“Now, easily buy all of your flowers, you’ll go back home, right?” said the Aussie girl next if you ask me.
“Yup,” said the tiny girl selling roses as she handled the bundle to my pal.
We were in Bangkok and I was watching my Aussie friend take pity on just a little Thai girl selling flowers to drunk backpackers on Khao San Road.
Handing over the amount of money, the tiny girl smiled as my Aussie friend bought all her flowers. My Aussie friend smile back, feeling good about herself and confident that she had kept just a little girl from staying up forever, sending her home to get rest for school tomorrow.
“Oh, what the hell!” I heard her say about thirty minutes later. I looked up and there, next door, was the tiny flower girl, selling a fresh batch of flowers.
My pal was clearly disheartened. She felt as if she had done the right, and then realize a cruel reality of Thailand (and several other countries): kids don’t go back home until their parents say so.
Having lived in Bangkok, I knew this is likely to happen. My other friends and I had warned her never to buy all of the flowers, that the tiny girl’s parents would just send her out again.
But she didn’t listen.
And today that I’m back Thailand and I see beggars and little kids again, wandering the streets requesting money, I wonder if giving does any good or simply supporting a flawed system.
In a lot of the developing world, you see kids selling trinkets and flowers to Westerners. You see parents begging with a youngster “asleep” within their lap to be able to gain sympathy. The parents know very well what we realize: it’s hard to state no to a youngster. You automatically feel harmful to them. You see the poverty they reside in, the life span they lead, and think, “Well, I’ll provide a little bit and help you.”
In the end, if it had been you out there living on the road, wouldn’t you want some charity to assist you make it to another meal?
On the other hand, if people weren’t giving, a lot of those kids wouldn’t be there.
And as much as folks protest and shoo the youngsters away, a great many other people open their wallets hoping of doing the right. We go through the woman with the infant in her arms, reach into our pockets, and go, “OK, slightly bit.”
When I see these beggars on the road, I’m often torn on how to proceed.
On the main one hand, I don’t want to perpetuate the machine. I don’t want the kids to be out selling trinkets rather than learning in school. I don’t want parents utilizing their children as a shortcut to quick cash. I don’t want kids to be utilized as emotional blackmail. I’d like them asleep at 10pm, not coping with angry, drunk tourists who are annoyed at them.
Yet I understand that lots of poor families often do that out necessarily. Nobody does this for fun; they simply need the amount of money.
As I think about the complexities of this issue, I often consider Bangladesh. Back the 1990s when child sweatshop labor became the reason du jour, the focus was on Bangladeshi sweatshops. There have been 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 recall reading a newspaper article on a report that followed through to what happened to the kids in Bangladesh. Works out, they didn’t head to school. They finished up on the streets as beggars. The families needed the income for food. And if indeed they couldn’t work making clothes, they can work on the streets.
In the end, the necessity for food trumps all the needs.
I recall once walking past he and his kid in an integral part of Bangkok I visited often with my friends. The person sold some junky stuff I didn’t want. But 1 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 so that night. I don’t know if it had been all area of the “get money” game, but I simply couldn’t look at that guy along with his kid and stuff nobody wanted rather than be moved. I pulled out my wallet and handed the guy 1,000 baht (just a little over $30 USD). He was dumbfounded by the amount of money, but I simply couldn’t walk past him anymore without helping. The sadness in his eyes was just too palpable.
Giving money to beggars often represents greater than a black-and-white choice between supporting rather than supporting a flawed system. Several people lack any real social support structure which can help them out of poverty. Thailand does not have any social assistance program. Neither does a lot of the developing world where you see such abject poverty therefore many beggars.
They’re by themselves.
Therefore, despite hating the machine, I give. If there’s change in my own wallet, I give it to the homeless and beggars of the world. It’s way too hard to state no. My heart breaks for them.
What now ?? Do you give? Do you not give? What’s the answer here?
Obviously, the answer is a sweeping structural change to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks of the social system. More nuanced welfare systems, improved job training, affordable childcare — the list continues on. But that isn’t anything we are able to really fix as backpackers. Sure, we are able to donate to organizations focusing on those issues — and we have to.
But what can we do in as soon as, whenever a desperate mother stretches out her hand requesting help?
Do you can expect her a few coins? Or, do we tell her, “Oh, I actually donated to a charity that will help you” instead? That doesn’t really seem fitting (or respectful) if you ask me.
By the end of your day, it’s a complex issue. The indegent and homeless and impoverished are people too. They have needs and wants and dreams just like the rest folks. And sure, there will be some scammers within trying to produce a quick buck. But a lot of people out there is there because they must be. Not because they would like to be.
So before systems change and improve — which many all over the world are — I’ll keeping offering up my pocket change when I could. It isn’t much, nonetheless it doesn’t need to be.
Because if the problem was reversed and it had been me on