A month or so back, a friend of mine posted an article about Orphanage Tourism. In my mind I thought, what? Something like this really exists? But after looking into it more, I found that people looking to do good can easily be influenced in taking part in something so ridiculous.

Foreign arrivals in Cambodia have increased by 250% since 2005. In the same time, the number of orphanages have increased by 75%. To put this in perspective, the number of orphanages jumped from 153 to 269, with only 21 of those orphanages run by the state; the rest owned privately. The strangest thing about all these stats is that only 28% of the orphans living in these orphanages have lost both parents, the rest have at least one living parent.

So then what, if not the lack of parents, is causing an increase in these orphanages? It is the promise of a better future. This promise however, is often falsified.

It is not only important, but better for children to remain in family settings. It has also been shown that it is cheaper for children to live in a family setting rather than in an orphanage. A dollar given to the family rather than an orphanage helps out an entire community as it puts money into the community as a whole, through that family, rather than an institution. Children that live in orphanages and then leave them as young adults often face exploitation, homelessness, lost family connections and drug abuse.

With all these problems surfacing, one has to wonder why "orphanage tourism" is on a rise? The feeling of bringing change into another's life is a genuine intention of those who want to improve the lives of others. That's why tourist who want to give back while on their vacation feel as if donating their time and money to an orphanage is the best way to achieve that goal. The relationships they build with the kids and the money they invest into the orphanage is seen as giving back. But again, it is doing more damage than good. Constant severing and rebuilding of short-term relationships between these volunteers and children can be a cause of emotional loss within orphans.

So what can be done to avoid becoming part of orphanage tourism and actually help make a difference in the lives of these impoverished youth? "Good Intentions are not enough" is a blog and consultation service for those trying to provide impactful aid. For those who want more independence on their quest to bring change should do more research on where they decide to spend their time and money trying to help their children. Avoiding orphanages that openly solicit tourists to come in, working with orphanage staff instead of the children and avoiding volunteer organizations that don't ask for a resume are some of the many ways to ensure that your actions are producing the intended outcome.

It is easy to become prey to those who marginalize the poor for their own gains. Along with having a good intention, keeping a clear and informed head can help bring the change that is most necessary in these type of situations, potentially eradicating the system created by those out there for their selfish gains.
7/15/2013 10:52:18

An issue close to my heart.
Also, the issue of orphanage tourism extends to impacts on the children who at first, trust the foreigners and allow them to love on them and reciprocate - but when they leave and do not return, the emotional psyche of the children is harmed, and reactive attachment disorder and other such emotionally stunting disorders are created. So, although one might think that providing these children with love for even just a few weeks would be beneficial, it is actually more harmful in the long run, as it creates disabilities in the children in regards to learning how to properly interact with people and build relationships.
Another issue with orphanages is the lax restrictions in some countries for international adoption, and the overwhelming response of Western potential parents who want the perfect little baby. This results in an orphan economy, where parents are pressured into giving up their children or denied access to their children after needing to surrender them during a difficult time, in favour of allowing internationals to adopt them. This is because of the monetary factor - people are getting into the orphan care business not to provide loving homes for children that need them, but to make a profit and become rich! Thanks for writing about this important topic, Zain!

7/16/2013 00:22:31

Thanks for the great points Katiana. I was not aware that this is something that you felt so strongly about. I'm glad I was able to make a post about it. It is truly sad to see that the parents of these kids are forced to let go of them thinking that they're doing it for a brighter future when in fact its for something completely opposite. If we can educate these parents better on the importance of maintaining family ties and not letting poverty over whelm their situation, perhaps we can influence a decrease in these fake orphanages.

7/15/2013 12:45:21

As well as the promise for a better future as incentive for allowing their children to go to the orphanage, I've actually heard of places that will pay the families to keep the children at the orphanage so that they can be used for orphanage tourism. It's disgusting that something so well meaning can be twisted for profit.

7/16/2013 00:24:00

On top of that, the orphanages sometimes force and threaten the family so that they can keep the children. Profiting off innocent souls and forever ruining their ties with their family members is animalistic!

