Blog: A few pesos vs. long-term solutions

By: Laura Rocoski
As some of us pack up our books, move to new cities, and start our summer transition from student to employee, many of us will also take time off for a well deserved break. Some may even enjoy that break in an exotic destination abroad.

Woman beggar in Guanajuato, Mexico. Photo by Tomas Castelazo [CC-BY-SA-3.0]

By: LAURA ROCOSKI

Woman beggar in Guanajuato, Mexico. Photo by Tomas Castelazo [CC-BY-SA-3.0]

Woman beggar in Guanajuato, Mexico. Photo by Tomas Castelazo [CC-BY-SA-3.0]

As some of us pack up our books, move to new cities, and start our summer transition from student to employee, many of us will also take time off for a well deserved break. Some may even enjoy that break in an exotic destination abroad.

But upon arrival to these vacation destinations, many of us are exposed to different customs than we encounter on a daily basis at home. My time here in Mexico, for one, has certainly been different. It has been challenging to adjust even to small things (like not being able to find almond milk anywhere). But I’ve also become aware of certain behaviours and attitudes that people have here.

I was recently out having some beers with a few friends when two little girls walked up to our table at the restaurant. They started off by asking the usual question – whether we wanted to buy something from them. When we repeatedly said no, they decided to just ask for money. Again, we answered with a polite no. They left for a few minutes only to return to our table again, this time with much more persistence.

After about 15 minutes of these girls asking us for money, my friend reached into his pocket and handed one of them a couple of pesos, leading the other girl to run to his side and ask him for more.

While I do not condemn my friend for his action, and I do not believe it is right to simply ignore those in need, I realized that my friend’s behaviour towards the girls and their persistent pleading are results of conditioning. And it’s a psychological theory that’s not just relevant here in Mexico, but at home as well.

Rather than contributing to sustainable solutions for problems such as poverty, we are conditioned to stick a Band-Aid on the problem – by giving those in need our spare change, for example.

Is this what happens all the time when these girls walk about the streets trying to sell their trinkets, I wondered? By giving them the money they are asking for, we feed into the notion that providing short-term solutions will give them what they really need in the end.

This has been an issue that I have struggled with in Mexico, because although it may be on a subconscious level, every time someone decides to give a little money, they fail to address the root cause of the problem.

This is an example that should not be foreign to many people, because it can be found all over the world. The only difference is that it can be more habitual in some places.

Yet this kind of behaviour is part of human nature. When we see something we personally feel is unjust, our response is to act – to decide how we can help directly at that moment.

This is also not to say that those who are asking should be ignored. But we should also focus on finding ways to work with those vulnerable populations rather than simply giving them the change from our pockets. We need real solutions that create less dependency and more sustainability.

Many humanitarian organizations have started this transition of moving from direct short-term aid to sustainable long-term aid. The only problem is that people have become dependent on these quick-fix solutions, making it harder to transition to long-term initiatives that address the root causes of the problem.

If organizations worked with these people to discover their specific and immediate needs, and paired that with long- term initiatives, vulnerable populations could become more independent.

When traveling to new places it is important to be aware of the differences between cultures and the way that we choose to conduct ourselves. The key is not found within the exchange of a few coins but within the attempt to work alongside these groups – by helping them get to where they wish to be and breaking this cycle of dependence.

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