An African dilemma – HELP!

To gift or not to gift, that is the question.

With a little over two weeks until leave for, what I am sure will be an unforgettable journey, I have a dilemma burning a hole in my head.

Some people are telling me to bring gifts for the children I meet along the way; others are telling me that I shouldn’t; all that does is teach children to beg for things in life.

I swing between both viewpoints (the metaphorical swing people, I am NOT talking about the ‘adult parties’ haha) and agree with both sides in different ways.

I, like many others, give to charity when I can, though obviously this is becoming increasingly more difficult in the worlds current recession (blah blah blah, that’s enough boring adult talk) and Comic Relief last year raised a record-breaking amount which we, as a country, were incredibly proud of.  But you wonder, how much of YOUR money actually goes to the people that NEED it?  I know, I know, there are many things to be considered such as costs of transporting stuff etc, I’m just making a point.

This is what makes me want to bring some presents to make the children’s smiles even bigger if only for a short while.

BUT if all I can do is hand out some pencils and a few colouring books, is it really worth it?!  I’m not fixing anything.

As the old saying goes ‘give a man a fish and he can feed his family for a day, teach him how to use a net and he can feed his family for a lifetime’ unless of course you live in England right now in which case it’s ‘give a man a face mask and he’ll take whatever the hell he likes without fear of punishment’ *sigh*

So I’m asking YOU what you think.

Do I take some pencils, colouring books (and maybe some bouncy balls because who the hell DOESN’T like bouncy balls) for the children and encourage their thoughts that Westerners are always going to give them hand outs or do I not take anything, look (and probably feel) like a selfish cow and come to the conclusion that Africa’s problems are far too big for just one person on an adventure holiday to deal with?

I REALLY need your help on this one guys and girls so start typing away in the comments…have you been to Africa and taken/not taken anything with you? Do you give to charity – why? Give me all you got! Except unhelpful nasty comments; you’ll just be deleted like the last time =)

Ready, steady…..GO!


Leave a Reply


  1. This is a really tricky one. I can totally understand where you’re coming from, however I think you need to pick and choose carefully who you give to and what. I had a friend that lived in Africa for 3 months on a volunteer project and also did a bit of travelling in that time. She said that sometimes street kids in certain areas were very intimidating when they didn’t get anything from foreigners (perhaps because they are used to getting handouts?) and one boy even spat in her face because she didn’t have anything to give him. Now of course I’m not saying you’ll encounter this or in fact that you shouldn’t give, but sometimes it’s better to give to children in orphanages, etc as opposed to people just begging on the street. But then again, what the hell do I know? Haha.

    On an unrelated note…if you have any of those bouncy balls going spare, send one my way….*gets distracted by something shiny in the distance, tongue hanging out*

  2. There is no harm in bringing a little joy. Everyone likes presents and you can only help people one step at a time. Why not start with simply making them smile?

  3. And if you decide not too you can send me presents instead. I like presents…

  4. You want to help out an entire family? Buy ’em a goat. It’ll feed ’em for a long time. When I was in Africa, it seemed that kids did expect presents from the foreigners, and when they didn’t get any, they got mad. I even had a couple kids put their hands in my pants pockets, looking for something – anything. Sorry, no real answers for you, but maybe it’ll give you something else to consider.

  5. Ooooh bouncy balls! I encountered a similar issue in Honduras. I was approached by children really close to the port that I pulled into. You could tell that these kids were used to receiving small gifts from foreigners. I decided to hold onto my little gifts until I get a little further inland.

    Eventually, I ran into a small group of children near some fruit trees. They were the cutest things! They climbed the tree to get me some kind of local fruit and we sat under a tree eating it and making fun of my father in Spanish. It was great! Before I left I gave them a little something. I remember I gave the girls barrettes, I don’t recall what I gave the boys. They were much more appreciative than the beggers near the port.

  6. I’ve always pondered this and for this reason, despite raising money or creating shoeboxes of love or other projects, I do struggle to see what real difference it makes.

