Thinking about doing a voluntourism? Let’s give it more thought!

Anti-Voluntourism in #Cambodia: Your Good Deed is Hurting the Kids

I am a supporter of responsible tourism and very aware of the detrimental effects of tourism and volunteerism coming together to form a dangerous industry. I was surprised intially at Cambodia’s new campaign for anti-voluntourism but it’s definitely something that has been an issue in Cambodia for a while – and therefore, not much of a shocker.

This campaign is run by Friends International and is supported by UNICEF Cambodia. It is an issue that has come up several times in my previous posts. According to the article by Phnom Penh Post, “There has been a 65 percent increase in orphanages in Cambodia since 1995,” said Friends International communications director James Sutherland.

It has become that voluntourism only focuses on the experiences that the tourists get and does not think about the effects it has on the orphanages and the children. I am very opposed to visitors ‘touring’ orphanages and its facilities as a way to ‘broaden their experiences’ and make themselves feel good. “Orphanages are not zoos, and tourists should not be allowed to move through their home” the Friends International promotional material states.

There are other ways to help and volunteer and it does not need to involve children. Children are fragile human beings and a simple event could really affect them for life – especially if they are orphans. Teaching abroad may seem like a good thing but think about the after-effects it has on the children when their so-called ‘teachers’ who they depend on leave every couple of months. Students, then have to deal with new people and the cycle goes on.

In addition, a developing nation sees an opportunity in this ‘industry’ and we have invited a chance for them to exploit an idea. Surprisingly, about 97 percent of children in orphanages in Cambodia are not orphans, according to Friends, which said it was eight times more expensive to house a child in an orphanage than it is to house them with their families at home.

Seeing an opportunity, “Orphanages fundraise by offering tours to foreigners, in which children are required to perform dancing to solicit donations. There is no legal requirement for orphanages to account for funds raised in this way.”

I am not saying that people should stop volunteering overseas. I’m simply saying, think it through before you do and evaluate who your ‘good deeds’ are for and what the possible consequences may be. I know that working with children is fun and very fulfilling but if you really want to help others, it is not about you. It is NOT about you.

Read the full story by Phnom Penh Post here:

This post was also posted on my other blog, For the Better, which focuses on nonprofits, corporate social responsibility, social enterprises, and positive change.


7 thoughts on “Thinking about doing a voluntourism? Let’s give it more thought!

  1. Great post NaEun! No country we’ve visited seemed more rife with NGOs and “volunteer opportunities” than Cambodia; it really gave me pause and to be honest made me feel uncomfortable and I really appreciate your unique and informed perspective. It’s hard as a traveler to know the true impact your actions and decisions have on the place you’re visiting but I think it’s so important to do what you can to inform yourself the best you can! Thanks for sharing this!

    • Yea, it is a bit of a sad situation, actually. Thanks! I know I’m probably not impacting too many peopel but I try my best to get my concerns across. It really is hard for travelers to think about how they could be affecting countries negatively – and I’m no exception. I try to remind myself and evaluate my actions as much as possible.. which I think helps to some extent! I think traveling is all about being humble and respecting the countries/cultures you are exposed to which can get really hard sometimes especially when they are completely different from your own experiences, culture or mentality.

  2. Very interesting and very sad also. I’ve always had bad feelings toward volontourism as a business – I just don’t get the idea of having to pay to volunteer.

    I too had a strange impression when I was travelling in Cambodia. Lots of NGOs and lots of expensive cars around – I also remember reading a note of advice against faux orphanages on the lonely planet guide. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks! It’s really sad that something that started with good intentions became exploited in such a way – people don’t really think about the negative effects volunteering can actually have since on the surface it just seems like the best idea/solution at the time. I’m glad something is being done about it though and more people are getting informed!

  3. Pingback: Children Are Not Tourist Attractions. | Indulge: capturing love, life & everything in between

  4. Pingback: What is responsible tourism? Learn about #BetterChildProtectionTravels of Adam – Hipster travel around the world

  5. Great post and such an important topic to get out there and start discussing. I participated in a volunteer program with elephants and really thought I’d be doing something good but the experience was entirely tourism. I should have done better research before hand and hopefully people will start doing just that!

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