To this day, this image still moves me every time I look at it. Even though it’s not a beautiful landscape or an amazing sunset, I am always drawn back to this image that I took in 2012. That same year, I also learned why this image has such a powerful effect on me. That is the year I began my work with The Giving Lens. The Giving Lens has a simple objective. Take a small team of photographers to an international location and work with a local non-governmental organization (NGO) to help share our passion for photography and visual arts with the youth of the community. As I have seen firsthand, this work can have a small and positive ripple effect across the communities that we work in for years to come. Until I began leading photography teams across the world to work with the world’s youth, I never would have given a second thought to those five children outside of the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia. I would have looked deep into their carefully mastered begging eyes, shot a glance at the ‘Help Poor Children Please’ sticker on the well maintained donation box in their hands and grabbed a couple of loose Cambodian riel and tossed it in. I would have walked away, onto explore the next cranny of the 12th century temple, not even thinking about what just transpired. In fact, if I did think it about it at all, I would have patted myself on the back for helping some ‘poor children’ by simply reaching into my pocket. What would not have crossed my mind, however, is the day and time I placed those loose riel into the donation box. It was a Wednesday. And it was morning. I wouldn’t have thought about where most children should be on a Wednesday morning. I wouldn’t have known that the answer was ‘not at a temple begging for money.’ But, that is exactly what a child should not be doing on a Wednesday morning. No matter where they live in the world, no matter what the conditions, a child should be given the opportunity and encouragement to be in school on a Wednesday morning. And even if they happen to have the day off? They should be using that free time to study. Or better yet, use that free time simply being a kid, playing football with their friends in the humid Cambodian air. What I have learned over the years of documenting communities is how some of these children got into this position in the first place. Those five children begging for money is just part of a vicious cycle that has been prevalent for generations. Without knowing about these specific children’s lives, what I have learned from our NGO partners helps paint a picture about how their lives may have led to begging at that temple with that donation box. First, let’s start with the obvious. Those are five cute kids. For tourists and locals alike, it is hard to say no to cute kids. And when their parents are bringing in a very low wage for a hard day’s work, cute kids can help bring in some much needed family income. In fact, sometimes even more income than both their parents combined. It may start innocently one day. A family needs some extra money for an unplanned expense. They ask their child to help out by going to the temple, or any other local tourist attraction to beg or sell some trinkets to tourists. At the end of the day, that child comes home with $20, whereas their parents only made $10. We can’t know or understand the dire situation the family may be in to ask the child to return the next day. But as the child returns from their second day at the temples, again, they bring in more money than the parents. Days, weeks and months go by and the same scenario often unfolds. May be not every day, but soon enough, that child has dropped out, or more often than not, been kicked out of school due to poor attendance. But, not to worry. Their cuteness and sales skills to easy manipulate tourists are still bringing the needed family income. But eventually, as the child grows, the cuteness begins to fade. The younger, cuter children make much more money daily than the older children who are coming into their teenage years. Eventually, the older child’s begging and trinket sales income decline as their cute looks wane, and you are left with an uneducated teenager with very few life skills that will help them find a sustainable career. From here, life can go many ways. With luck, the teen will get a job, maybe with their parents, and continue the family lineage of underpaid and un-educated. But there is always potential for turning to crime or drug and alcohol abuse. Maybe one day, that now underpaid adult has a cute child of their own, and the temptation is too great. And just like that. The cycle continues. While the tale I have spun sounds extreme, I assure you I have witnessed it first hand, including with children I have personally worked with and haven’t been able to keep focused on their school work and their pursuit of something greater than what their predetermined destiny laid out. Those children are now back into the cycle that we have tried to break them out of. Is this the case with every child you see begging or selling trinkets at tourist spots? No. But, with the dramatic increase in international tourism over the last decade, I have noticed more and more children in the locations that I have returned to. More children that are out hustling when they should be in a classroom. Machu Picchu, Petra, Angkor Wat. The secret is out. And not just to the Instagram community who long for the photos and experiences that they have seen on social media from those locations. But also, to the local communities. With more tourism comes more opportunity to make money off of the tourists who adore the local children. With every dollar given to a child in this situation comes the trickle down effects. It may not be your dollar alone that winds up being the reason that child drops out of school in the pursuit of the almighty tourist dollar, but if you pool enough of those dollars together, the end game is almost assured. That doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunity for these children to have a career in the tourism industry. But they should explore that path as they achieve an education, on their own terms, while making their own choices. It is up to us as travelers to join together and do our part to try to break the cycle. So please, next time you find yourself on an international adventure, hard is it can be to say no to an adorable kid, please consider the lasting effects that your seemingly innocent hand out can have on a child’s already fragile future. So, if you don’t give your tourist dollars to the local kids, how can you help? First and foremost, when a child tries to ask you for money or sell you something, politely, but firmly, say no thank you. But then, try to break down the barrier. Talk to the child about their interests. Do they like sports? What is their favorite football team? Once their mind is off of the task at hand, you will be surprised how excited a child will be to just talk about normal things. They will also show an interest in you, asking where you are from and what it is like. They may even ask for you to take a photo with them. While this may not prevent them from trying to get money from others, it gives the child a brief moment to just be a curious child. And if you would like to help financially, or even more important, donate your time, there are countless organizations across the world whose goal is to end this local cycle. Usually these organizations are focused on continuing a child’s education outside of school. They create a safe and loving environment for children to go to and get one on one tutoring and participate in art classes, like the photography programs we help establish. Below are just some of the organizations that I have worked with, but I encourage you to find a reputable local one in the countries you plan on traveling to. Empowerment International: supporting children and communities in Nicaragua. Anjali House: provides education and support to underprivileged children in Cambodia Sambhali Trust:supporting and empowering women and girls in India Picaflor House: providing education and support to children in Peru Amigo Skate Club: Teaching empowerment and teamwork through sports and art to children and youths in Cuba. Excel Education Foundation: Supporting children and communities in Tanzania The above opinion is just that. My opinion. It is how I choose to operate while photographing in foreign countries. I am by no means an expert in this field, and I am simply crafting an opinion based on information I have gained from my NGO partners as well as my own experiences. You are free to approach traveling as you please. I am only here to help educate on the issues as to how I understand them.