    An alternative option is to take ruled exercise books and pencils for the kids to use in their education. 🙂 It’s a present but its something that can bring about change.

    Bouncy balls or even tennis balls are a great idea. 🙂 So much fun can come of them!

  7. might be cheaper to buy school supplies in africa (check out the prices) then distribute it there… saves you the hassle of carrying it too 🙂 … you can also ask your friends/bloggers/to chip in thru a donation box to add to your “gift funds” for the children 🙂

  8. Lindsay – very true. We all have to start somewhere….a smile is probably the best way to start it, then the presents haha

  9. I’d give as much as I can. Take stationary and toys and sweets. You may not be immediately fixing anything but you’ll be making some kids happy for a little while and whats wrong with that?

    I’m sure there will be some kind of registered donation place too where your hard earned cash can actually make a proper difference.

  10. Julia – That’s the thing – I worry that they’re so used to having handouts that they will expect it; I certainly don’t want to be spat in the face; yikes with infective diseases :-/ I’ve heard a couple of similar things too about the children on the street versus children in an orphanage. I’m not very good in intimidating situations…I tend to get a bit pushy and punchy because I don’t like people invading my personal space haha.

    Bouncy balls coming your way =D

  11. Francesca – YIKES lady! *note to self; make sure belongings are firmly hidden* Definitely gives me another angle to think about things. I would consider buying a family a goat but you’ve definitely got me thinking about the children getting mad. If anything that would have me think twice about getting them gifts because they expect them (and that bugs me in any social environment when people demand things from me). Thanks for your input hun! 🙂

  12. Elle – that definitely sounds like a better idea. Perhaps, as others have suggested, hold on to the gifts until I meet children that don’t expect anything from foreigners; that way the kindness would speak far greater volumes than if they simply beg for it and expect it.
    I love the image of you sitting under a tree laughing about your dad with the children; so cute 🙂

  13. Nicole- I’m glad that I’m not the only one that thinks this way…it’s sad that I doubt how much money truly goes to them but when you think about it, if each country manages to raises MILLIONS each year for the countries, why does it not even seem to make a dent in their wellbeing?

    I like the idea of exercise books and pencils for their education; definitely a plus and then the bouncy balls for fun 😀

  14. Flip – thanks for the suggestions; great ideas 🙂 That was another thing I was concerned about; carrying it over with me….I didn’t even think about buying the stuff over there! Thanks 🙂

  15. Ashley

    I don’t really see the harm in taking them coloring books and bouncy balls. I really doubt they will learn to beg from one American coming through the area. Your small gifts will bring not only a smile to their face, but also some tasks that are great for brain functions that they don’t get on a daily basis. I hope this helps!

  16. If you were to give anything at all, I would give something educational…flash cards, rulers, pens, pencils. At least you know that whatever you did give them is doing something to better their lives and help with their education.

  17. I think it’s worth their joy to give them a small something. One gift doesn’t a beggar for life make.

  18. Yeah, I have to think that a genuine smile and heartfelt hello in the local language and a genuine interest in their life is the best gift you can give someone as a tourist.

  19. Hmm, I like you am torn. I hate the idea that we are turning these kids into spoilt brats who expect handouts… Especially because that just isn’t preparing them for the reality of life when they grow up in a third world country… I also dont like the thought of them being audacious enough to *expect* a gift and spit at someone or stick their hands in your pockets to take something that isn’t given…I hate to think where that mentality will take them as grown men (I’m sure I dont need to spell that out).

    I think perhaps the idea of going to an orphanage to give gifts is nice… At least you know that those gifts will go to children who really need them.

