Supporting an Outstretched Hand
“Mr. Toone…. What are your thoughts about giving money to the sweet little ladies who beg on the streets? I have been told in the past that where I’m from in Playa del Carmen there are the equivalent of pimps who put the ladies on the streets and take their money from them at the end of the day in exchange for a place to sleep. Do you know what the dynamic is here? Every time I see them, I want to give them some coins but don’t know if I should.”
The above email came from a new resident to our lovely hamlet. It’s a question I get in emails and on tours quite frequently and it’s a tough question to answer. Mainly because a lot depends on your perspective, experience and thoughts on human nature.
The following is my approach, which may not be the best but works for me.
There is Isabel, an elderly woman I give 500 pesos to each week knowing that will change her lifestyle (pay for groceries, whatever). Giving a few pesos across multiple people just doesn’t have the same impact on their lives.
When I first arrived to town and went for long walks I’d stock up on baked goods to give beggars. I quickly realized that only pissed people off. They aren’t asking for bread, they are asking for cash, for them to decide on how to spend.
That said I do always have lollipops, for a child but also for an aggressive stray dog. The smell entices them and when tossed away from me and my dog, a lollipop looks like a stick and we all know that sticks are catnip to dogs!
I’ve a Mexican gal pal that always donates to every elderly woman. Aging is tough and no one plans on spending your senior years begging so why not?
Yes, the email writer is correct about grannies being dropped off each morning. Begging is their “job” in the family’s economy and they’ve each their own spot. If one elderly gal tries to take another’s spot, they’ll be a fight.
You’ll know who is from here over time and notice on the big holiday weekends beggars are, um, imported from other areas knowing lots of wealthy are on vacation.
The news has reported on many gals that borrow babies to aid in their efforts, or use well-disguised dolls. Also, any parent can point out when a toddler is on nighttime cold medicine. It’s simply is not normal for a healthy toddler to spend hours laying about listlessly.
So if you don’t want to toss pesos in cup, or give a more substantial amount to a stranger, what are your options?
One way, for me, to donate is buying the Maria dolls from younger men and women. I just spent 900 pesos on dolls earlier today. Do I need another Maria doll? Of course not, but I’ve already given them away to pal traveling to the US to use as gifts for service folks she enjoyed (people love getting a doll, or one of my books too). The doll sellers all know me and know there are days I’ll order 50 or so to give away at a social function. One doll seller is a young Guatemalan Dad with two tiny girls that I’ll buy out all his key chains when I see him (while giving the wee ones lollipops). I’ll give the key chain Marias away but there’s a respect in buying from someone and not just giving money (when you aren’t elderly).
Back when I was in my prime earning years and traveling in Mexico I made a point in every Mexican city to visit an orphanage. Once there I’d ask the director what, if they could have anything, they’d like money for today. The answers were surprising.
In Merida he wanted three thousand dollars to buy a plot of land to serve free breakfasts from. I knew from volunteer efforts in the US, three thousand didn’t cover the local United Way’s daily payroll costs so I was glad to see a few thousand instantly go to helping the needy in a lovely town.
Another day the cloistered nuns in Guanajuato couldn’t image what 500 pesos a week would do for their milk fund. Turns out the children in their care drank a lot of milk that they simply couldn’t keep up with demand. Twenty five US dollars a week to make her life easier seemed a better investment than a few pesos here and there in hand or cup.
There’s no easy answer, but when wanting to help I’ve always found it best to avoid middle men and go right to who has needs and simply ask what they want. It takes some effort but I’ve made some pals and met noteworthy folks in the process.