The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) has released a guide helping travelers figure out how to minimize “unintended consequences” of giving while on vacation. Travelers’ intention to help, interact and learn are all good, but sometimes “misguided contributions can perpetuate cycles of dependency, cause corruption, burden communities with unwanted or inappropriate donations, and require recipients to spend time and resources to handle “gifts” they didn’t request or cannot use,” according to CREST.
CREST asked a dozen tour operators and tourism organizations who work with local community projects how they respond to some of the most frequently asked questions from travelers about giving. Here are some highlights of questions and their responses.
Let’s visit an orphanage, school, or health clinic.
“Great – more than welcome to – though make sure your intention is not to stand at arms length and ogle, to engage in ‘poverty tourism.’ If your intention is to respectfully investigate other people’s cultures and their responses to adversity, and learn and grow from the experience, you’ll have a mutually beneficial time. Do not bring your binoculars, and ensure that respectful leadership is provided by a local person. Ensure you carry the energy of a visitor, not as someone who possesses power over another because of the material things you have.”
“Visits to schools during school hours, orphanages, or other establishments primarily established to educate or house and care for children, or to a health clinic or hospital, should only be undertaken with prior arrangement through your tour operator or through a local person in appropriate authority that can arrange a suitably managed opportunity.”
Should I bring small gifts (pens, trinkets, candy, or other items) to give to local children?
“In many cultures it is tradition to bring a gift as a gesture of gratitude for hospitality such as when you are a guest in someone’s home. But generally we would advise against giving items directly to children, particularly if you are just engaging with them for a short time. Indiscriminate giving by tourists can actually lead to children skipping school or being encouraged by their parents to take to the streets and beg. Do not give candy or sweets as in many communities there is inadequate dental care and malnutrition.”
“Gifts for visited schools (pens pencils paper) are appropriate – but again, only if facilitated through a trusted local development practitioner. The reason for this is that we have seen donations being accepted by the community only to be sold to teachers and students.”
“My recommendation is not to. I’ve seen many communities where children start flocking around tourists because they can get candy. Better to give something meaningful to an institution.”
“Well meaning gifts outside of a relationship result in loss of dignity to both sides.”
Should I give anything (money, food, etc.) to street beggars?
“This question is a tough one. We usually say to our visitors that its best to support organizations that work directly with beggars or street kids, or educational and capacity building programs that assist people so they won’t end up on street.”
“Giving to children is a sure way to perpetuate their poverty, particularly when they and their parents consider it more lucrative than attending school. The best way to support children is by supporting organizations working to provide educational opportunities to the poorest children. Your tour operator may be able to make suitable suggestions to you of appropriate local charities. A good education will be their best opportunity to climb out of poverty.”
“Giving directly to an individual can give you an immediate feeling of pleasure or pride, but consider whether you are really helping or purchasing gratitude. It can be difficult to refrain from giving to what appear to be really needy cases – such is our human nature. It is good to get local advice on what welfare services there are, particularly supporting people with disabilities and the elderly. If begging is their only option for survival then you may choose to give.”
Should I help local children earn a bit of money by letting them carry bags or serve as my guide?
“No, those children should be in school! Instead, travelers should support community initiatives that are working to get the children off the street and into school.”
“It’s okay to do so if it is part of a structured relationship or agreement.”
“It depends on the situation. Always consult local guides first to see what is the right thing to do in that area.”
The full publication can be viewed at Center for Responsible Travel.