BEG THE QUES­TION

There are bet­ter ways to help in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries than hand­ing out coins to chil­dren on the street, ad­vises Chris­tine Retschlag

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - News -

HERE’S hardly a cor­ner of the world where trav­ellers can avoid poverty. Many of us, with just a few short days to ex­pe­ri­ence a des­ti­na­tion, grap­ple with ways in which to ad­dress the is­sue with­out mak­ing sit­u­a­tions, such as beg­ging, even worse.

At best, many trav­ellers feel in­ef­fec­tual and em­bar­rassed and, at worst, some trans­form into the un­car­ing ugly Westerner.

But there are many prac­ti­cal and pos­i­tive ways to make a dif­fer­ence. Kristie Kel­la­han, a writer who reg­u­larly vol­un­teers at an or­phan­age in Chi­ang Mai, north­ern Thai­land, sug­gests con­tact­ing aid or­gan­i­sa­tions, such as the Red Cross, to as­sess the needs be­fore you visit a coun­try.

She ad­vises trav­ellers to think about what they are giv­ing and avoid push­ing West­ern val­ues on to dif­fer­ent cul­tures. ‘‘ Peo­ple come to visit the or­phan­age and want to give the chil­dren toys, lol­lies, soft drinks and ice cream,’’ she says. ‘‘ But what would be use­ful is nap­pies for the ba­bies, blank ex­er­cise books, pen­cils, sharp­en­ers and things like that for the older ones.’’

Kel­la­han says while it is im­por­tant not to judge the ac­tions of fel­low tourists, there are of­ten more con­struc­tive ways to make a dif­fer­ence than hand­ing money to beg­gars. ‘‘ By sup­port­ing kids sell­ing post­cards and chew­ing gum, it en­cour­ages fam­i­lies to send them to the city and they may be miss­ing out on go­ing to school. It’s dam­ag­ing for kids who make money when they are cute and young, but when they get older they can’t make money any more.’’

In coun­tries such as Laos, many chil­dren have never owned a book, let alone read one. In June 2006, in Luang Pra­bang, the Big Brother Mouse pro­gram opened its doors, pub­lish­ing colour­ful and ed­u­ca­tional books in English and Lao. Trav­ellers to this charm­ing town can visit two cen­tres — recog­nis­able by the cut-out mouse out­side — and read or speak in English with lo­cal chil­dren. Out­side the town cen­tre, tourists can pur­chase packs of ed­u­ca­tional books that come with a set of use­ful in­struc­tions, such as not to give the books to the most for­ward chil­dren on ar­rival in a vil­lage but con­sider the shy child in the cor­ner who is like­lier to share. Or, where pos­si­ble, present the books to a lo­cal teacher.

In Cam­bo­dia’s Siem Reap, the gate­way town to Angkor Wat, the La No­ria ho­tel has ded­i­cated two mas­sage rooms by the pool where blind masseuses of­fer mas­sages to

Group hug: Cam­bo­dian young­sters are be­ing helped by char­i­ties such as Sun­rise Angkor Chil­dren’s Vil­lage guests priced from about $US5 ($5.35). All money goes di­rectly to the masseuses, for whom ex­treme poverty would oth­er­wise be a cer­tainty. Also in Siem Reap, Raf­fles Ho­tel d’Angkor sup­ports the Sun­rise Angkor Chil­dren’s Vil­lage, a lo­cal or­phan­age that opened in 1979 af­ter the fall of the Kh­mer Rouge regime and is man­aged by the Aus­tralia Cam­bo­dia Foun­da­tion. Ev­ery Sun­day, be­tween 2pm and 3pm, chil­dren at the or­phan­age dress in ex­quis­ite cos­tumes and per­form tra­di­tional Cam­bo­dian dance and mu­sic. En­try is free but do­na­tions are grate­fully ac­cepted.

Kerin Ord, World Vi­sion team leader for south­ern Africa, the Mid­dle East and east­ern Europe, warns trav­ellers to be aware of scams that ex­ploit chil­dren.

‘‘ Be wary of giv­ing money to young chil­dren beg­ging, they could be­long to a Fa­gan-like or­gan­i­sa­tion in which chil­dren are ex­ploited. The chil­dren don’t get to keep the money but have to pass it on to the lead­ers,’’ she says.

‘‘ If you want to give some­thing, con­sider small gifts such as pens or clip-on koalas or of­fer to buy them a meal or some wa­ter. While you may want to buy a soc­cer ball for the chil­dren to play with, what they may re­ally need is food.

‘‘ Peo­ple who are moved by their ex­pe­ri­ences shouldn’t for­get about it as soon as they get home. Har­ness that pas­sion and be­come en­gaged in global is­sues; maybe join the Make Poverty His­tory cam­paign or vol­un­teer for a rep­utable char­ity.’’

In Code Green: Ex­pe­ri­ences of a Life­time (Lonely Planet, $29.95), ed­i­tor Kerry Lorimer cites ‘‘ in­dis­crim­i­nate giv­ing by tourists’’ as a con­tribut­ing fac­tor be­hind a ‘‘ beg­ging cul­ture that un­der­mines tra­di­tional cul­ture and so­cial struc­tures’’ in many coun­tries.

‘‘ As a trav­eller, you’re seen less as a hu­man be­ing and more as a piggy bank,’’ she writes. ‘‘ Al­ter­na­tively, you could choose not to give to any­one, but to refuse some­one gen­uinely suf­fer­ing can border on in­hu­mane. The best approach prob­a­bly lies some­where in the mid­dle and where that mid­dle is, is up to you. You might de­cide that some­one (who) per­forms a small ser­vice should be re­warded with a tip, or that moth­ers with chil­dren, en­ter­tain­ers, holy men and women and-or the dis­abled may de­serve a con­tri­bu­tion.

‘‘ Per­haps best of all, try to give of your­self,

The fu­ture looks brighter: UNICEF chil­dren rather than your wealth. Share a joke or a meal, start a con­ver­sa­tion, pull out pho­tos of your kids or home town or play a game.’’

Travel whole­saler Pere­grine and Geckos Asia des­ti­na­tion man­ager Becky Last ad­vises trav­ellers to try to see be­yond the beg­gar to the per­son. ‘‘ It’s re­ally hard for us to iden­tify with the peo­ple who are tug­ging at us de­mand­ing money, but try to re­tain your sense of com­pas­sion, and play­ful­ness with the kids,’’ she says. ‘‘ Those truly liv­ing hand-to­mouth on the streets can’t af­ford to stop beg­ging, but for those kids who are try­ing it on with the tourists or to see if it works or what they can get, a game or mess­ing about with a pad and pa­per for five to 10 min­utes is a health­ier in­ter­ac­tion for ev­ery­one.’’ www.red­cross.org.au www.big­broth­er­mouse.com www.lano­ri­aangkor.com www.siem­reap.raf­fles.com www.make­pover­ty­his­tory.com.au www.sun­risechil­drensvil­lage.org

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