2pm Christmas Day, I’m comfortably slouching in the bucket seat of our safari jeep. Before dawn, we’d woken and begun a game drive around Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. It has been a breathtaking day and I’ve spent most of it standing, staring at literally thousands of elephants, close enough to touch if you dare.
Making our way back to our hotel, it was hard to ignore the smiling faces and outstretched hands of small children as we whirled past. Cradling my food baby, a direct result of Waziri’s gourmet Christmas lunch, a wave of guilt washed over me. I feel bad that I devoured that third serving, that I have nothing to give these obviously malnourished, hungry children.
This is a scenario that almost every tourist visiting Tanzania is faced with. I’ve seen it for 10 years yet driving past still makes me feel guilty.
True, the food tourists give these children directly contributes to keeping them fed and maybe even to their survival. Unfortunately, longer-term, it also contributes to ensuring these children will never graduate school, never get a full-time job and will always depend on tourist hand-outs to survive.
Think this is an extreme view? Survey 100 of these students and ask them why they are not in school. Most will say they need to beg to eat and survive the day and sadly in some cases this is true.
In every national park around the world we have signs saying, “don’t feed the animals”. Primarily, these signs exist to remind visitors that feeding wild animals conditions them to depend on humans for food.
Like wild animals, feeding children in disadvantaged countries teaches them to depend on tourists and begging for survival. Children, like animals, eventually grow up; they’re no longer “cute”. With no education, they cannot find a job and they’re left with a dangerous dependency that we’re no longer happy to feed.
Next time you see a child begging, please consider the short and long term implications of your decisions. Without a doubt your heart is in the right place; how many times has your heart led you astray?