No More Orphanages and No More Volunteers

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.

Volunteering

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:

Cambodia’s Orphan Business – Al Jazeera
Think Before Visiting – ThinkChildSafe.org

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.

"Author Jody Hanson"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.

Contact Jody by email: jh@j-hanson.com
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10 thoughts on “No More Orphanages and No More Volunteers”

  1. Great post. I think it’s important to get the word out on these volunteer programs, which for the most part are just fronts for adults to make money from exploiting children. I saw a lot of this when I traveled in Cambodia. Thanks for including links to charities that your recommend.

  2. Great article, we need more publicity like this, local expats, visitors and organizations to help close down these Orphanages and send the kids back home to their families. Most Western countries ceased running Orphanages many decades ago and a lot have apologized for the harm done. The Cambodian Government and many local organazitions like us are against Orphanages. Two Western Orphanages were closed recently, lets hope common sense prevails and we see the closure of the rest as soon as possible. I am Secretary/Founder of CHOICE Cambodia, our policy is to keep the children with their families, this often means some sort of family aid. We estimate we care for about 400 children, we have come across 3 children in 8 years whose family needed support in order to keep the family intact, we did this and those children have grown up in a happy family envirement..

  3. Hi
    I was taken to an Orphanage on my first visit to Phnom Penh 5 years ago as part of Intepid tour and purchased rice and was left with a group of fellow Travellers in a court yard with young children.
    It seemed awkward but out of ignorance I thought we were somehow helping.

    I now cringe when I think back at my own ignorance & actions.
    We were fortunate enough to meet Ross Wright from CHOICE who educated and demonstrated best practices in really making a positive difference to those in need.

    Education is the best option.

  4. This is a great article here.
    We have been working on these subjects for Years. A very dangerous work, as some of these Criminal orphanages are real mafia networks with Millions turned over every Year. Please visit our site for more information about the country and how the worst scams are operated an what their tricks are.
    We hope the Jodie will allow us to link this article to our page. Please contact us , Jodie.
    http://www.apache-group.org
    mail: info@apache-group.org
    Greetings to all the fighters for he truth
    Sitting Bull
    apache-group coordianator and admin.

  5. Greetings. Thanks for the comments. Perhaps things will start to change as more people are getting involved in educating people about orphanages. If anyone wants to post the link of their site or blog, please feel free.

    Best,
    Jody

    1. Thanks Jody,
      we will link this in a few days. Anyone interested being our field agent in Cambodia wile on holiday? Please contact us info@apache-goup.org for more information. We are happy for any kind of information, may it be positive or negative, about NGOs and NPOs in Cambodia. Jody is right. This cannot continue like it is now. The damage to the future society in Cambodia will be immense.

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