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How can travelers help when money is clearly not the answer? Here’s 10 alternative ideas for helping street children.

Photo by carf

A TRAVELER WALKS down the red-light district of Manila City, Philippines. Carrying a backpack, a distressed expression and a pack of eager street children at his heels, he is left at a crossroads — to give or not to give?

Some yield to the desperate pleas, guilt ridden for the clean beds they know are waiting for them; others stare into space, hoping that their polite dismissal really is for the best.

This is not an uncommon sight in countries such as the Philippines, Thailand, Brazil and India, wherein the divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is extreme. Though poverty is a global issue, the evidence of such despair is most blatantly displayed in developing nations.

There is no avoiding a child’s eyes looking up at you, an amputee holding out an empty McDonald’s cup or a mother and infant sitting in the blazing heat hoping to look “pathetic” enough to warrant the charity of a few coins.

It is an anxiety-ridden dilemma.

Knowing that these kids have not only been damaged by their homeless state, but also by the constant sexual, physical and emotional abuse, makes saying “no” a tortuous task. However, handing out a few coins results in sense of helplessness as this donation often goes to their “beggar masters,” drugs or to parents who often spend it on alcohol or illegal substances.

Therefore, how can travelers help when money is clearly not the answer? Here’s 10 things you can do:

1. Volunteer
There is no avoiding a child’s eyes looking up at you, an amputee holding out an empty McDonald’s cup.

Even if you’re not part of the Peace Corps or United Planet Quest, does not mean that you can’t reach out.

Aside from volunteer vacation programs such as Global Volunteers, you can do your part, even for just a day, with a legitimate agency. There are several directories of international outreach opportunities online, such as, and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum on volunteerism.

If you are interested in a more direct method, then head over to the local church, mosque, temple and ask if they need any help or know any local programs or schools where you can take part.

You can also peruse the internet and search for community organizations such as Hands on Manila in the Philippines, in India or in Cambodia.

2. Give A Moment

The simplest and the most valuable thing you can give to a child is time. Rather than brushing them off to make your way to the next tourist site, spend some time to ask them their names, what they like to do, or their favorite games.

Traveler, writer and co-founder of the Ethical Traveler, Jeff Greenwald stated in an interview with the Globe and Mail that “Generosity doesn’t have to mean giving away things. Sharing a bit of yourself, opening a window into your own world, is a good place to begin.”

3. Eat Together

Photo by carf

If you’ve made a connection with a particular child, dining together is a great way to spend time with someone whilst letting them enjoy a warm meal. Try to eat together in one of the local eateries rather than a fast food chain.

Not only will it be healthier but it will also let the child feel more secure knowing that you are interested in his or her country and culture. However, remain cautious when extending the invitiation, as one may end up meaning that you’re taking the entire community out for a treat.

4. Share Your World

Giving things such as pens, candies or clothes may seem like a great alternative, but it often leads to a whole slew of problems.

Not only does it breed materialism, it also promotes unhealthy competition and makes them view begging as a “fun” possibility. Rather than learning anything from travelers, children come to view foreigners as gift dispensers.

Author and vagabonder Jeff Greenwald states in that it becomes like “trick-or-treating” for the kids. Louis, a traveler from Ottawa says on the board that handing out pens and balloons often causes fights, pollution and “gets children used to systematically ask for things.”

In Jeff Greenwald’s article “A Fistful of Rupees: Coping with Begging on Third World Trails” he recounts an experience with some kids from Delhi and the power of an inflatable globe:

“Cornered by a troupe of 10-year-old beggars in Delhi, I pulled out a small, inflatable world globe. What started as a feeding frenzy quickly became a geography lesson. The kids immediately began matching bits of news they’d heard on the radio – about Russia, Japan and the U.S. – to the appropriate countries, and argued heatedly about why India was pink and Pakistan blue.”

5. Play With Pictures

Another great tool is your digital camera. Kids love to ham it up and in my experience, they will often burst into excited shrieks and start making funny faces, flashing “peace signs” or doing group photo ops. If you can, show them the results, and guaranteed you’ll have a ton of kids squealing with excitement and eager to do another round of wacky poses.

6. Feel the Music

If you’re musically inclined (or in denial of being tone-deaf), try singing a few lines of a global pop song like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” More often than not, you’ll have kid’s belting out the lyrics with an accompanying “moonwalk.”

