“Buy some shells?” An adorable 8-year old asked me this on my first day on Malapascua Island in the Philippines, and proceeded to ask us every day on the beach. While relaxing on my beach chair, I was typically immersed in my book, so I didn’t notice them at first. When I’d finally look up, I’d find myself surrounded by three kids with their saddest faces, asking me to buy shells or hand-made jewelry or some other trinkets.
I was planning on traveling for another 3 months, so there was no way I was interested in having any additional possessions or keepsakes (even ones I might actually want when I’m home). None of that matters, because I’d be happy to help some children and at first glance, any amount of money you give them seemed like a wonderful donation. Then I learned more about it. There’s a bit of a moral dilemma of buying from children.
We talked with the kids for the entire week we were in Malapascua, and as it turns out, many kids are deliberately kept out of school to beg for money for their parents. Unfortunately this ensures their lack of education and eliminates any chance of getting out of poverty. With that said, you often don’t know what their alternatives to get money to eat really are. In the U.S. there are welfare programs that act as safety nets, but it’s difficult to determine in a five-minute conversation with a child. These kids were kind and respectful, but in some places you’re really swarmed at every turn (like in Siem Reap / Angkor Wat in Cambodia). We did buy a few shells but mostly we’d buy them food. What do you think?
We decided it was better to ask the begging kids questions and give them food directly. Some will open up and tell you about their world. I would never want to be the reason why kids weren’t going to school…what would you do?