️ Co jest nie tak z rozdawaniem darów w Afryce (i innych biednych krajach)?
It became common knowledge and good practice that when you visit Africa you should take something with you to give to the local kids. Most commonly candy, copybooks and pens. This happens not only in African countries, but also for example in India, south-east Asia, or certain South American countries. It mostly happens in situations when the so-called "global North" visits the so-called "global South".
I mean: when you visit countries economically less developed than your country of origin. Perhaps you've even heard than you shouldn't be doing this, but it doesn't really matter, because when you finally go on a vacation, to a beautiful destination full of palm trees, where we feel great, but we see kids running around us without shoes, kids who obviously have less than we do... ...we start feeling guilty. And we just want to do anything. Doesn't matter what and it doesn't matter that we don't know how to do it. Whatever it might be, we tend to think that any type of help will do.
And this is a wonderful thing, this empathy we have inside of us. But unfortunately this kind of help... ...is no help at all. It's something different and this film is about exactly that. Can you tell me again what happened exactly? Somebody told the people in the village that I arrived with guests.
Everybody expects that I am here with a regular group of tourists, that there's going to be candy, copybooks and so on, look, the kids are already gathering here and they're hoping to get some gifts. I never told them why we're coming here today, I just told them we wouldn't be doing a tour today, and as you can see there's kids gathering here, the adults are running around the village to get every kid over here. What percentage of the tourists bring gifts for the kids? Around fifty percent. Very often it's school supplies. It's the most common thing brought here. But also toys, clothes, or shoes for example.
Unfortunately also candy... That's a lot of things, are all of them put to use? Do the kids actually keep them? Hard to say, really. My observation is that the strongest kids get the most gifts, those that manage to raise their hands the highest, or raise them more than once. Some of them cry on command to try and get some gifts. I really have no idea what they do with those things afterwards.
I've never seen them being used. I mean both the clothes that people bring, but also the school supplies. I sometimes see what children have in their school bags and all I see are the copybooks that you can buy here on Zanzibar. I never see those colourful copybooks brought by tourists from Poland.
One might think: all of this doesn't really matter. As long as there is any chance that a piece of candy, a copybook, or a dollar bill will make somebody's day, especially since it's not much trouble for us, well, then the risk of giving away things is worth it. Worst case scenario: nobody will use the gift. However, it doesn't really work that way. There are consequences to everything we do.
It's hard to believe that an innocent gift can cause harm, but there are numerous examples that this is, in fact, true. Regardless of how much we cram into our luggage, there's never going to be enough to go around. Once we start handing out gifts in a village, the kids will come from everywhere, they will compete with each other, they will try to take the gifts from other kids, this means that the gifts will not be given to the kids that need them the most, but rather to those who are the strongest, the smartest, or those whom the tourists see as the ones needing help the most.
Handing out gifts to random children in the street during our vacation teaches the children to treat begging as a worthwhile activity. This can result in a number of outcomes, depending on where we are, but it almost always has a distancing effect between the tourists and the locals. So what's the big deal, you ask? Well, the big deal is that at some point, the kids will start expect us to do it, or even require us to do it.
When I was in Laos a small girl kicked me when I refused to give her my hairband that I had on my hand. Even if we think that we are alone somewhere, there's tourists coming there the next day. And the next day and so on, and everybody who does that only solidifies the image of a white person, or any other tourists for that matter, as a person handing out gifts, with the local people expecting us to do the same.
We've had a lot of such situations. This one Sunday, when the streets were empty in Dar es Salaam, a girl came up to me, she was eating a chapati, it's a type of food, and with her mouth full she asked me for food, she told me she was hungry. So I told her: but you're eating right now...
...she got visibly confused, looked at us with her friend, laughed and walked away. This happened on the coast, compared to the rest of the country it's the touristic part of the Gambia. I remember walking down one of the streets there and I saw a group of girls playing and laughing, everything was fine until they saw me approaching them, one of them jumped right in front of me, she blocked my path in the middle of the road, she struck a very dramatic pose and said: "Oh, toubab, toubab!" Toubab is the word for a white person in the Gambia, Minty is the a word used for candy in the Gambia, in the past tourists mostly brought mints with them, thus "minty", so this girl went from laughing and being happy to being very dramatic and behaving like an actress, this only happened to me on the coast, where you can find a lot of tourists, there's nothing like this in the countryside. A piece of candy doesn't fight hunger.
Yes, it makes a child smile and we feel good about ourselves for letting the child enjoy a piece of candy, but we also have to remember that candy damages teeth, the local people might not have the access to healthcare in the capacity we do, while the parents of that child might not be able to afford a dentist. It reminds people of the communist times, when somebody brought something from beyond the iron curtain and this was a huge experience for everybody, people remembered those moments for a long time. But these are two different things, here we're talking about mass tourism, Zanzibar is visited by half a million tourists every year, most of them bearing gifts for the local people. And most of them will decided on copybooks, pens and candy.
