Last week a friend contacted me about her friends photography group who were visiting Siem Reap and had brought pencils and little items to give children they came across whilst they were travelling. My friend immediately suggested that they do not do this, instead donating the supplies (and perhaps some money) to a local NGO who could distribute the supplies fairly and in a controlled manner. I met up with this group and explained to them the reasoning behind not giving to children, which they supported and agreed with. It was great to talk to a bunch of people so accepting of this, and also great that Human and Hope Association received some much needed supplies and a monetary donation!
You might be wondering why my friend suggested not to give the supplies to children. I mean, it isn’t money, so what is the problem? I understand if people are confused, as in the past I used to take pencils and lollies to developing countries and give them to children who I came across. However, I have learnt that it can actually cause problems, and is not the best way to help. So, let’s look at this a bit further.
1. Giving lollies causes further dental problems – Seriously, have you SEEN the kids teeth in developing countries?! Many of them rarely brush their teeth (or, as is the case of some of our students, have never brushed their teeth before), and giving sugar filled lollies (or candy, as they say in America), will just add to the problem. Plus, what is it we learn in our developed countries….don’t accept candy from strangers? There is a reason for that, so let’s not forget our rules just because we are in an impoverished country.
2. Giving can inadvertently open children up to grooming – I know you might think this is far fetched, but it could happen. When you are giving presents to children, it makes them trust you, and perhaps think that all strangers who give them presents are nice with no bad intentions. So, when the next person comes along and starts to groom a child, they are more susceptible to trusting this person and it can end all so badly. It is far better to be extra cautious than too relaxed, and you wouldn’t think twice about protecting your children from stranger danger. The figures of child abuse are too high, let’s not add to it.
3. Giving can cause resentments in communities – Think about it. If there are eleven kids reaching out their hands to take a present from you, and you only have nine presents, what will happen to the other two kids? How will they feel? There is a whole ‘losing face’ culture in Asia, and I have known of villagers who get very very jealous when one child/family receives something, and they don’t. It can cause conflict and we don’t want that, do we?
4. Giving can lead to a life of begging and keep kids out of school – When you give to a child, they see the benefit then and there. An issue in Cambodia is that many people do not see the benefit of studying; they see the benefit of getting money now. So, when you give to a child, that child will put 2 + 2 together and see that if they are on the streets begging instead of in school, they will be able to support their families now……not caring about the future when they are not ‘young and cute’ anymore and have no education to back them up.
So, as you can see, there are many negatives associated with giving to kids you see on the street, whether it be money, buying baby milk or giving supplies for school. Let me tell you what you can do instead of giving to children directly.
1. Find a reputable NGO to support with supplies – Now, I am not just saying this to plug Human and Hope Association (though please feel free to look at our donation needs). There are quite a few reputable NGO’s who have good systems in place to use the supplies you donate, and they will get to the people who need them the most. I have come across a few people who would rather donate supplies than money, and that is perfectly fine, just make sure that the supplies you are donating are useful and the NGO has a need. I find school supplies are the biggest need, plus bags of rice for NGO’s which provide food to their students.
2. Make donations to reputable NGO’s – We are always in need of money. If you were unsure of who to donate to, use my best friend, Google, to find out. The best NGO’s are transparent and should have annual reports online so you can see where the money is going. Your donation should not have conditions, the NGO should be able to spend it on their ongoing costs such as salaries, rent and petrol. I know these are unattractive, but organisations cannot function without their staff to teach their students, their land/buildings to provide a safe environment and petrol to conduct outreach.
3. Support social enterprises – Many NGO’s and businesses have social enterprises here in Cambodia which train community members so that they can gain stable employment. When you buy/dine at these enterprises, you are supporting the development of Cambodia and also these NGO’s. It is a great way for you to be involved in the capacity building of these people whilst also getting some benefit!
4. Buy local – When you make donations of supplies to NGO’s, I urge you to buy locally so you can support the local economy. There are always products which can not be purchased in Cambodia (such as pipe cleaners and fuzzy balls for our art class), but there are many more things which CAN be purchased here. When you do so, you are keeping people employed and also saving money, so just do it!
Oh, and another thing…..don’t go around taking photos of people when you don’t have their permission. This is something I used to do, and I cringe looking back. You would not like it if a stranger came up to your child/sibling/cousin and started taking photos, so don’t do it to others!
I hope you take my advice on board, and if you want to ask me any further questions, or support the work of Human and Hope Association, please contact me.