I’m sure everyone that has met me has their own opinion of me, I’d like to think that one thing that everyone can agree on is that I try to be a nice person and treat people how I’d like to be treated. In general people are very good to me which of course rubs off on me and I try and make a point of doing at least one nice thing for others a day.
I’m in the Philippines at the moment. A country although filled with honest, genuinely nice people and beautiful scenery, is ravished by poverty. You don’t have to look far to see how desperately poor some people are. It’s heartbreaking, but what can you do?
Yesterday I was walking back to my hotel and saw some more examples of poverty; a little boy about 5 or 6 years old lying on top of a chest of drawers left outside a small local restaurant. This kid clearly hadn’t washed himself or his clothes in weeks, and looked in discomfort in the 30 degree weather and scorching heat.
I thought that’s what I could do; nothing massive to attract attention to myself, but something to show I wasn’t completely heartless. I went to a local Filipino shop (One of those shops built into a person’s shack where they live to give them some form of income) and bought a bottle of water from them. Two birds with one stone I thought; I’m indirectly giving them money by giving them some business paying a bit more than I should for a bottle of water, then by giving the kid the water I’m showing him some compassion that somebody cares…
I bought the bottle of water, said thank you and walked over to the kid who was barely conscious at this point. I placed the ice cold bottle next to him and gave him a thumbs up as I walked off signifying that I was deliberately leaving the bottle there for him, and walked around the corner feeling that I’d done something nice for the day.
Well, that’s what I thought; 10 metres down the road the kid ran after me, pulling on my trousers asking for change. He didn’t even have the bottle of water in his hand so he must have left it there, assumed I was a soft touch and was trying his luck to see how much he could get out of me. He clearly wasn’t as disadvantaged as his appearance suggested. Not only that, the kid wouldn’t leave me alone, following me for 50 metres pulling on my trousers asking for money talking over me when I was firmly saying no.
He did eventually relent, but I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth. I’m normally the first person to say that you can’t save the world and as horrible as it sounds, there are times when you have to ignore the suffering that is going on around you, but at the same time you can’t be completely disconnected. You being there as a tourist does pump a tiny amount of money into the economy which has a slight positive knock on effect in poor countries, but that doesn’t help the poorest people there.
I’d like to think as the money disappears into the economy the money gets spent amongst Filipinos leading to supporting lower class income families (like the place I bought the bottle of water from), but sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes you feel guilty seeing how much better off you are and having so many more opportunities just by being born in a different country. The fact that I can afford to leave my country and fly to the other side of the world just for pleasure is incomprehensible for a lot of these people…
Which is why I did what I did, but I doubt I’ll be doing it again any time soon. I want to help, but unfortunately you never know who is truly in need of help. You want to help, but you simply can’t. As brutal as it sounds some people have to help themselves. Especially in a country where there the culture is so different you may be actually doing them a disservice by doing what you think is helping them.
So maybe the solution here (If there is one on this random tangent I seem to be going off on…) is that charity should begin at home. There are plenty of people in need back in England that I can help when I eventually go back. I’ve always wanted to do something to help homeless people so maybe that’s where life will lead me when I do one day settle in England. Until then though I won’t be doing random acts of kindness like I did for that kid for the rest of my trip in case it ends up doing more harm than good…