presents? presents?
June 1, 2008 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Gifts to bring when volunteering in South America?

So there are acutally 2 gifting situations:
1. I'm heading to Peru in a week or so, staying with a host family through an NGO. Even though I'll be paying them for room and board, should I bring a gift for them? And what should it be? I know nothing about them. I've tried to do this when staying abroad before (I brought my host mom a tablecloth and a book of photos of my home state) but it didn't go over really well.

2.Some things I've read about Peru mentioned bringing stuff like candy and pens/pencils to give out to kids on the street. Is this actually something people do? If I was panhandling on the street and got candy or pens instead of money I wouldn't be very happy, but if this is normal I'd consider doing it, especially because sometimes I feel like a jerk for not giving out money to kids on the street when I travel.
posted by genmonster to Human Relations (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you cook? Come armed with the recipe for your favorite (American? Are you American?) food, and offer to cook it for them once you're settled in.
posted by phunniemee at 1:54 PM on June 1, 2008

And by American I mean US.
posted by phunniemee at 1:55 PM on June 1, 2008

Best answer: As a student abroad in Peru, I had the same dilemma buying gifts for my host family in Cusco. Photos (ones of me, my family, my home) and postcards went down well. The family also might enjoy some foods that aren't typically found in the area. A positive thing about these types of gifts is that they are something that you and your host family can share, something that might start off a conversation and help them learn more about you.

I also stayed with a few host families in small Andean villages and my Peruvian academic director suggested school supplies, coca leaves, salt and oil. You can buy the food things once you get into Peru. School supplies were cheaper in the US than in Peru in my experience, so it might help to stock up on pens, pencils and notebooks before you go. I didn't really see kids with crayons in the villages I was in, so that might be a nice treat. My academic director also discouraged me from buying candies for children because of the dental hygiene issue. Although a lot of kids do ask for candies, a lot of the kids also don't have dental care. Sometimes I feel really guilty about not giving out money to people on the street too, but I've had some success asking if they'd like a tamal (or whatever the person down the street is selling) and then buying one for them.

Feel free to Mefi mail me if you've got any other Peru-related questions.
posted by summit at 3:49 PM on June 1, 2008

I think summit's ideas are right on.

When kids in Peru would panhandle they would usually ask for candies and then, their initial request refused, pens. They seemed to be quite happy with them. On a side note, I found that everyone panhandling, selling or touting is a little more aggressive and persistent in Cuzco compared to smaller towns.

I like the idea of bringing food items for your host family. I would think about things in the sauces and condiments category for adaptability (to go with their food) and portability.

Also, and I don't know why this idea and just this idea occurs to me, but you could try baseball hats.

I think questions like this have been before, although perhaps not specifically about Peru and in the host family context. (maybe. Sorta. Perhaps you're better at searching.) Anyway, I seem to recall hearing somewhere the genius idea of bringing soccer balls (deflated, of course). Bring the pump as well and you've got gift-giving instant success almost everywhere.

You can also arrange for something to be delivered or done after you leave. That way there's no social awkwardness. You can also send pictures (taken with the family) by mail, assuming it's reliable - and I'm sure there's a way to find out how to send something to them so that it gets there.

posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 11:56 PM on June 1, 2008

Dude, don't be the guy giving out stuff to kids on the street. They may be cute, and it may be fun and get attention, but you're just training them to keep doing it as kids (instead of going to school), teenagers (where they start getting mean if you don't give them something), and adults (where at last, from years of begging, they have no skills and keep panhandling).

Please do not teach kids that it is okay to harass foreigners for stuff.

If you want to interact with kids, and haven't gotten tired of being begged for shit yet, at least bring something that will benefit them. Bring apples, not candy. Make an origami crane for them.

Sorry if this comes off as cranky. I've worked with a lot of really really poor communities and also lived places where 10 year olds threatened me with violence for not giving them money, and it shouldn't happen to you, and these kids shouldn't feel like they have to do it.
posted by whatzit at 5:31 AM on June 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

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