One of the most common concerns when visiting India is witnessing real poverty first hand. The initial culture shock can be extremely overwhelming. How best to deal with it?
Having been to India three times, I have learnt that there is a right time and place to make a difference. Realising that you can’t help everyone is the first step. Being conscious of your location is another. Rather than give to beggars when you are walking around – this might invite many others to follow you – having small denominations to hand to give from your rickshaw/car can be better idea.
A Heartfelt Cause
In Delhi on my third trip, we gave money when we could but one moment I will never forget. As we sat drinking chai along the roadside in Paharganj, I looked up to see one of the most beautiful babies I had ever seen. Her eyes, like virtually all children in India, had been lined with kohl pencil. She had such a melancholic look on her face. Such beauty and such despair all at once. I was mesmerised. Her mother came over and asked for money but instead we offered her a cup of chai. She smiled and sat down, pleased not be shooed away.
Over the hot sweet drink, I watched as her baby quietly tucked into spoonfuls of sugar direct from the pot. I hoped the manager didn’t come over as I didn’t want him to stop her. Her eyes glimmered. Was this her first meal of the day?
What Best to Offer?
In broken English her mother introduced herself as Rekha and her baby was called Maya. Such beautiful names. She explained that she had eight children and this was her youngest. I knew I had to do something. Unfortunately you can never be quite sure where your offerings of money go to. Alcoholism is such an issue in India and I didn’t want my money to go to a possibly alcoholic husband. Instead I offered to buy her lunch but she pointed to a shop nearby and said I could buy food that she could cook herself.
I asked the shopkeeper to measure out enough to feed her family for a week: two large bags of lentils and rice. The baby had her eyes on me the whole time. I wished she would smile. I kept telling myself that once she had some food in her belly that smile would appear.
It is only a small gesture but meeting and talking to these people and hearing their stories, far outweighs handing over 50 rupees. I know this can’t be done all the time, especially if you are on a travelling budget but sometimes you just have to follow your heart.
What advice do you have for helping others in need during your travels? Share your thoughts below…