Oz, I will come out of lurk to ask you a question. We recently went on a cruise through the panama canal which was lovely. Some of the stops were Belize, Roatan Island Honduras and Costa Rica. When you stop in these places you can see the abject poverty the people live in, honestly it makes me feel guilty for being lucky enough to have been born in the US and lead the blessed life I do. It makes me not want to go to central or south America.
I did think of your story when I was there and it made me wonder how to best help the people in these places rather than just avoid going there. If you buy the baubles they are selling you get swarmed, and you cant just hand out cash without making yourself a target IMO. Aside from tipping generously, are there things that tourists can do or not do to help?
the best things
I never tip excessively. There is no need to triple the salary of a worker. Find out what is customary in the country and stick to that.
Use your luggage allowance to the fullest or save some tip money and buy an extra bag luggage allowance
take good used shoes and clothing that is climate appropriate and give it to a bario/village health center
other objects if you can - costco baby formula, diapers, el nido powdered milk
get away from the tourist areas to do it. tourist areas already tend to have much better cash flow due to tips