Saturday

It is best not to give to street children

"Just tell me a country, any country, it can be anywhere in the world." I get a broad smile with this question. "Maybe you want to buy a book from me? It has many pictures and you may have it for only 10 dollars. Look. Come on, please name a country. You know, I know the capitals of every country in the world."

"Really, that is true my brother knows them all, no joke. Come on, name a country and he tells you the capital," the sister gives me an even wider smile. "Please, come on, give my brother a country and if he gives you the right capital, you will have to buy the book." Despite that the two are pretty dirty and barefoot they seem to be in the very best mood. I get lots of laughter and their radiant big brown eyes are mesmerizing.

"Bosnia Herzegovina," I hear me say and instantly know I promised to buy the book. Yet I so don't want to do that. I believed I made up my mind not to buy anything from street children. With every purchase I am going to push them deeper into their destiny. Children should go to school and learn how to read and write in order to have a future. An education is important and will help them overcome their struggle with a life in poverty.

I am in Cambodia, a kingdom in Southeast Asia. What a country, exciting, colorful, turbulent, noisy, chaotic, friendly, impressive. The landscape with lush green rice fields looks like straight from an exotic fairytale. I simply can’t get enough of it. I have the feeling that most people smile all the time. 20.5% of Cambodians live below the poverty line, and so many more live close to it, yet they smile.

"Sarajevo" shouts the little boy seemingly out of sheer joy. "Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia Herzegovina. I get 10 dollars for the book." I get the biggest smile I have ever seen in my life. My question "Don’t you have to go to school today?" is answered with a rather reluctant and small smile. "No, school was out early today," the big sister jumps in.



To contribute to the family income, children sell beverages or souvenirs at the temples around Angkor Wat. They are taught to do so by their parents, who know their children soften the hearts of tourists. If we buy something from them, hoping that they won’t have to go to sleep hungry, we help half-heartedly ... It certainly helps us to silence the nagging uneasiness, we experience, when confronted with poverty on such a large scale. The children will be dragged deeper and deeper into the vortex of poverty. They skip school to sell goods, they are successful, they can support their family and they will get praised for it by their parents. And so it goes on day after day, a normal life becomes less and less attainable.

"Sarajevo" what a clever little guy the boy is. Totally against my initial plan I hand over the 10 dollars. It is his charm and I know what a massive mistake I just made. I know that if I want to help street children, I have to donate to organizations that support the local community. Charities that help the children get off the streets to offer them protection and inform parents how important a school education is. Street children and their families often desperately need medical care, food and help to re-enter society. My 10 dollars, even if they are well-intentioned, make the situation of the siblings’ worse in the long run.

What do I think is best?

Whenever I travel, I hold on to my strategy to not give money directly to street children. I take the time to talk with the children, offer them a smile but I do not buy anything from them. "Do you go to school? Since when? How do you like school? What is your favourite colour?" I usually exchange a zillion of smiles with an infinite number of people.

I want to travel and gather lots of experiences. I want to discover the world and see something great every day and I want to always have fun. That's what I want. But still I'll never forget how awesome my life is and help those who cannot live as carefree. Before I go on a trip, I research the flight, accommodation, and the hottest sights and I also try to find out as much as I can about living conditions of locals. I support big aid organizations in the fight against poverty. It sounds utterly pretentious I know, but it is easy: People let me visit their country and I give something back.

Life isn't easy ... as always. What do you think about all this? Looking forward to hear from you.

From Berlin with love

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Greetings stranger. I always try to be myself and to be a tourist as often as I can. I would love to get in contact with lots of hard travelling tourists who love to be out and about as much as I do. I am looking forward to all your comments. Thanks so much in advance.