7. Create a Picture

If you want to leave a part of yourself behind, then how about a postcard of your hometown or a drawing of cities you’ve visited? Not only will you be sharing a part of where you’re from or where you’ve been, but it also provides a great image of the world beyond the slums. You can make it even more personal by writing a few words or do a group drawing session on the postcard.

8. Teach Each Other

Even if you’re not the artistic type, getting the kids involved in a spontaneous ‘arts and crafts’ session is a great way to get their creative juices flowing.

Small projects such as showing them some cool Origami techniques (or paper airplanes) or making simple bracelets with some string will be a mutually inspiring activity. If you’d like to do something more in-depth, you can also check out an charity organizations that specialize in this field.

9. Learn Local Slang

Have the children teach you some of the local lingo. In turn, share some funny phrases in your language. This method beats any phrase book you can buy, as you’ll be learning the key phrases to getting around the city. In turn you’ll gain a few friends and make them feel like they’ve done something special.

10. Donate To Local Orgs

Just because the jingling coins in your pocket are rendered useless on the street, remember that there are still ways to shell out those pennies without the guilt.

You can head over to the local schools or organizations and donate books, coloring materials and other learning paraphernalia.

Do some internet sleuthing and find out how you can help out when you return home. A great read is Emma Jacobs article on helping the locals you leave behind.

Though there aren’t any clear cut answers, recognizing that poverty is a global issue and that children all over the world deserve a future is the first step in the right direction. As Dr. Loretta Scott famously said: “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”

Do you have advice on helping street children? Share your thoughts in the comments!



About The Author

Michaela Lola

Michaela Lola realized at the tender age of eight that life was meant to be an adventure. Her escapades include riding the midnight train to Marrakesh, partying with the katoys in Thailand and sampling insects in China. Visit her website here.

  • Jordanna Pulon

    This is really a good way of extending our help to the needy. we dont tolerate them but we share what we have with what they really need. ____Me and my friend wanted to start an organization that can help the street children in Cavite City and the Universal Evangelical Christian Church (also known as, *DREAM CENTER) under the direction of Pastor Eduardo M. Robes.Entrusted since 1995, based in Balara Diliman in Quezon City.____We have upcomming events this coming Christmas season. Including:__1. Dream Center (Food Feeding Ministry) Gift-Giving Party!__2. Cavite City Food and gift giving for the Street Children (street party)____Our website will soon be launched with the cooperation of ungreed records, which is an independent music publishing company based in the Philippines. ____Hopefully by next year we can get public to spread out and share the blessings. __

    • Praveen kumar


      i dont know these msg reaches to person, who got the same thoughts which i have… i am working on beggars, how to stop them my concern is God created every one with is mighty hands, we need to love our neighbors ( not person who staying besides our house ) but everyone who God created… and im praying to God that he should start this mission through me, im tired of working for myself with companies. God’s dream is to see that no one should be begging for something….

  • Jonny

    I think of the ten the most important are volunteering and giving money. While it may make one feel better about yourself to play with a child, take photos etc this also can lead to an overfamiliarity with tourists which can lead to a greater risk of exploitation – and what happens when you're gone? Far better to support the children in a sustainable way that will carry on supporting them long after you've left the country

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  • Goretti

    I would suggest dining with them, talking to them and asking them some questions to know what is going on, would be better than picture taking, etc… These kids are very hungry, very sad, are marginalized, abused. If you can share kindness, give them something to eat, is better than anything else. Some of the other suggestions (taking pictures, etc…) is for those who are not hungry, hurting emotionally, etc…
    I love kids, I am starting an organization to help kids in the streets of Burundi.
    “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men”

    • If i were in theirshoes

      Hello every body,
      It’s a cool thing sharing different ideas about street children.I my self by the names Ochan Amos was a child in Kampala Uganda for many years.but thank God am out off street and helping my fellow friends who are still left out there.please i would aslo love very much to get some friends out there to volunteer,It’s fun working with street children.

      Ochan Amos,

  • Kay

    huhm.. yes.. ur right… that.. i also agree with u.. to me.. i think it would bring more pain for me and the kids… that had form a bond with each other…

  • Dan Balluff
  • ksprasad

    The points are valid. One should make a note of these points while making any kind of foreign travel. let me compliment for the ideas expressed by the author. I am inspired by the article and i have some ideas on beggar problems in metropolitan cities i wish to share my views on this
    project report : how to eradicate completly begging in metropolitan cities-observations -posiible solutions- exaplie : Hyderabad city
    Beggars Problem : If the Government is serious about this problem this can be reduced completely ;

    Recently i have read an article on beggars published on during the GHMC municipal election as a special suppliment in eenadu news paper.

