Should I give money to children who are begging in Beirut?
December 31, 2019 10:07 AM   Subscribe

I am in Beirut now. There's a massive New Year's Eve / Revolution celebration happening right outside my hotel, and I've been going in and out of the crowd for a while now. There are multiple children, under 12, who are "selling" bottled water, i.e. begging. They're young and sweet. They're aggressive. They mime that they're hungry.

I generally don't believe that giving to children who are begging is a great idea, but usually that's where they're begging in a fairly stable (if awful) situation and I worry that giving to them further institutionalizes using them for begging. Beirut feels different. The protests started 2.5 months ago, and the economic consequences have been sudden and, for some, quite bad. I don't know if that changes the ethical balance.

Let's say that I can afford to give away $100. Should I? What's the best way to do this? I'm a little worried about handing out money in a big crowd. Do I wait until tomorrow? (I know the kids will be out tomorrow, as they were out all day today, before the sun set.) (It's 8 pm here right now.)

Should I do something different with that money instead?

If I determine it's best to not give, how do I say no in a way that doesn't harm a young child's psyche? (Aside: how do I say no in a way that doesn't break my own heart?)
posted by Capri to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's complicated, because sometimes the children may be exploited (eg not begging for someone else and not themselves/their families). I would be tempted to give food instead, if you can, but I don't really know. I think the situation has been bad for a long time because of the Syrian refugee could also make a donation to a humanitarian organization that gives cash grants to families, like UNHCR.
posted by pinochiette at 10:25 AM on December 31, 2019

are there street vendors selling food you could purchase from?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:27 AM on December 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

In Chicago, you see children do this as well. However, you notice after a while that these children are checked in upon by adults who are running things. This is an arrangement as old as the early 1800s (Fagin and the Artful Dodger in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist).

My grandmother and grandfather were medical missionaries overseas in India, during a time when they had this happen to them frequently. Not with the bottled water, but with people begging. What they did was say that they gave to the local church (and they did). That solution wasn't done specifically for religious reasons, but because the church was the local entity that could be counted upon to use the money to actually feed the poor.

I would try to find what entity in Beirut can be reliably counted upon to give meals to those who need it -- and donate to them. Failing that, I'd give your funds to something along the lines of effective altruism, or use CharityNavigator to determine who feeds people the most effectively without the money going for overhead. (For example, in Chicago, I know the Greater Chicago Food Depository spends its donations well.)
posted by WCityMike at 10:30 AM on December 31, 2019 [12 favorites]

Give. The way to make structural change is to make structural change. At the same time, these kids' immediate wellbeing will be better if they get the money, even if they're being exploited. The exploitative systems in place for some street begging won't change until we have massive structural change on a global scale. You can, and should, pursue both that change and this immediate issue of wellbeing.
posted by Mistress at 10:55 AM on December 31, 2019 [16 favorites]

If you give, it may be a good idea to decide in advance how much you're going to give and then do so juuuuuust before leaving. Otherwise, you may pick up some fairly persistent hangers-on hoping for additional gifts. It may be even more heartbreaking to tell kids that you did give, but you're done now and tapped out. It's likely better to give what you can to who you can, then take your leave.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:58 AM on December 31, 2019 [10 favorites]

Agree about giving. I also think that you won't harm their psyche by saying no. In addition to money, you might also find some small thing that kids like (candy, small toys) and hand those out, too. Yes, they need food, but kids also need joy.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:08 AM on December 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

Give or don’t give as you please. Your influence over the long term outcome for these kids is negligible and telling yourself you have control over it will just drive you nuts by assuming a responsibility you can never fulfill.

As for saying no without feeling guilty, you are one of fifty visitors they will see today. Perhaps one of them will donate, perhaps not, but once again the situation is far too complex for you to predict the outcome.

