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September 18, 2012

What’s the harm in buying one kid an ice cream?

Travelling in the developing world can be mentally challenging. From kids following you down the street asking for the drink of Sprite you have in your hand, to beggars sleeping outside your front door, to women with babies asking for food through the car window, travelling in these parts of the world can often be a very sorrowful sight.

By being in this type of environment many Westerners will feel that they should help. They may give children on the streets sweets, they may give up their time and volunteer in a local school or orphanage, or they may choose to sponsor a child or make regular charity donations upon their return home. This is all good and well, but where do we draw the line? How much difference can we really make?

Mumbai is one of the worst places I have been to in terms of the amount of people living and begging on the streets. As soon as the taxi pulled away from the airport, we were surrounded by people begging all around the car. It was extremely overwhelming and heart-breaking. I saw young children with babies in their care, pregnant women trying to sell roses and disabled children promoting their ill-health in the hope that their begging will be more successful than the others’ around them.

Whilst in the city I met a fellow traveller who told me how he felt so sorry for the many disadvantaged children around him that he took it upon himself to buy one a McFlurry from McDonalds. He then proceeded to continue walking along the street, only to turn around and find a line of children following behind him, hoping that they too will be able to have an ice cream. It was as if he had taken on the role of the pied piper. If only I had a picture of this scene.

I found this story to be one that has really stuck with me. This man wanted to do good, but was the end result good? To have this many children wanting for something that him alone cannot possibly provide? Like I say, where do we draw the line?

One man alone cannot help everybody, but collectively we can help make the world a happier place for everybody to live safely and securely.

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