Let's flip the roles, would you want your kids to accept gifts from strangers? Or would you let your kids eat candy every day? If kids see that begging pays off, they might want to drop out of school, this happens in many places in the world, also in Zanzibar, instead of going to school the children go to touristic spots, because they know they will get a gift. Those kids will grow up one day... Even now you can hear young teenagers asking for dollars and euros. We don't really visit very touristic places where this mostly happens, but in large cities, in India, or Nepal, kids will ask your for money, it's not aggressive, but it is persistent for sure, I think I've had only one situation where somebody was being aggressive, I was hit with a samosa, it's a type of Indian dumpling. I wanted to share it with a kid, I was sitting down and a bunch of kids came up to me, they wanted money, but I offered them a samosa instead, so he took it and threw it at me...
Two boys aged maybe ten, or twelve, or something like that, were waiting outside a restaurant, the only restaurant in this small town called Rohas. So as we were entering the restaurant they told us: They were first saying this and then shouting this for about half an hour: This was very annoying to us, but also showed how they were treated before. Because if you hand out candy, or money to people, it will teach them that people from the so-called western world, or the so-called first world countries, will also give them some things.
To sum up: this will not make the lives of these people better in any way, it's also immoral, because it teaches children that begging is ok. The only real effect this has is that we feel better about ourselves, and in the end this shouldn't be about that. Many times in my life when I've seen children asking around for something I've bought them food and I think that's ok, but once you start giving them money, it will only cause them to say: Giving them candy will only cause their teeth to go bad, because surely it will not feed them properly, right? A lot of places in the world see organized crime groups built around this, a sort of mafias of adults who are using kids to beg in the streets. Perhaps you've even heard of cases in India, where criminal groups used to amputate children's healthy limbs, because handicapped kids produce more compassionate responses and earn more. I have this story from Nicaragua, I was walking down a countryside road, there was nobody there.
Suddenly, a small, five year old boy jumped out of the bushes. The thing is: he had a machete. He pointed the machete at me at said: I started laughing, because he was small and cute, a bit absurd even. But if he was bigger I would be scared, I would run away. When we were in Afghanistan a lot of people asked us for money, Mostly kids, but from time to time also teenagers, fifteen, sixteen year olds. And we learned from adults that these teenagers, growing up into adulthood, are the most susceptible to being enrolled into small criminal groups, and these groups are usually looking for members in the streets.
So, we need to think twice about whether by giving them money we are not actually encouraging these young people to stay in the streets. Perhaps this discourages them from thinking about education and work and instead they get used to getting money in the streets, and in turn ending up in environments they shouldn't be in. Today I wanted to tell you a few things about people who beg in China.
People who ask random strangers on the street for money. When travelling through developing countries, and bear in mind that China is still a developing country, one can get an impression that people over here cannot rely on the government for any sort of help, like a pension when they retire, or when they become seriously injured, for example when they lose a limb, or get severely burned. It's easy to become trapped in this way of thinking. However, it's not true. Chinese people can rely on government help.
Since a couple of years all Chinese citizens get social insurance, and in a lot of cases the people you see hanging around touristic spots and asking for money in an aggressive way, by grabbing people's legs, or by touching them, pushing them, or grabbing somebody's hand; well, they are members of criminal groups, unfortunately, at the end of the day, the money you give them ends up in the hands of a local mafia boss, who lives in a villa, or a penthouse at the top of a skyscraper. This is especially true if the person asking for money has very visible injuries, like a burned face, or a lack of limbs, they know that this works very well on tourists. People pretend to not have legs by tying them together, or hiding them in trousers. I always tell people traveling to China to never give money to people asking for it, as in a lot of the cases you will be supporting criminal groups.
Helping is good. I always feel bad when I need to play the role of the big bad police officer, when I talk to people who in most cases have good intentions, have good hearts and want to do good, they often feel like I'm questioning their moral values. However, they way we feel about what we've done, a feeling of a job well done, is not the correct way to measure the actual result of our actions, of whether we did more good, than bad.
I'm also no moral compass, I make mistakes and I'm constantly learning. However, it needs to be emphasized that helping is not always helpful. Not all forms of help are helpful. How did it come to a point that Africa, the second largest continent in the world, and the 54 countries within it, have become a place that even before we get there, we associate with poverty, lack of hope, poor harvests, hunger and encourages us to travel there with luggage full of clothes, copybooks and pens? How is it that we feel differently about Africa, than about South America, or Europe? Both of which with their own problems. Why does Africa need saving? In 1985 the most famous charity song in the world is written.
We all know it. But aside from the fact that the money made from the song is used to help Africa do we really know which African country are we helping? What problem is being solved? What are the causes of the problem and what is the situation on the ground? How many people are affected? It's much easier to answer other questions than these ones, for example: who are the great musicians singing the song? Or you can just pay attention to Bob Dylan, who looks like he doesn't know what's going on either. Most charities in the eighties and the nineties gathered funds using a very similar approach.