7/15/2013 16:00:46

Great post Zain. It goes to show that you really have to do you research into an issue, and fully understand it, before taking a stance on that issue.

7/16/2013 00:25:33

Definitely. It is very easy to get caught up in doing something good for the people, not realizing that you're filling the pockets of people trying to capitalize off a poor situation. Where ever there's money, rest assured, there will be somebody trying to hoard and make money off the situation, no matter what the cause is truly for.

7/22/2013 04:01:03

I agree with you on how wrong this is and how there are much better ways to go about those good intentions that tourists have. But on the topic of the orphanages, I would argue against keeping the children out of these orphanages. Cambodia is another one of those underdeveloped nations that struggles with its poor, if a family cannot afford to keep said children in their home, it is better for them to be in an orphanage rather than the other options. Like many underdeveloped nations, children from poor families(or one parents households) are very often mislead into being prostitution, being child soldiers or sweat shop workers. And considering those as the alternatives, one would really have to think about which is the lesser of two evils.

8/29/2013 11:07:03

Zain, great piece! I did visit Cambodia with a few friends last year, and I didn't feel too good about the trip. With the amount of homeless kids that approach you on the streets of Siem Reap, it's hard for any westerner to have fun. It did get me interested in thinking about things before applying to volunteer...

I read up on this so called 'voluntourism' idea a few months back. There is a good and a bad to the whole thing. I'll just spew out a few thoughts i had floating in my head.

1. Since it is highly profitable to run a private orphanage with these volunteer programs. A huge increase in orphanages has translated into an increased risk of sexual abuse against the children, by the so called volunteers. The orphanages not conducting background checks, are a haven for sex tourists.

2. Let's break it down financially. If a european or a westerner feels the need to make an impact through a building project for instance.... the cost of buying a flight ticket to a country such as Cambodia and the opportunity cost of taking time off work is going to be a big figure. The same large figure can be donated to a (trusted) organization that can get local (not foreign) workers to partcipate in the building project. This is cheaper labour, and does promote local job creation. Far more workers can be funded, and this is very helpful to the households in the region. Indirectly, this does reduce the amount of orphans. It's more viable to simply donate, and not bother volunteering yourself. Participating in microfinancing programs (ie. Kiva) can do far more than volunteering, as it does promote infrastructure growth, and it isnt a temporary aid solution.

3. Although 1, and 2 are anti-voluntourism, I still feel that people can benefit from volunteering themselves once as it is an eye-opening experience that can create a change in their life that could instigate a greater output from them for the rest of their lives. They just have to approach it correctly. Looking for an establishment that is far out of reach, and doesnt seem to be spending alot of money on its marketing to lure in tourists tend to be good options. I worked with Whispering Seed in Thailand, and the cool thing about them is that they arent a private organization. It's actually more of a family than an orphanage. The owner adopted the children as his own, and it felt like a family instead of a childrens home. Orphanages that accept volunteers without a mandatory donation are also better choices, as they are looking for help more than they are looking for money. Also, although point #2 states that it's wiser to use local labour for building projects, overseas talent can be extremely beneficial for certain projects. I did volunteer with an overseas architect volunteer who was able to contribute far more to the building structure, than a local would have. In this case, it can be beneficial. Lastly, i'll just mention that long term volunteering internships are better than short term internships as this will result in a greater impact for the region, than would a short term tourist stint. Also wanted to mention this: Just as the orphanage must background check an individual and review their resume,,, they must do the exact same for the orphanage itself before making any decisions.

Great post Zain. Thank you!


This article reminded me to continue to explore and continue to seek information and new things.
But I do not understand the substance of the positive thinking for yourself what kind and how which make up our minds become positf. Perhaps in another article could be little to explain the meaning of positive thoughts.


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    As an avid listener of instincts and humanity, I strive to do things that put me out of my comfort zone. Cherishing the growth that comes along with this habit and all the beauty that life has to offer, I'd like to share my experiences with you. 

    All posts and opinions expressed are mine and completely independent of the University of Waterloo and the International Development program.


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