    In 1994 as per the survey of the Social Welfare Department of Andhra Pradesh it was only 4428 beggers.
    As per the report of Hyderabad Council of Human Welfare in the year 2006 intiated by then collector Mr Aravidnd Kumar and it was total of 10,466 beggars. Now as on date the number is double and it will around 20,000 persons.

    In the year 1977 the Government of Andhra Pradesh brought alegislation on beggars and it says begging is a crime. The act is known as ” Prevention of Begging act” In the year 2005 the congress governemnt brought this act in to Gazzette and assured every one that they will strictly impliment this act from april 1 st of 2006 but it could not implimented as they promised.


    i. Identifying the beggars and in twin cities and zone wise classification has to be made age wise and zone wise. Government has introduced pani ki ahara pathakam in villages ( assured working days in a month). Similar programme has to be identified and they should be involved in construction activity as laborers and they can be paid a minimum of Rs 100 per day.

    ii. Government has to initiate small cootage industries/small scale industries zone wise and these beggars should be maid an association giving a good name to the association . Identifying literate among these and can have their own society and the government can in turn give 0.25 (Pavala Vaddi Pathakam) interest loans should be given to them such that they will have their own lively hood and in turn they will be useful to the society.

    iii. Zone wise shelters should be provided to them like providing only halls such that they can sleep during nights and can start their activity (engaging themselves in cottage industrieslike : manufacturing of matchine made isthrakulu or candles its one example)in the morning.

    Iv: The Government should make a strict legislation that if any one is begging and they should be councelled properly and can impose confidence in them such that they will never do the same begging activity.

    v:Aged people above 6oyears should be sent Government managed and NGO’s Managed Free Old aged homes.

    vi: Tourist Places: Its quite common we see in importanat tourist places all kind of beggers ( all age groups). It gives a negative impact on foriegners about indian cities. If torism department can take certain measures int can be totally checked.Tourism department should keep homogaurd type volunteers they should identify these people and should hand over them to suggested association by this there will be a check to the beggars.

    vii: Temples : It is quite common during saturdays and thursday we will find more number of beggars sitting either side of the temple. the temple managing body or the authority concerned can check this very seriously and should not entertain around half a kilometer radius to its temple sorrounding.
    viii: we find many beggars in main traffic islands. the concerned police constables shoud check with home gaurds and they(beggars) should not be allowed to beg in these places. They should given proper councelling and should be sent to rehabitation centres.

    ix: I opropose we need to have a seperate cell/Office for this such that it can be totally banned in cites. we need lots of funding intially but when they started doing the econmic activity their will not be any kind of burden to the governemnt. A special fund has to be allocated during the budget secession such that it can be dealt very well.
    x: study: One has to survey this problem throughly unlike regular suveys and it should be time bound. The government should give a serious thought about this and should give top priority and should see that it should impliment this with total dedication and care.

    Finally i can say one thing the city may be beautiful with parks , lakes and shopping malls and fly overs and the commuters and it will be most beautiful only without beggars in twin cities.

  • Playstation

    I never felt so sorry for their situation until I got to get pass by them daily before going to work. I’m afraid for the babies who were lying on pavements, some with cardboard but most have nothing. Let’s help street children worldwide.

  • A Broader View Volunteers Corp

    Great article, can you write something about our non profit organization?
    A Broader View Volunteers Corp
    We help over 10.000 orphans and street children around the world without any government funds or grants, please help us. We have programs in 22 Countries and 165 programs, all our volunteers can tax deduct the program cost as well as the airfare.

  • ayesha

    once i was heading towards a restaurant along with a friend to have something for my breakfast ..i met a beggar over there he was an educated beggar..i was astonished to find a beggar that way..
    i spoke to him for around 20mins ..all the people on the street were staring me like hell..duh..i was so darn indulged in the conversation that i dint realise folks staring me..later when i went to my friend after ending the conversation my friend complained me that it was looking really awful n blah blah..
    i still remember the way that beggar expressed his happiness for the way i cared n treated was wonderful..but my friend still says about that incident he witnessed with me in front of all in a mocking way..i dont understand y literates behave this way..

  • http://notyetcreated Sunny Alema

    I am a founder of Holistic Concern to Elderly and street children in Ethiopia. My organization has only a life of 3 months. We didn’t really started our work. We are only in the preparation fase.

