How to Approach the Poverty Issue in India

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Indian mother and child

Photo credit: Roscoe Duscan - how best to cope with the poverty issue in India?

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…

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About Kiri Bowers

Kiri Bowers is a freelance writer currently gallivanting around the globe. She's a travel enthusiast from London who's motto is "who knows where the wind will take me". A hippy at heart with a genuine thirst for being a citizen of the world, follow her journey on or

9 Responses to “How to Approach the Poverty Issue in India”

  1. Yoga says:

    Thanks Kiri, what a lovely story. Also what a great idea proving food for the family. Om

  2. Ros says:

    What a fab story, you have not just a heart of gold but a sensible one !

  3. Sam says:

    Lovely gesture, sounds like they were really deserving

  4. Laurel says:

    Lovely idea and then you know your money is going where you want it to be going. I’m sure she was incredibly grateful, what a gift to give family food for a week.

  5. Natalie says:

    This story was so touching, and lovely to read. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Kiri,
    What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing. Yes, this is a struggle that wages war in the soul for all but the most hard-hearted when they travel in India.

    personally, I advocate for not giving money at all, but to supporting local NGOs that have been vetted and are working on these issues. Otherwise, it’s like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. It won’t help the systemic, root issues of the problem.

    That’s not to say I have never given money or food. Sometimes it’s too hard not to, especially where children are concerned. I really liked what you did about invited the mother to eat or have tea with you, and buying enough food for a family for the week. You can do so much with such little money in India.

    But ultimately, doing enough research to give money or volunteer and support some quality NGO organizations is the only thing that can have true long-term impact. If we reinforce people begging on the streets, nothing will ever change. I like to take card with me that give the contact info (website and phone number) of several organizations such as Pratham, Kiva and Feed the Children. This could give someone like this woman a micro-loan to start her own business, and sustain her family for the long-term.

    Thanks for the wonderful article!

  7. Kiri Bowers says:

    Thank you for the kind comments on this article. Being of Indian origin, writing this post was close to my heart. I completely agree with you, Shelley, supporting NGO’s and similar organisations is undoubtedly a long term fix. I hope my small gesture to this family helped in the short term. Every traveller will come across similar situations when on the road, a little can go a long way but understanding the bigger picture is what will really make the difference. Thanks again everyone. Kiri :)

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