The very dark side of volunteer tourism

A Petition has been launched which demands that our operators and volunteer organisations both stop sending unqualified volunteers to work in orphanages. It also asks that holiday companies completely stop advertising for volunteers to work with vulnerable children.

The dark side of this kind of tourism is that such is the amount of people applying to work in orphanages that is order to gain the help they want in developing countries that children are being taken from their families and placed in these places as fake orphans. The actual number of orphans has globally fallen over the past 10 years yet there are more orphanages that ever in these developing countries to attract this type of volunteer tourism.

Children are being separated from their families and forced to live in squalid institutions that masquerade as orphanages while well-meaning but misguided tourists are then invited to volunteer as “carers” as part of a holiday experience.

Orphanages have become a tourist attraction and a ‘bucket list’ volunteering opportunity. Google finds 505,000 results for ‘volunteer orphanage aboard’ – most are marketed by holiday companies and tour operators. In the UK there are at least 30 tour operators sending volunteers to orphanages – Tourism Concern has written to them all urgently demanding that they stop sending tourists and unqualified volunteers to orphanages.

Tourism Concern’s Chief Executive Mark Watson stated “Whilst we appreciate that many well-meaning volunteers may wish to volunteer at an orphanage our view is that looking after vulnerable children should be undertaken by local, full-time, professional staff and not by short-term volunteers, no matter how skilled or qualified. 
We are calling on tour operators to end the scourge of ‘orphanage tourism’ and urging tourists not to visit orphanages, but to seek out alternative ways that they can benefit local people Further, we do not believe that at orphanages should be marketed by tour operators and consider that in most cases volunteering overseas with vulnerable children is inappropriate. ”

Luke Gracie, Alternative Care Manager at Friends International in Cambodia stated “These are highly vulnerable kids, irrespective of whether they are actually orphans, and some people see no problem visiting their place of residence, hugging them, taking photos of them, and playing with them. It is literally placing children as a tourist attraction, a commodity that is viewed and enjoyed like a temple, market, or zoo animal.”

Tourism Concern has written to all UK tour operators involved with orphanages setting out their concerns.