One of the first things you are confronted within the developing world is beggars. They come in all shapes and sizes from women with children, old people and even the toddlers. Many will try to befriend you and then come to money for their ageing parents, starving children, crippled wife or whatever once they have established a rapport.
It's one of the things that is in your face from the moment you step from the plane and in fact, the first time you go to the third world, you wonder how such poverty can exist and why somebody doesn't do something about it.
Several of the guide books carry warnings of varying strengths against giving to beggars, but it's very hard to heed these warnings when faced with the reality of so much poverty, coupled with disabilities and dirty or malnourished children.
Before we first went to Nepal, Mary was told by a friend to take pens and balloons for children. This turned out to be worse than useless. To stop being mobbed we kept these to ourselves until we came to a school on our route and we gave them the lot and what a useless gift this was, they needed textbooks and teachers, not balloons.
A quick glance through your favourite search engine will give you a a fantastic range of advice, pretty much all of it well meaning and sincere. Take food say several, then you'll be sure they use it to get a meal, it sounds like sense but can you do it for all of them? What of the issue that professional beggars may drug or maim their children to make them more appealing?
So why this article? Well, I've finally come upon a rational, well argued article about what to do about beggars. It's about children and others calling Gimme, short for give me, in Tanzinia, where the author Brittany Stephen, lives.
She articulates in her excellent article the same conclusion that I have come to. Essentially begging, just like spam, only works as long as some people are willing to give to the beggar. The more people who are willing to give the more attractive the begging will become and the more beggars there will be.
Some of the beggars will be genuine but many will simply be using the opportunity to get a handout and giving to them will simply foster dependence on tourists and foreign residents. Being surrounded by crowds of children demanding 'gimme pen' (give me pens) is unpleasant for the tourist and long term detrimental to the child.
I am certainly not arguing that we, as responsible travellers, should not assist those in the countries that we visit.
First we have to accept that in most of the developing world, the people who work for you, guides, porters, waiters are poorly paid and they are to a large extent dependent on tips. The cost of these needs to be factored into the cost of your trip so that you are able to leave generous tips to those from whom you get good service.
Secondly Ms Stephen's advice is to find "a legitimate Non Governmental Organization (NGO) – there are many, but make sure you research them - that is working with local communities on sustainable agricultural projects, or a foreign run school aimed at offering affordable, decent education to children who have no access to it". She makes other suggestions but the principal is find something that is generating sustainable benefits to community, not just making handouts.
So next time you feel tempted to give a few coins to a beggar, don't. Make a resolution to make a gift to a worthwhile NGO (such as the Arusha Childrens Trust) and remember to actually do it.