? GROW UP. When you prefer to throw food in the trash bin rather than feed a hungry child, you know you are cruel.

It’s the equivalent of having a rope and refusing to throw it to save a drowning child, preferring instead to toss the rope in the garbage.

Sick, sick people.

Debbebe
Debbebe

PLEASE READ: You can not control what other people do. You can control only what you do.

Therefore, own YOUR decisions to be charitable, and let the people you give to answer to their higher power for what they do with your generosity.

-N-
-N-

Is that little girl a beggar? or is she a street performer who is providing you with some (even if it’s just a little) entertainment and asking for tips? Two very different scenarios in my book.

Irving Isler
Irving Isler

@ Debbebe: Not that it matters, but I agree wholeheartedly.

Control (over anything except one’s self) is an illusion at best.

shares