The Pencil/Crayon Incident in Laos

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“Children see magic because they look for it”

Christopher Moore

I love taking snaps of kids where-ever I go – they are usually the best subjects for me – I see the twinkle in their eyes; a ton of happiness; their mischievous smiles; I see kids living the best life they can – no matter the conditions!

Someone recently posted about handing out trinkets to children in other countries like Africa, India, Laos, et. al. What do you all do when you travel? I’m curious.

I spent a week in Laos a few years ago…loved it sooo much. The kids there were some of the happiest in the world – at least through my eyes.

Happy happy kiddos

The travel itinerary mentioned we would be exploring some of the small villages and visiting local schools. With this in mind, a bunch of Disney pencils and crayons were purchased on Amazon.

We showed up to one of the schools with younger kids < 8 years old. I pulled out the box of pencils/crayons and started to hand them out – with approval from teachers of course – at first it was a very calm, orderly process until one of them grabbed a second pencil/crayon out of my hand.

The Perps

Then it became pure mayhem!!! I swear I was almost trampled that day – the little angels had no clue what they were doing – they just wanted pencils and crayons!!! No less then 20 kids came at me at the same time. Thank god they were little and could gently be pushed away! It was actually slightly terrifying and hilarious in the same breath. Can you imagine the news headline on this if something tragic happened?!

To make things worse, later that day, a little guy was drawing on one of the wooden beams of their home with A CRAYON. OMG – I was so mortified and embarrassed – the mom was so PO’d! Probably cursing the dumb American. In hindsight, the pencils/crayons should have been given to the teacher for distribution – she probably could have milked the rewards for a year.

The Laos street artists in training!

Since this trip, I have not done this again….does anyone else bring gifts when you travel?!




  1. I was in India earlier this year and did the same – took a whole lot of pens, pencils and crayons. I was going to just hand them out to kids along the way, but our driver suggested we visit a school instead. We ended up at this very remote school and gave each of the children something, before handing the rest to the teacher. We must have looked like we had dropped in from another planet, but then they sang us some songs and we did the same in return. A special memory. Mel

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Aww, that is soooo sweet Mel!! I love the song part of this. Those kids experienced something special that day too – that strangers can be kind and generous!! I missed explaining I was on the playground…another BIG mistake…classroom would have been a better idea!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. WOW, we so want to do this, in fact we have been store housing supplies for so long now. When our local store has school supplies for next to nothing, we buy them and we have a pile in our office right now, waiting to travel and give them away. We are so happy you were able to do this, it is on our happy list of what we see our retirement future filled with. LOVE THIS POST!!! Seriously LOVE IT!

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    1. Just don’t get trampled!!! It is a great way to give back a little. My favorite things when I was little were school supplies! New pencils/crayons made me soo happy. Lol

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely photos!
    I did the pencil thing too while in India (yeaaaars ago). I’ve experienced the mayhem scene too.
    But seriously I was frustrated I couldn’t’t do more. Like give time to start with. More time.

    But to be honest… I might have offered soap and shampoo too. By the look of the three angels on the last photo, I’h have been tempted!! 😉

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  4. OK, first of all, what’s with the tape over some of the kids’ mouths?!

    Now, to be a contrarian: we learned first in Africa – through both our guides and our experience – and later in other developing countries, that handouts are not doing any genuine good for anyone (except maybe the warm feelings of the giver). They set up expectations, which lead to all kinds of problems for both recipients and future visitors. The problems can seem minor (like the ones you saw), but long-term and in the bigger picture, they perpetuate the dependency of these countries.

    I sound so cold-hearted, but in fact I’m such a softie and am always trying to find a sustainable way to do good. I guessed we’ve slowly learned, through these kinds of things as well as bigger ones like service and mission trips, that even though our hearts are in the right place, it is not always a positive thing to help others in these ways. I’m not throwing all kinds of cold water on your wonderful time with these kids, but I thought I’d answer with some information we have gotten on some of our trips.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so not being coldhearted! After I saw them drawing on the structures, I was like…hmmmm…maybe I should not have done this or had it more controlled through the school. It was truly mortifying!! We did give school supplies to kids in Cuba – that worked out pretty well. But again, it was controlled. Thanks for throwing out your perspective – always welcome and appreciated!!!!

      I thought the tape was hilarious – the things they have to use for entertainment!!

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  5. I’ve never thought of doing something this simple when we travel. It’s a great idea. I’ve taken clothes with me, decent clothes, that I intend to leave behind. I wash them and fold them so they are immediately usable then take them to a Goodwill. But that’s not really as charming as what you did.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think my intent was good, but the outcome was not what I wanted!! I like the idea of bringing clothes to donate to an organization…..hmmmm…may have to think about that next time. Thnks for the idea!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, sometimes it’s the little things for sure. Then I think, were there kids who didn’t get one? Then my heart sinks! It makes me want to do things slightly differently next time. All good!!


  6. This is an action I’ve thought of when traveling; nevertheless, I’ve heard many stories like yours or worse, when the kids ask for more, are jealous of one another if there’s a difference in what they do get, etc.
    I believe, like someone else commented, that there are ways to give away stuff without creating havoc or unwanted behavior. Spending more time on the spot, doing local volunteering maybe, building something that the whole community will enjoy…

    I sometimes go traveling with clothes I don’t use anymore and can give away on the way. I completely forgot to do so when I went to Cuba, though, which is such a shame, given everything they still need over there and their warm-hearted hospitality.

    Your action and thoughts were particularly kind and I keep my fingers crossed that many more people think of traveling with that kind of intent in mind.
    Thanks for the reminder, Pam!
    You’re an angel!



    1. Yeah, it’s the kids who potentially feel left out I worry about. 😔. Next time, I’ll do it differently for sure. Would love to do a volunteer trip sometime. I’ll have to add it to my still long wish list of adventures!! How do you give away the clothes? Directly or via an organization? Love you Juls! Have a wonderful day!!!


  7. Pam, you are right that the donations should be given to the teacher or school to distribute. Inevitably, when tourists hand out candy, sweets, pencils, pens, books, etc, to random kids, there aren’t enough to go round, some kids fight, and others are sad. When the next batch of foreigners enter the village, the kids see them as bearers of gifts and mob them, ruining the experience for everyone.

    Thanks for posting this and telling your story. Travelers need to be aware of their impact when traveling to these poor places.

    Liked by 1 person

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