A new campaign was launched this week by Friends International, Childsafe and Unicef.
Whilst travelling I've met a lot of people and become "friends" through social networking sites. All too often I am updated on their travels and come across a perfect "profile picture" moment where they are sat happily with their arms around an orphaned child... VOLUNTOURISM
For me this has long been an unattractive idea! And this week a big campaign has been launched in Cambodia (where I am currently volunteering). See the link below:
Think Before Visiting
The campaign points out the dangers of Voluntourism (most of which should be very obvious) such as the potential risk of abuse of young children by opening the gates of any old orphanage to all who are willing to pay a fee... Especially in a country subjected to a high level of sextourism and who provide an astounding level of forced prostitution.
So, shouldn't we as travellers know better? As the campaign points out, would we really walk into an orphanage in our home country and think that it was a decent thing to do? Do voluntourists really visit orphanages believing that they are making a contribution to the lives of these children via their time (just a few hours) or fees (minimal)? Or are they doing it for the coveted, cute "profile picture"?
And as for lending a hand in developing countries, what is the best and most effective course of action and what can we realistically hope to achieve?
Thanks for posting this, it is very informative. There are always unscrupulous people who will find a way to increase their wealth through the suffering of others - and the situation only worsens when a market of naive foreigners is willing to participate.
It contains hints of what is happening with some international adoption agencies (Ethiopia comes to mind) where children are adopted even though they still have one or both parents still alive, and the adopting agency profits from such exchanges.
Chris and Amy
As with anything in life, there has to be a balance. I for one would never condone profiting from the misery of others, however, I have to disagree with some of what you say.
I've worked in orphanages here in Vietnam, I can tell you now that spending a few hours with these kids who probably get very little love and attention from their guardians is more beneficial to them than you could possibly imagine.
When time permitted, we would travel out to our local orphanage and spend 2 hours there teaching them English, playing games and generally having a great time. Not only did it offer them a break from the monotony of their day but I would like to think that it made them feel special because we had taken the time and effort to go and visit them. Some of these kids, especially the little ones would literally throw themselves at us, desperate for a hug and a little affection. As a father of two children, I know how important this is to a child.
What I will agree on though is that this kind of 'tourism' can be left wide open to abuse and it is this aspect that needs to be tackled rather than abolishing visits altogether. Parading children out for the benefit of camera wielding tourists is not only wrong, it is immoral, however, I have no problem with tourists visiting orphanages as long as they are monitored and can benefit the children in a positive way.
Then, I think we're on the same page... My personal objections are with regards to "day tripping" to orphanages, as is becoming popular on the S.E. Asia backpacking circuit. As the campaign mentions, it is becoming a business in which orphanages are being created to draw in the tourists...
Both Chris and I are volunteering in Cambodia presently. We teach primarily at an organisation where those who can afford to pay a smaller tuition do so (much smaller than other schools with foreign teachers), then that money is used to support rural communities... And so on...
But we are also volunteering at a local orphanage in our free time. Although it would indeed be more beneficial to work on re-housing the children with their existing families (those who have them are “unwanted” or it is not possible for the mother to provide for them), we also feel that it isn't necessarily viable. And presently we have the time and talents to improve the quality of daily life for these children, so that's what we're doing. From the beginning we have been extremely conscious of causing any emotional distress to the children; we do not bombard their lives only to disappear three months later. We have a set time twice a week, for a few hours, when we teach and play with them. We have also made them aware that we are not a permanent fixture, but through the organisation we can make plans for now volunteers to take our place. Furthermore we have worked hard at fundraising through friends and family at home to supply them with the essentials they are lacking (e.g. bedding and rice to eat).
What does concern me however is that I am so easily able to walk into the orphanage and spend time alone with these children. I try to keep other adults around at all times for my own sake. Although I know I will cause no harm to these children, how can they?! At least through my original program I have been vetted to a certain extent. But the orphanage has to make up for a $60,000 budget deficit each year, and for this reason they allow overseas Christian congregation members in for the day, to take their photographs and leave a check.
Last week an older woman from Oklahoma visited. She addressed the children as a group saying,
“I have some advice for you. Always take a bath and be nice and clean. Next, don’t eat candy before dinner, make sure you eat all the healthy food before stuffing your faces with sugar and before every meal you must pray and thank God... or YOUR SKIN WILL BE CORRUPTED”.
What an awful woman. What's more, she should really get to know her audience.
Hmm, again, I would have to stress that it's all about balance. I feel that 'day tripping' to orphanages isn't such a bad thing as long as visits are moderated and the children participate on their own terms. As you said yourself, some of these orphanages have huge budget deficits and the money has to come from somewhere.
Having frequent contact with others helps, I believe, to not only develop a child's communication skills, but also instills a degree of confidence, self worth and assertiveness into them. Hiding them away would no doubt cause a child to withdraw, become detached from the outside world and even provoke the onset of serious behavioural problems.
How many times have you walked along the street in a developing country only to be mobbed by kids who seem to be genuinely interested in you? I think most kids love to have contact with others and maybe short term visits do have a positive side to them, alleviating the problems of emotional ties and broken hearts.
I know kids are vulnerable and need to be protected from the human dross that would seek to do them harm, however, by wrapping them up in cotton wool, I feel that we are doing them no favours. Just take a look at the namby pamby youth of today who have grown up in the so called 'modern society' we have in the UK.
Maybe something like a walk in 'workshop' would be a good idea? A place where the kids can play and go about their daily routines while adults can come in and spend an hour or so with them in a supervised environment. Like you, I just hope that there is an answer out there somewhere.
I know this is an evocative and controversial issue and as you so correctly pointed out, some people should keep their opinions to themselves, especially when the advice is religiously motivated or inspired. Anyway, keep up the good work and I wish you both all the best with your teaching and volunteering in Cambodia! 😊
[Edited: 2011 Oct 27 05:51 - Cockle:46288 ]