Conscientious Traveler and Street Children

In Mexico The Conscientious Traveler/Retired Person Considers the Street Children

It can be hard for the conscientious traveler to be faced with the little children who come selling gum or little hand-made items or just begging. They peer up at you with their little grungy cheeks and big brown eyes. They can be so insistant, that they are annoying. They wheedle and look miserable. Here’s a little dramatization of the situation:

As the tourist you start to think it through. You try to tackle the situation logically. One, this child is really poor. Two, their parents are the ones who sent them out to “sell” or beg. Three, all children deserve to be safe, warm, and fed. Therefore, I should… I should….

OK. I’ll try to think of it another way.  If I don’t pay them, their parents might just make them keep on going around to get more money. If I do pay them, their parents might just make them keep on going around to get more money. Therefore, I should… I should….  

Meanwhile you are not enjoying your meal or walk around the park or whatever you are trying to do. They stare at you until you want to squirm. Finally, you decide to…

Everyone who has traveled in Mexico has dealt with this situation. I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any answer to the sad problem posed above, but I do have some options.

1. Say “no gracias,” break eye contact and walk away. Follow your “no” up with more “no’s”, if necessary. You can’t heal the situation, even if you let them know how sad you feel about it. Saying “no” does not make you a bad person. In fact, saying “no” means you are saying “no” to children being forced to beg. If everyone would do what you are doing, these kids would be somewhere else.

2. If you are in a restaurant, sit the child down and order them a couple of tacos. Decide what you will do if other kids come. Maybe you will say “no” as described in number 1. Maybe you will order meals for all of them.

3. When you order at the restaurant, order a couple of tacos to go. Offer them to the little children when they come by.

3. If they are selling gum, buy some. Keep the box so you can show it to other kids as you are telling them “no.” Buy just one thing on an outing and don’t berate yourself because you can’t buy from everyone.

4. Set a budget for little children, say 10 pesos. Spend your 10 pesos, then go to number 1 above.

5. In addition to choosing one of the above you can choose to donate to an organization that supports poor families.

When you retire in Mexico, street children will become part of your daily landscape. It is helpful to have thought through how you want to interact with them. Remember that it’s valid to do one thing on one day and do something different on another.

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