Volunteer + Tourism = Voluntourism
Cathy and Mike were excited about their holiday in Asia. As well as cheap everything, they had booked a tour of a children’s home where they would volunteer for a day. They liked the idea of giving something to the country that they were visiting. They knew it was a pretty poor place.
They had a great time at their day at the children’s home. The kids gave them a wonderful welcome, with bright coloured flowers and enthusiastic singing and dancing. Some of it was even in English. They played games with the children and helped to serve lunch. The director told them stories about the kind of conditions that the children came from. They took the opportunity to sign up for a regular donation as they left.
A few days later, on their cycling tour, Cathy was sure that she saw one of the kids from the home helping her mum slice and dry bananas. Mike read a fact sheet about child sex trafficking in the hotel room. They felt increasingly uncomfortable about their trip to the children’s home.
The place that Cathy and Mike visited may have been ok, but there are an increasing number that are not. UNICEF estimates that between 2010 there was a 75 percent increase in the number of residential care facilities in Cambodia, doubling the number of children in this type of facility. While the idea of visiting a children’s home sounds good, at best it teaches children that attachments are short term. At the worst, children’s homes can facilitate the trafficking (generally for sex) of the children that they are supposed to be caring for. Most often funds help the operators of the home more than they do the children. Children are sometimes brought in from the community for the days that tourists visit to make the home look fuller than it really is.
In countries such as Cambodia, Timor Leste, Uganda, Nepal, India and Myanmar, a significant proportion of the country’s child welfare and child protection services are privately funded by overseas donors. Often children’s services in these parts of the world are poorly regulated and government corruption is significant so there is ample opportunity for unscrupulous operators to line their own pockets at the expense of poor children.
Global Mission Partners does not facilitate voluntourism and is working hard to ensure that the needs of children are prioritised above those of any visitors. Partner Visit teams are briefed about voluntourism and appropriate ways to interact with children. GMP has long-standing relationships with a number of children’s facilities: Khayelihle Childrens Village (KCV) in Zimbabwe, Rwangchary and Bandarban Hostels in Bangladesh, and Hosanna, Baramati and Shrigonda homes in India. We have worked with each of these to develop appropriate child protection policies. We are currently working with KCV, shifting the focus to reconnecting children with relatives and supporting those families.
We have also published a fact sheet which you can access here: