It is natural to want to help the street children you will undoubtedly come across when visiting Siem Reap. They will stare at you with their big brown eyes, tug on your shirt and say, “One dollar, just one dollar”. You will think, “Sure, what harm will one dollar do?”. But the sad reality is, that one dollar can do a lot of harm.
When we buy from street children, the responsibility to earn money shifts from the parents onto the child. For every sale a child makes, their parents see the value in it. They see the money that the children bring home each evening and realise it is an ‘easy option’ for them to get food on the table. Although every situation is unique, we are perpetuating these attitudes and behaviours by buying from children.
Furthermore, it traps children in the poverty cycle. “I need money for school,” is a common line from child sellers. Maybe they do. Public school in Cambodia runs for half a day, though children usually have to partake in extra classes. However, even if the children ARE in school, do you think they will have the energy to concentrate if they are working in their free time? And once they see they can make money by selling on the streets, they are more likely to drop out of school. This means that the child is likely to remain uneducated, thus not being able to break the cycle of poverty as they won’t have the skills or knowledge to access gainful, full-time employment in the future. We would help these children more by not buying from them, and not be perpetuating this negative cycle.
Instead of buying from street children when visiting Siem Reap, shop and dine at social enterprises. These enterprises provide training, fair wages and good working conditions to Cambodians, and often support NGO’s with their profits. It is a sustainable way to help people living in poverty, and you also benefit!
Make sure to ask Chang for his suggestions of which social enterprises to dine at when you book him for your next trip to Siem Reap. And remember, don’t buy anything from that cute child on the street. It just isn’t worth it.