The Truth About Orphanage Tourism
“You went where and did what?” I hissed through clenched teeth.
“But I thought that visiting an orphanage would be doing good work,” replied Andrew, my unsuspecting friend who was visiting from Australia. He had gone along to one of the many residential places suggested by the tuk-tuk driver and taken along a bag of rice. It was a good scam as the rice cost twice what it should so the driver would have earned a good kick-back.
Next to sex tourism and the garment industry, orphanages are the biggest business in Cambodia. The problem is that most tourists just don’t get it. They see the abject poverty and want to do something to help. Or at least throw some money at it to ease their occidental guilt.
Think about it for a minute. Would you let strangers come into your house and play with your kids? So why do you think orphanages allow it? The answer is the same as it is for the sex industry – the money. At least the sex workers are honest about it; the orphanages aren’t. The worst of them are fronts for pedophilia. Rent a little boy or a girl for the day. Really? Yes. Take a look at these clips:
Volunteering in an orphanage for a couple of weeks, bonding with a few kids and then swanning off home isn’t doing them any good. Their parents dumped them there in the first place and when you leave they get to go through another stint of rejection. And so it continues as they work their way through the hoards of volunteers.
Alexandra Hammer – a switched-on 20 something Australian with dynamic spirit – is leading the charge of the “No More Orphanages” brigade.
“Most of the kids there aren’t orphans. They have parents who let them stay there in the hopes that they will get an education. Instead they are exploited to get money from the naive foreigners who think they are supporting a charity. The kids are taught that as soon as they see a white face they start chanting their ABCs. Hideous. Cheap exploitation. They are also instructed to run up and hug foreigners. It is all tear-jerking stuff that needs to be exposed for the exploitation that it is.”
“The problem is that the standard of education here is so low and there are minimal jobs when the children have to leave the orphanage because they are too old. Cambodians need to travel to work, but their education is not recognized. They are often recruited for overseas work, which turns out to be a Thai fishing boat for the men or maids in Malaysia for the women. Others end up in begging gangs or working in the sex industry. The kids from the orphanages are often too psychologically damaged to be able to get their lives together.”
“Research a credible organization that is linked to your personal interest and give them money. Three organizations I can recommend are Children in Families, Tiny Tunes, and Cambodian Children’s Trust. Another option is to support the people actually working in aid. For example, pay Cambodians to do their jobs so that they can hire more social workers. Help them help the beneficiaries. You may want to pay for a child to go to school, but who’s going to teach them when no one funds the teachers?”
So before you sign up to volunteer, do a needs assessment. What tangible skills do you have to make a meaningful contribution? It is the tourists who get the stories and the photos of the good work they did while on holidays. Meanwhile, the children practice their ABCs and wait for the next wave of volunteers they will have to entertain.
About the Author:
Jody Hanson is an insufferable travel junkie who currently lives in Cambodia. To date she has visited 107 countries, lived in eight and holds passports in three. Her – some would say irresponsible – retirement plan is to keep going until she drops. At that time she wants a Muslim burial: wash the body, wrap it in a white sheet and plant it by sundown. In the meantime, Hanson continues to have more than her share of adventures and misadventures, both of which she embraces equally.