volunteer in an orphange? not with responsibletravel.com

volunteer in an orphange? not with responsibletravel.com

Many of you will know that we at people and places have some concerns for some time about the integrity of  many volunteer programmes in orphanages – we have been campaigning for some time through the better child protection and better volunteering pages on FaceBook as well as here on this blog – we tweet about it a lot too!.

So we are thrilled to share the news with you that responsibletravel.com has exercised real leadership and removed ALL volunteer trips to orphanages from its site until they have worked with industry leaders to develop best practice guidelines and criteria for the child-focused volunteer trips they offer.We look forward to working with them on those criteria.

BRAVO responsibletravel.com

here is the statement on their blog

please do promote it.

” responsibletravel.com have been finding the issue of voluntourism trips to orphanages around the world of increasing concern.

After a lot of thought, research and consultation we have taken the difficult decision to temporarily remove all volunteering trips to orphanages from responsibletravel.com. This is a total of ten trips from 6 operators. We will not be taking on any new ones for the time being.

The removal of trips is a temporary measure, whilst, over the coming weeks we work with industry leaders to develop best practice guidelines and criteria for the child-focussed volunteer trips we offer via responsibletravel.com.

We want to ensure we only market volunteer trips that we have 100% trust in and that, as a community of responsible operators, we are leading the way and raising standards around best practice in this industry. We hope that by being independently created, the new criteria will help sustain the exemplary operators while removing those that may potentially tarnish the sector.

You can read more about our specific concerns below and would welcome your feedback and comments.

Fingers crossed we can create some real positive change and help raise the standards of volunteer trips with children.

Co-founder, responsibletravel.com

The issues

1.  There is an overwhelming amount of evidence regarding the detrimental impacts of residential care on the physical and emotional well being of children (UNICEF)

2.  The UN Convention of Rights of Children states that the family must be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can assume its responsibilities (of caring for children).   Supporting families in this way is really what we should be working on.

3.  Residential care should be the last resort.  Too often it becomes the first solution for donors who are unaware of the alternatives (such as kinship care and extended family care systems in Cambodia, UNICEF)

4.  Inadvertently, well intentioned volunteers are fuelling the demand for orphans.   In Cambodia 74% of children in orphanages are not orphans.   Almost all orphanages are funded by overseas donors, many of whom turn to volunteer tourism and train children to perform and attract donors (http://orphanages.no/).   Watch the Al Jazeera documentary on ‘fake’ orphans here

Volunteers are creating a surge in residential care homes, including orphanages, because parents are tempted to give up their children in response to the western ideal of education and upbringing.    For example, with a population of less than 100,000, the town of Siem Reap, gateway to the famous ruins of Angkor Wat has 35 orphanages.  Watch a documentary on this here. One even parades children late at night behind placards reading ‘Support Our Orphans’ as visitors drink and dine.

5.   This UN report from West Africa identifies the need to protect children from ‘Orphan Dealers.’   A January 2009 study by the Social Welfare Department – responsible for children’s welfare and supervising orphanages – showed that up to 90 percent of the estimated 4,500 children in orphanages in Ghana are not orphans and 140 of the 148 orphanages around the country are un-licensed

6.  Research from South Africa (AIDS orphan tourism: A threat to young children in residential care’)  reveals the negative impacts of volunteers on the children…

Institutionalised children will tend to manifest indiscriminate affection towards volunteers. After a few days or weeks, this attachment is broken when the volunteer leaves and a new attachment forms when the next volunteer arrives. Although there is little empirical evidence on children’s reactions to very short-term, repeat attachments over time, evidence from the study of children in temporary or unstable foster care indicates that repeated disruptions in attachment are extremely disturbing for children, especially very young children’.  

7.  Very few tourists are qualified to interact with traumatised or vulnerable children.   Most volunteers do not have these skills or the training required.  We would not allow them to interact with young children in the UK.

8.   UNICEF is concerned about the emotional loss that the children may feel from exposure to a revolving door of short termvolunteers. Donor educator Saundra Schimmelpfennig writes about the trend of “hug-an-orphan vacations” on her blog Good Intentions are not Enough.  She says that that although volunteers feel that interacting with orphans is a great way to give back, it can have harmful effects.  “While at the orphanage most volunteers seek to build emotional bonds with the children so they can feel they made a difference. Though well intended, this leads to a never-ending round of abandonment,” says Saundra.

9.   This report from the BBC about Bali found that ‘As tourism has boomed in Bali, it has had a strange side-effect, doubling the number of orphanages on the island in 20 years. Tourists’ donations keep the orphanages going – but some are effectively rackets, exploiting children and holidaymakers alike’

10.  Volunteers are under unintentionally crowding local people out of their jobs.    This Human Sciences Research Council report concluded that … there is a real danger of voluntourists crowding out local workers, especially when people are prepared to pay for the privilege to volunteer.

In summary

It seems to us that very often orphanage tourism is inadvertently becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution, and we would welcome your thoughts on this.   We really feel that the effort should be going to support families to enable them to care for their children at home (the data above shows that most ‘orphans’ have at least one parent).

Share your views

Let us know your views on orphanage volunteering in the comments below, or share this page:

Further reading & viewing

The Replace Campaign 


Save The Children – Keeping Children out of Harmful Institutions

UNICEF Report from Cambodia

Watch a debate on the issues from World Travel Market Responsible Volunteering here.

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