An approach still being used today. The undertaken activities and money made this way can of course be used to reach great goals, but this is a topic for a separate film. However, the communication and the manner in which collecting money is promoted, are mostly focused on depicting severe poverty, children with bloated bellies and white people extending a helping hand. Quite often celebrities become the spokespeople for such organizations, we see them being emotional in front of the camera.
For example, Comic Relief, a British charity, used to send famous people to Africa every year, drawing the attention of media in the process. It may seem that such an approach is a good idea, at least at first glance, being just a means to an end, but in the end all of this leads to: solidifying the image of a given celebrity as a philanthropist, depicting Africa as one homogenous entity bereft of any hope, and African people as helpless victims, whose self-agency, subjectivity and dignity are being taken away. Their voice is also absent, as it is not them who tell their own stories, it's usually a white person from the "western world" doing all the talking. This kind of communication, alongside the lack of interest from mass media, reporting mostly different kind of news from the continent, results in the main message being quite clear: Africa cannot cope without our help. Even Bob Geldof said: Comic Relief has issued a statement that it will no longer use the dramatic images of sick children and instead will focus on relaying the stories of regular people, created by local photographers and filmmakers.
Of course, these are just a few examples of a very complicated phenomenon. It is not easy, especially having grown up on such widespread imagery, to stop thinking about Africa in such a naive manner. It's difficult to get rid of the thought that all you need to do is to "want" something, to actually change the world. Helping is difficult.
And humanitarian aid is a specialized degree course at university. If there was a recipe for helping and everything was easy our candy, the copybooks and pens would end all wars in the world. But nothing is easy and such a recipe doesn't exist. Everything depends on the place we are going to, on the situation and the political climate there, but also on the actual needs of the people in that particular place. I think that it would make sense to begin with not nurturing the tendency to feel guilty for being in a place like that.
If we don't know how to help we shouldn't panic because we can't think of something on the spot. If we do, it might turn out that this kind of help is not needed there, and we only do it due to an emotional state we are in at the time. Even coming to a certain place and buying, for example, fruit at a local shop, or going to a local craftsman and ordering something, for example a dress made from a colourful, local material, hiring drivers, or guides, this already counts as supporting the people of a given country and supporting their economy, allowing them to earn a living. I've heard of situations when people come with their luggage full of gifts, which means they spent their money back home and then handed out the gifts here, in the streets during their holidays.
But a moment later they were haggling over every last penny. We can also help locally, just like back in Poland, we can support our friends. If it turns out that we'll meet somebody, we become friends and we learn about their problems, basically, we start treating them like friends, Well, then it's a completely different type of support, compared to what I've been describing in this film. If you want to support a local school, it makes no sense to bring everything from your country of origin, to take extra luggage that you need to bring halfway across the world, because in most cases everything is available right here, you can do all of your shopping here.
And spend the money locally, in a local shop. But first - you'll be able to go to a local school and talk to the principal, ask about what the school needs, learn about the needs of the students, the teachers will also know how to distribute these things, so that they end up with the kids that need them. You can buy everything and bring it to the school when no kids are around, so that they won't be forced by the teachers to put on a show for you, or sing a song, or make this into a big deal. Helping without the fanfares. Perhaps it's not going to bring you as much satisfaction...
...but it's going to be much more "healthy". However, don't be surprised if the principal tells you that what the school needs most are computers. Not necessarily copybooks, or pens, because the students already have those. We can also support local projects run by people who are constantly on location and can monitor the projects, who live there and know the needs of the local communities. Also, you can do your own research, there's absolutely nothing wrong in asking about the previous projects, or the details of the current one. It needs to be said out loud: anybody can start their own NGO, and sometimes, especially in Africa, you can tell that something has been created for the sole reason of making money, with the main concept missing the point. There's no easy answer to all of this.
Helping is difficult. I am repeating myself? In some cases we need to face the fact that we don't know how to help, and as outsiders the best we can do is to simply finance a certain project. No child will smile at us because of that, but in the end it doesn't make sense to do something just to feed our ego, to feel like we've accomplished a mission.
I know that during a vacation time is valuable, but if you use some of that time to spend one afternoon with the kids, play football with them, let them show off their English skills, trust me, it will do much more good, than just giving them a piece of candy. It will also be a cultural exchange, not just for them, but also for us. Every single time we show any kids on our Instagram account, we get questions about the possibility of sending them a package, without inquiring about whether these kids actually need any help, or whether they are perhaps dirty, because of playing outside all day.
Nobody asks about what they need, or whether their parents have jobs. I know that all of this happens because of good intentions and pure hearts, and I don't want to judge anybody, you don't need to justify your actions to anybody, or mention what you've done in the past. Again, I'm no moral compass, I make mistakes and try to learn along the way, so please, do not kill the messenger! Perhaps when you go on a vacation you'll also see all of the things I've been describing to you in this film. The world will not change because of this film, but we have to start somewhere.
And surely this is not the first film on the topic that available online. Thanks for watching, see you later! The film was made thanks to the support of our Patrons: A special shout out to all of our friends who made making this difficult film possible. Subscribe