    The alternative is to buy things that children make. I know that a lot of children make basic souvenirs to sell to tourists, at least if you do this, you are teaching them that they have to work and be enterprising to get something in return? Just a thought

  20. Ashley – thanks for your input…everyones comments each add to my perspective =)

  21. Sheryll – yeah, I’m sensing an eductional versus fun theme going on haha. I quite like the idea of exercise books etc 🙂

  22. Kyle – well said! Lovely sentiment 🙂

  23. Scott – ‘genuinie interest in their life is the best gift you can give’; so true! Everything should start with a smile and I hope that it will help me make the ‘right’ decision (whatever that may be) when I’m there.

  24. Emma – I couldn’t have said it better myself! That’s exactly why I DON’T want to take gifts because it simply encourages the next generation to expect everything etc but I love your idea of buying their crafts etc; totally didn’t think about that! And I will probably come home with some great souvenirs too =)

  25. its a toughie but some organisations say to give useful things like a small ball or a toothbrush or something they can use?

  26. I ran into a similar dilemma in China. From time to time, I came across a child begging for money and the child was scarred or handicapped. Just like in Slumdog Millionaire, some children are harmed to make them look more needing of money or to punish them for not bringing in enough.

    So, the dilemma was a tough one–give them money, helping to fund and perpetuate the practice, or turn them down knowing that child could face a brutal punishment.

    I think in this case, you could give a few gifts as you think appropriate, but be careful not to spread them around too widely and help contribute toward it become an expected practice.

  27. I don’t think you should give them money but things like pencils are a great idea. It might seem like a small thing and that it doesn’t make a difference, but pencils are hard for some of these things to come by for an African child. And think about what that pencil could mean– an education. You’ll be surprised at how excited they will be.
    Balls are a great idea, although a little tricky with luggage. But they love kicking a ball around and playing soccer.
    The hardest thing is understanding you can’t give to everyone and so choosing. maybe save it for when you visit a school or something like that.

  28. Tink – thanks for the help =)

  29. Patrick – great comment; thanks for the feedback. Yikes to the children in China…definitely don’t want to help continue that kind of cycle in Africa! As few gifts along the way sounds good to really deserving children in orphanages etc 🙂

  30. Caz – Pencils definitely sound like a good idea to help their education etc. I’m sure it will put big smiles on their faces. I definitely won’t be giving the gifts out to children that run after the trucks but, as you say, wait until I get to a school or orphanage etc; thanks for the input! 🙂

  31. I’ve never had to make this decision myself, but I think I’d bring a few things if I was in your shoes — the problem would be deciding when to give them, as they’d run out quickly. And I agree on bringing educational things to share 🙂

  32. The same thing happens in India. Children are mutilated by their own parents to make them better beggars. I was followed around by a man pushing his legless torso around on a skateboard whilst I was there, who I imagine was the recipient of such an experience… In India, I was literally followed by hordes of people holding out their hands, and on the beach in Goa (part of India) mothers with babies the same age as my daughter was would try to hand me their children or outstretch the palm of their hand and then motion it sadly to their baby’s mouth… It was heart breaking. I did actually give in to that (much to my partner’s disapproval).. I asked my partner what harm could come from it, and my question was answered shortly later when more turned up to meet the soft touch lady who paid their friend… Not good.

  33. Heather – yes, I think I’ve decided to take a few things out with me and give them to the children that really deserve (but don’t expect) them. The more people beg/hound me for things, the more likely I am to back away. Pencils and notepads it is =)

  34. Emma – sounds like you had a really bad time in India and I don’t envy you in the least for it; yikes girl! Your situation is exactly what I don’t want to happen…give a gift to one of them and the rest come calling all for the same thing. I think, like I did in the Dominican Republic, I will give it to a school/orphange etc to help the little ones that don’t go expecting it. Hope your experience didn’t put you off India?! It’s a destination that is certainly well down on my ‘to do list’ I have to admit.

  35. Bring a few small toys to give to children. Or school supplies is great too.

    Unfortunately, giving something to 1 child in the developing world often means you’ll have 30 following you around within a few minutes.

  36. Drew – I think that’s my worry. You give to you and you have to give to everyone…before you know it you have nothing left to give! I’m sure I’ll work it out when I’m there 🙂