Do You Give Candy, Pens, Gifts, etc., to Random Kids While Traveling?

Giving gifts to kids Indonesia

Giving gifts to kids Indonesia

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.

Giving pens and books to kids in Indonesia

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.

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23 Comments on “Do You Give Candy, Pens, Gifts, etc., to Random Kids While Traveling?

  1. I wish you had a vote for no, because I’m really cheap and my bags are full of stuff to bring home to grabby American kids (nephews haha)

  2. gosh i couldn’t agree more! i’m an indonesian myself and know exactly that kind of behaviour, especially village kids or those from lower-income family, and yeah… mostly they are from the developing countries!

  3. Very well put. Give a smile, make a joke, poke good fun at them. But giving material things creates a sad, distorted market, so to say. Giving indiscriminately tells children that begging is the easier way of obtaining things.

    Again, very well put.

  4. An interesting post and I’m so sorry to hear some tour companies encourage this practice. The issue of our relative wealth compared to so many parts of the world is a complicated one and your comments help illustrate our difficulty in dealing with it.

  5. The only time I have ever taken school supplies with us, was when we visited a remote school in Morocco. The school was built to give nomad children an opportunity to learn, something they otherwise would not have access to. We gave the supplies to the teacher when we visited the school, thus not experiencing the chaos you are describing. It saddens me to think that of children becoming so aggressive as you encountered on your travels.

    • Lynn, you did it the right way. A great idea is to gather supplies in your home country and take over to donate or buy them in country. I bet the teacher was very grateful.

  6. An eye opening post Jeff. I have not been caught in that type of situation but your advice will stay in my ‘travel toolkit’.

  7. Thank you for pointing this out. I wouldn’t be likely to be handing our free anything. I wouldn’t even pay the little beggar in Mexico to wash my windshield!

    • Laura, giving to beggars and people on the street is a very complicated thing and I’ve heard a lot of debate among travelers over it. I don’t like the windshield washers either.

  8. Pingback: 3 DOORS OF PERCEPTION: Procrastination, Patience, Decisions | Badfish Out of Water

  9. I’ve experienced the same on our travels. We never gave anything to children when they were begging or being aggressive. We did give stuff very seldomly, but only after we had spent a long time together with the locals and kids, and just as parting presents. The kids were rather shy, but these were remote areas. I don’t encourage giving stuff either, and as you say, if so, then only to the teachers or organisations. They should not be taught that by just being kids and making a sorry face they are entitled to receive gifts. Sometimes, if they begged in a nice way, we’d ask them to sing a song for us or teach us a local game, to encourage to “work” for what you want to get. Some wouldn’t. Others did and were really happy to share stuff with us. A similar thing that makes me very mad is when tourists feed the animals – that’s what spoils them and makes them aggressiv as well. This topic should be discussed more often (giving things to either kids or animals) as I feel that most tourists are just being the plain stereotypical tourist not really thinking of the consequences their actions bring them, or the locals. Thanks for posting!

  10. Laughing hard…haha… ‘zombie-like hunger for pens’. I never get disappointed by you posts:) But being serious – no we never give directly to kids, for exactly the reasons you have listed. I hate having a hoard of kids after me grabbing in my pockets to see if there is something for them there. Donate to organisations instead I say!

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