To give or not to give? Giving to beggars on the streets of Latin America

Those of us that have spent time in under-developed countries – whether it be as a tourist passing through for a few days or a longer stay for work or an immersion program – have at some point found ourselves face to face with someone less fortunate who is on the street begging.

The beggar we come across may be just a child or it may be a whole family – which ever scenario we encounter we are faced with the decision…to give or not to give!

Beggars in Cuzco
Beggars in Cuzco, Peru

Do we give them money? How much? If I give to one I have to give to all the beggars I see?  If I give money do they then come to rely on such charity?  What do they spend it on? Should that be any of our business? Do I give them food or clothes instead?  The questions go on and on.

Shouldn’t we try to support local business and buy from local traders and craftsmen rather than simply giving money to someone – as charity? Isn’t charity all that’s wrong with the World? Those of us that have more handing down to those who have nothing instead of encouraging entrepreneurship and social enterprises.

I have personally lost a lot of faith in the large charities such as Green Peace and UNICEF – I really am not sure where the money goes or how much of what I give actually gets through to the local community.  Is there corruption? Do people care?

My feelings justify my want to help on a local level by giving directly to those in need.  But surely my donation would go to better use if I donate to a local community project that will provide jobs!

Favelas Brazil
Favelas in Rio de Janiero, Brazil

The Favelas of Rio de Janeiro are probably the most famous “slums” in the World and attract a lot of tourists each year.  Yet being charitable in Rio can be dangerous – if you give to one person you can easily become mobbed by a crowd of people.

Bolivian crafts
Bolivian crafts woman

In Bolivia there is a lot of poverty especially on the streets of La Paz.  instead of risking getting your purse out there are beautiful hand-made weavings to be bought instead.

I need to think carefully before I hand money over to a beggar…is this the easy option for me to clear my conscious and sleep better at night? Or could my good intentions be put to better use?

Here are four alternatives to consider instead of simply giving money to the beggar on the street:

1) Before I travel I could spend time researching the different community projects at the destination I will be visiting. Can I make a monetary donation or even donate some of my time to help-out?

2) What (registered) charitable organisations are working in the area I’m visiting? What is their policy how can I make a donation?

3) What local arts and crafts could I buy that are unique to the region I will be visiting?

4) What local/family-run restaurants could I dine at that are close to where I will be staying?

I’m sure there are people that think differently to me so please feel free to comment below and share any personal experiences on this topic.  Or comment with any other alternatives to giving money.

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