The Best Way to Help Street Kids on Your Holiday
with Brett Seychell from Social Cycles
If you’ve ever travelled to developing countries before, you’ve no doubt come across children begging for money, or even survival, in some big cities like Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the look of hopelessness and despair in the eyes of a child, as he or she just needs a dollar or two to help them go to school. Everyday, countless travellers experience this desperation from innocent children and are moved to ‘do something to help’. Because generally, travellers are good people with an open mind. We usually come from wealthier backgrounds and we can afford to help change the life of a child for a couple of dollars. Why wouldn’t you give them the chance to go to school by buying whatever they are selling, or just forking over a couple of dollars so they can buy school shoes. Well, let’s unpack the possibilities and opportunities…
SHOULD I GIVE MONEY TO BEGGING CHILDREN?
To answer this, it’s a good idea to think of two things.
Firstly, SCALE. What would happen if everybody did it? If all travelers gave a few dollars to begging children, then the children would make a lot of money. Brilliant, right? We’ve solved poverty! Not quite.
Secondly, think of ‘unintended consequences’. If all the children are making plenty of money by begging, then why would they go to school? The child will spend all of their ‘cutest’ years begging on the street which means that they will miss out on an education entirely. Add to that, begging would/has become a business model with new children recruited to beg, being trapped in syndicates and controlled by child traffickers. Unfortunately, there is a dark side that goes much deeper than the simplicity of helping a hungry child.
SHOULD I BUY A SOUVENIR FROM A BEGGING CHILD AND SUPPORT THEIR ‘BUSINESS’?
It may seem like a great alternative to helping by supporting a ‘business’ of selling souvenirs or books on the street. However, the same principles apply to giving money.
The success of selling souvenirs will actively encourage a child to stay out of school. The expression, “every dollar you spend is a vote for the world you want to live in” can be applicable here to highlight what to do, or not to do. In this case, purchasing items from children is supporting child labour. If a five year old child was selling water, or mini Big Ben models in London, people would call child services. But in Siem Reap, for some reason, people purchase the products, encouraging the children to stay out of school.
SHOULD I VOLUNTEER MY TIME AT AN ORPHANAGE OR TEACH ENGLISH?
If you can’t give money, but really want to give something, then you can give your time and help that way! Well, yes and no.
Volunteering has aided NGOs (non-government organizations) all over the world and provided so many essential and impactful services that have made a positive difference to so many lives. However, short term volunteering at an orphanage (or any residential institution) can actually lead to harm for local children due to unintentional consequences’. Again, applying the principles of scale, if a lot of people donate their time and money at orphanages to support disadvantaged children, the orphanages will make a lot of money. This leads to the orphanage becoming a business model, with the child being a ‘commodity’. In order for the orphanage owner to make more money, he or she will need to find more ‘orphans’. So they go recruiting in poor rural areas and convince the parents to give up their child in return for a ‘better life’. Therefore, supporting orphanages (be it via time or money) inadvertently leads to child trafficking. It is a horrible thought and realisation for many who have found out the hard way.
Volunteering can be positive though, but it should be skilled volunteering. Just because you can speak English doesn’t mean you can teach it. An appropriate amount of time to volunteer would be no less than three months, with the purpose of transferring your skill set to a local placement.
Can’t commit to three months? The best short term volunteering is to support NGOs via social media. Get in touch with the communications manager of an NGO and find out what they’re trying to promote. It could be a fundraising campaign, but it could also be a message about responsible travel, or orphanage tourism. If you’re a blogger, write a blog and share a link to a source of information. Friends-International are currently campaigning to get runners in the 2019 Angkor Half Marathon. Help promote that. The opportunities are endless.
Is everything a scam?! What can I do instead?
It’s so disheartening to have such great intentions and read that everything feels like a scam! Makes you want to give up and do nothing! But all is not lost.
You should follow in the steps of those who have travelled before and become experts in the field. Learn from local NGOs about their programs and what they are doing exactly to support marginalised children.
If you’re in a developing country for a week or two, here is a list of suggestions to help make a positive impact:
- Support local social enterprises. Many NGOs have broadened to operating legitimate businesses. This not only gives the opportunity of raising much needed funds, but also provides vocational training and opportunity for local youth.
- Donate directly to an NGO. Local experts develop programs to make long term sustainable change to the local community.
- Use your social media power to support local campaigns from NGOs. This is by far the best form of short term volunteering. Share blogs like this one.
- Do your research. Engage with local experts and ask directly about what the issues in your country of choice are. People are always happy to help. Just like you.
- Join responsible tour operators like Social Cycles, that promote NGO awareness and education for travellers through small group cycle adventures.
Where can I find more information?
A great place to find ChildSafe partners and businesses to support is on this page. There is a plethora of information, particularly about Cambodia, giving you the direct information on places you can eat, sleep and shop that will have a direct positive impact to the local community in a long term and sustainable way. Using the ChildSafe business partner page is a great way to use your money to vote for the world you want to live in!
About the author: This blog was written by Brett Seychell, founder of Social Cycles. This small group cycle adventure company was started to give travellers the opportunity to deepen their travel experience by learning from local NGOs about social impact within community development. This incredibly unique experience and opportunity turns holidays into adventures, leading to a sustainable, positive impact to not just the local community, but the riders themselves. Social Cycles operates hosted adventures in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Samoa, Iran, Mongolia and Colombia and is a proud ChildSafe supporter.