    In the mean time i look arround to observe what really are the problems of street children and elderly people who are begging on the main streets of Addis and in other parts of Ethiopia. The problem can be classified as follows
    - povery
    - not willing to get envolved in whatever kind of work and therefore begging is concidered as a short cut.
    - Breakdown of families
    Just for fun one day i was driving and one old man beged and i gave him 10 cents. I know it is a very little money but i thought that could helped him. But the old man refused to accept. This shows that this mans problem is not grave.


    This are very good comments on ways of you can help the street children without giving money.It is a sad thing to see this kids on the street knowing that, that is not where they are mearnt to be.There are alot of their peers in schools but they are on the street begging.They have no access to Health, Education,Shelter,Food,Clothes,etc.This are very good advice on what to do and I have learnt that its beyond money, you can still help without usind a dime.I realizwed that spending time with them really matters.I have a project of helping this kids at heart.I will do whatever I can to make sure most of them in my country get their rightsand what they deserve.Thank you

  • peter christropher

    why we still having street children? its now the time to think criticary in term of education provisional for both childrens, parents and all who are responsible simply because assisting this street children its not a way of overcoming this big problem but lets think why, where, who, what and how. its possible. wishing you all the good work.thank you

  • jasper asiimwe

    ways we can eliminate street children is by encouraging them to explore thier talents through events like exhibitions and talent shows. Those children will eventually encourage the others to participate. This will earn them support from well wishers on realising that they actually have to save a future.

  • ZZXZ

    500 dorlars man

  • Kjjddj

    it’s very good..
    No more quistions….

  • Andy

    These are great suggestions to a situation any traveler will encounter at some point. Heck, I get approached right here in my neighborhood in Long Beach USA. Thanks for some very appropriate responses.

  • Mizebranco

    In Brazil i often let the street kids seat in the same restaurant,as where i am eating,and they choose what they like.They feel very happy and realy enjoy a nice meal,with fresh drinks,and desert. At least you knpow that day they had a nice meal.
    If we all do the same in all this countries where we see street kids and feed them,we then know we gave someone a smile for the day at least.
    Mize Branco

  • Mangong Paul Selem

     make them participate in international day celebrations  concerning them. such as : the day of the african child (6th june); world day for the fight against child abuse (19 Nov) and the convention of the rights of the child (20th Nov.)

  • Lalwin J Thaikattil

    10 ways you can help street children without giving money.

  • Aida Bor

    the child needs suport backing to home.

  • Lanka Ravikanth

    Dear friends,
    Give the poor the gift of life.
    • Visit our website at free of cost in which you can have a glance on the ministry services.
    • We feed the poor orphans and the old aged people with the little what we have but most of them starve for food still and I am helpless so I pray to God to bless these people with sufficient food.
    • Hence, a humble request to all of you to donate a dollar for each orphan so that they can have their meal for a day.
    • We are running a welfare organization for poor Christians. Our website

    Thank you.

    • ‘Colin Taylor

      Michaela Lola. Your articles are based around hearsay, wild misconceptions and b movies. They must be, you live in a fantasy world. Such nonsense.

  • Darlyn Libre

    .a heart that gives knows the secret of joy.

  • Sayon Biswas

    not just a single person, bt every one has to be socially responsible for helping this children.governments have to take initiatives, NGO’s have to take steps, we all should lend our helping hands, last time for our project our school gave us a project for, telling to visit orphanages, we were all very deeply touched by them…we gave them our copies and money collected from our school and parents have to responsible for their chil…i want to conclude by saying that”EVERY CHILD IS SPECIAL”….every 1 has a dream……lets take a step forward and help them out….best of luck to all my fellow beings who are helping them out…we will always be by your side…

    • Farah Zain

      well said

  • Linda Sichamba

    They also need giudance and counselling in order to help them change their perception on how they see life.

  • François Muleta Coquet

    Hi , i’m a filipina i just want te know which association that help the childrent te finish there study because one of my niece is going te finish her high school but lack of money te pay pour the tuition of the school , they are 5 in the family and the father and the mother have no work if there is anybody who has a good hearth to help my niece to finish her study in order to help both of the family after she has a good result in the school the problem is lack of financial thank you please send me and mail

  • Akasha Poon

    this is somthin u should get involve in and its a lesson as well I ve learned that we must appreciate wat we ve because there some children in de world will wish to ve how life.

  • Akasha Poon

    this is somthin u should get involve in and its a lesson as well I ve learned that we must appreciate wat we ve because there some children in de world will wish to ve how life.

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