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Donate Rice In Person

Help spread the word! If you like the idea in this article, please send it to world-travelin’-friends, tweet or FB it, and mention it to your blog’s readers. The more people who hear, the more rice we can donate!

After the incredible poverty that I witnessed in places like Thailand and Cambodia, I tried to think of some simple way that I (and others) could donate to help these poor people.

Toddler by the side of the road in Cambodia

You should not give money to beggars in poor countries; this promotes begging instead of education and hard work. A good way to help would be to volunteer for several months in a small community. But let’s face it, most of us are not in a position (family, job, and mindset-wise) to do this.

There are charities where one can donate, and some of them are even reliable, using only a small portion of your donation to administrate their charity group. But don’t donate to any charities while you’re in that poor country, unless you do your homework – many are fake!

Do not support beggars - it promotes more begging!

My idea, which I came up with on the last day of my Cambodia trip, is simple.

Donate rice in person.

When visiting a poverty-stricken country: budget as much cash as you’d like, buy rice, and take it to some poor families. Keep in mind that $10 USD will buy 20kg (44 lbs) of good rice in Cambodia, and you can only transport so much at once. For one or two people in a tuk-tuk, 20kg is a good amount.

With the money saved on buying rice, the staple of life in Asia, the families you help will be able to buy their choice of nourishing foods (for example, milk) for their children. Or they can save up for physical improvements to their home, such as buying materials to patch a leaky roof during monsoon season.

If you can afford it, do small rice runs several times throughout your trip. $12, three times spread out over a week’s vacation, will be over 150 pounds of rice. Given to six families, that’s a real difference. Done by a hundred people, or a thousand people – you get the idea.


Logistics to donate rice in person:

I bought my rice at the Old Market in Siem Reap, scooped out into plastic bags and weighed on an ancient scale. Westernized stores might have higher prices = less bang for the buck, but you can check around.

If you find a nice tuk-tuk driver, just ask him to drive through a rural area on the way back to your hotel. Unless you really trust the guy, I wouldn’t necessarily ask him to find a poor family for you, because you might end up giving the rice to his family.

Just make your own decision as you drive through the countryside. The tinier the shack or tent, and the less-rainproof the roof, the more in need that family probably is.

Poor families on Tonle Sap Lake's floating village

I’d say the floating village on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia is a good place for this kind of donation. Regardless of where you donate, if you follow this very personal method, you can be sure that 100% of your donation goes directly to the bellies of a poor, rural family – no overhead, no skimming, and no fraud.

No one can use your “dollars for the orphans” to buy beer and smokes.

And best of all, you get to see a warm smile of surprise and gratitude, up close and personal. You’ve just turned one tough month out of a tough life into a month of plenty, for the cost of two or three cocktails in your hotel’s $3-happy-hour bar.

It’s one moment of your “low-cost-country” vacation that you’ll never forget.

Please try it out – DONATE RICE IN PERSON! And spread the word…


If you’ve made the effort and donated rice in person, please let me know by a comment or by email. I’ll make a list of names here for people who have donated, or “10 kg by anonymous” if you prefer.

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Posted in World Travel 11 years, 11 months ago at 7:26 am.


12 Replies

  1. Dave, this is a great idea for a personal charity mission. I’m looking forward to doing myself at some point. For the moment, I’ve been spreading the world :)
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..Top 8 Animal Street Signs from Australia and New Zealand =-.

  2. Thanks Dina! If even just a few people get the idea out there, it can help some hungry kids.

    I was struck by my tour guide’s comment that he’s smaller than all his brothers & sisters by quite a bit, because he grew up in a tougher time and his mother couldn’t afford milk. :-/ Let’s help out by giving some kids a good month, one bag o’ rice at a time!

  3. Good work Dave.

    A friend of mine has been doing a similar thing in Phnom Penh, in her case taking rice and fruit to the people who lve and work on the rubbish dumps there. You can see some photos in one of my facebook albums. You can also find out a bit more about Bronwyn’s work with various Cambodian charities on her website.


    Just a little about the floating village on Tonle Sap lake. I did a trip on the lake last year with two friends and a local guide, similar to the one you did one youself. The guide spoke quite good English and gave us a lot of good info about the lake and the floating village. He showed us the floating church, basketball pitch etc., and told we could buy school books and pens at the floating shop to donate to the floating school, which we thought was a good idea. When we pulled up at the shop we were shown packs of exercise books priced at $15. One of the friends with me lives in Thailand, and knew a pack like that should have been less than $5. When we said we’d rather give the money directly to the school, our guide said the teacher would keep the money, but said ok when he realised we definitely weren’t going to buy the books. When we got to the floating school there was one well-fed teacher and one student. The other children were “away fishing”. We thought a bit and eventually gave nothing. Our assumption was that we would have paid the shop $15, the books would have been given to the school, and the shop owner, guide and teacher would get $5 each and the books would have been back in the shop the next day. This may not have been true, but there was certainly something not quite right. We later gave the $15 to my friend in Phnom Penh to buy rice.