If you’d like to do something about their overall situation, donate to a local organization that that undoubtedly knows the score better than you or I ever will.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:48 AM on December 31, 2019 [10 favorites]

I'm not going to comment on whether to give or not, but you need to think carefully about how to give if you decide to. If there is a large crowd with aggressive begging going on and a foreigner starts handing out what is perceived of as large sums of money, it could get chaotic and messy very fast. General travel advice for Lebanon right now is to avoid demonstrations and crowds. So injecting a new element--money that people are desperate for--into an already dicey situation could be complicated. Think it through and have a plan for how this is going to play out with specifics (how you're handing over they money, who you're handing it to, how you're exiting the scene, what to do if you can't leave right away, etc.)
posted by whitewall at 2:15 PM on December 31, 2019 [8 favorites]

Do not give. You structurally enforce begging syndicates which are vicious. I worked in Cambodia in a rleated field and this was my advice to visitors. I gave cash to old people beggars though.

I did buy meals from local vendors to eat or packet drinks for them. These could not be stolen from them by their owners and could be consumed immediately.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:06 PM on December 31, 2019 [10 favorites]

You should ask people at the hotel front desk what they think.
posted by Dansaman at 10:58 PM on December 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks to all. I'll buy a number of child-friendly food items I can give away, thereby supporting local businesses, and giving me the chance to have positive interactions with these children that's child-focused. Regardless of whether they're being exploited or doing this because their families are desperate, this should give them a little comfort. And hopefully it won't start a riot of people seeking out chocolate eggs hiding little toys.

As for avoiding crowds, my daughter and I attended the New Year's Eve party thrown by the protesters last night, and we were absolutely jammed in a massive scrum of people. I've seen the videos of the protests, without sound, and they look a lot like what we were in the midst of. But what looks like shouting people were actually singing people, at least at the time we were there. We made friends in the crowd, had (shouted) conversations about American foreign policy and the Lebanese revolution, and had a phenomenal time. We'd considered not coming to Beirut at all, and we're so glad we did. It has been an amazing time all around.
posted by Capri at 9:13 AM on January 1 [5 favorites]

"How could giving be selfish?"
This is a flyer that was given out by guest houses in the tourist area of Kathmandu back when the problem of children begging was at it's worst. This was a time when you would see small children out in the cold winter nights holding babies and begging for milk for them. Tourists would give them money or buy them bags of milk/biscuits, only to have the older children trade the goods back to the stores for tubes of cheap adhesive which they would then use to huff with. It was terribly sad to see it happen again and again, and frustrating that it was actually a cycle only made possible by tourists giving thoughtlessly. Thankfully, the leaflets seem to have had a productive effect; NGOs that can actually help now help get children off of the street.

The text reads:
"How could giving be selfish?

Don't give me anything!
Please — don't be selfish!

I need reasons to get off these streets—NOT to stay on them!

I'm too young to know that ANY of the nice things you may kindly give to me, WILL only encourage me to continue begging on the street - which is NO place for a child like me.

I just don't realize that ALL the Nepali Rupees & foreign coins & biscuits & momo & fresh fruit & powdered milk & chocolate donuts & Coca-Cola & dal bhat & kindly bought sandwiches & unfinished pizza & friendly chats & heartfelt hugs & random trips to the cinema & novelty key-rings & zoo picnics & colouring pencils & street-side language lessons & unwanted t-shirts & new sandals & warm blankets & ALL the other nice things that MANY generous people DO give me EVERY day. WILL do nothing more than keep me on these VERY dangerous streets!

Here on the street MANY other children like me get trapped in destructive & violent lives of petty-crime, drugs & prostitution. Each extra day that I'm ENCOURAGED to spend here by people like YOU, the chance of the same thing happening to me grows & any hope of the better life that you might wish for me gets smaller & smaller...

If I keep on getting 'help' from nice people like YOU, I will NOT take the LONG-TERM help that IS offered to me by the MANY local organizations that DO work VERY hard to HELP children like me.

With an endless flow of kind tourists I CHOOSE to stay here, but once I am no longer cute enough to beg from people like you, I WILL eventually be TRAPPED in a hopeless life of hardship.

Of course, giving me something may make YOU feel a little better, but I promise you that it will NOT help ME at all!
posted by blueberry at 9:28 PM on January 1 [7 favorites]

« Older Bike drills for the beginning cyclist   |   Pharaoh Sanders - Who played with him at the... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments