Do you give candy to kids when you travel? If so, I am mad at you.
I am not trying to say that we can’t help out kids or be generous to the locals, but giving candy, pens, notepads, sweets, chocolates, money, or any other gifts to random kids on the street is a really bad idea. Everywhere I have been, from Latin America to Africa to East Asia, kids expect to be given handouts from tourists. CANDY, SWEETIES, SCHOOL PEN!, they shout.
Once, a pack of well-fed, middle-class kids in Egypt actually attacked my wife and I because we wouldn’t give them anything. I was swarmed by kids, age range six to 12, who were all tugging on my arm and pulling at my backpack. I was on the verge of punching some of those little [censored] in the face and fighting back, but luckily a local man ran out with a broom and beat them away.
Another time, we were on a boat tour in Indonesia and stopped to visit a village. The leader gave us notebooks and pens to give away. I can’t fault anyone in the group that participated – we were encouraged by the tour company.
As soon as we arrived at the pier, screaming, excited children amassed. It was a real challenge to disembark, and all the kids started tearing at the notebooks and mauling the tourists.
The tourists in my group were a bit overwhelmed. Some kids ran off with their books, jubilant. Other kids in the village arrived after the booty was given out and were really upset. I saw two kids rip a book in half like two hungry lions on a zebra carcass. It was really ugly. A local man, in broken and angry English, lectured us. He was upset that some of the kids didn’t get anything!
We toured the village, kids in tow. The school house was really primitive and the kids could certainly use donations from visitors, but I’d have felt better had we met with the school leaders and given the books and pens directly.
If you want to give to the kids, by all means do so! Donate to a local church, mosque, school or charity. Give school supplies or soccer balls or toys, but give them to adults to distribute.
If you want to be the hero and get instant gratification by giving stuff to kids, then go for it. I am not going to tell you otherwise. But I am a big believer in karma. Someday you may find yourself taking a short cut through a middle-class neighborhood and get mauled by 20 children with a zombie-like hunger for pens. You’ll have only yourself to blame.