    Giving rice directly to the families on the boats, as you suggest, would be better, although not sure the guides would be so keen to stop to distribute to more than two or three of the boats. As you know, there are a lot of very poor Cambodians living it shacks along to road leading to the lake, who I’m sure would be pleased to accept a donation of rice.

    Anyway, your suggestion is a very practical and direct way for travellers to help the local needy. I find the Cambodians to very friendly and cheerful people, despite the very hard lives most of them have to bear.

    There are some great photos on your site Dave! You might like my FB album of Transport in Asia. Not as good as yours, but quite amusing.



  4. Hi John, thanks for the long comment! It’s nice what your friend Bronwyn is doing. Of course for me, it would be hard for me to donate via *anyone* I didn’t know, but I will just save my bucks and do it myself in person :-)

    I know what you mean about the guides. I was tipped beforehand by a friend who had been to Cambodia, who said to look on Tripadvisor to find a guide with the best reviews. My guide Saron was amazing, didn’t suggest any random donations, and even told me how most of the charities are fake. Based on that alone (not even mentioning his great tour guiding skills) I recommend him to everyone now.

    You’re right that Cambodians are quite cheerful, considering the country’s recent past and current status. But I hope they are on the way up! Cheers, Dave

  5. Hi Dave,

    Sorry if it came across that I was suggesting you or others should donate to Bronwyn’s activities, the link was just for an insight, the photos and for info.

    Your idea of direct donation is certainly a great way for travellers to make a real difference themselves.

    By the way, I live in Munich too, so maybe we’ll bump into each other sometime!

    Cheers, John

  6. Hi John, no worries, I figured that was the intent.

    Yep I’m around Munich – quite busy with the new business (http://guidedmunich.com – Photo course tours), but there’s always the chance to meet up! Cheers, Dave

  7. Hi Dave,
    I’m thinking of doing rice runs after reading your blog post. Is there anyone or any guide in Siem Reap you could recommend me to on my trip pending in 2 weeks? I’d really like to get some help to the people there.
    Thanks and hear from you soon!

  8. Hi Essa, I would love to hear that someone had tried some rice runs after reading this :-)

    I would 100% recommend my guide Saron. http://www.sarontours.com/

    I found him via Tripadvisor. He charges a very fair price, brought a knowledgeable tuk-tuk driver also for a fair price (rather than me getting ripped off), advised me not to give money to the orphans because it’s bad for their development (they turn to begging instead of school), and gave me real local tips with no hassling of any kind. Best guide I’ve ever had.

  9. Kat Warren Aug 31st 2012

    Hi Wow this is wonderful to seeing so many people doing this Great job guys and girls …My partner Rick and I are heading to Siem Reap in just a few weeks for 3 months….. I too love this idea and was planning to go into the poorer villages to do food runs.. like rice and fruit drops….any more info would be great if you could please email me……1 hand up is better than any hand out….I hope people who visit Cambodia can make a small difference for just 1 person rather than nobody…..Have a blessed day

  10. Hi Kat, I don’t have much more info, would just suggest you find a tour guide or tuk tuk driver you trust and have them drive you around the countryside and pick out some places to donate food. Let me know how it goes! cheers, -dave

  11. What a excellent idea Dave, really enjoyed your insight on Cambodia and the giving of rice. I will be back in Cambodia for my 4th visit in 2 weeks time and would encourage this practice.

    On a recent trip to Phnom Penh my wife and I got scammed for US$40.00 to buy a 20kg rice bag for an orphanage then got charged another US$5.00 for the taxi ride for a 3km ride back to the city.

    Bags of rice bought by westereners kept arriving every 30 minutes.

    The orphanage had a huge stash.

    I would encourage others to listen to Dave’s ideas & experiences.

  12. Thanks Garry! I hope you manage to do something like this on a future trip. I will do it again next time I’m in such a poor region. If you do it maybe take a pic or two of your rice haul (though I guess the recipients might be shy about their photo being taken). I wouldn’t ask the tuk-tuk driver to choose a place, just drive around until you see a tiny shack a bit outside town and then point for him to take you there. Would love to hear that more people have done this based on my idea!

    I guess in your previous case the orphanage kids ate well, but at the same time some scammer got rich by overpricing the rice… so it probably isn’t ALL bad. :-)

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