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Today I’m going to talk about voluntourism, an issue tugging at my heart for a very long time now. As someone who dreams of being a backpacking orphanage volunteer, I signed up for the talk on child rights at university, keen to know more. I have vaguely heard about voluntourism before that, but that worship shed new light on this grave issue that I never knew about. Now that I know, I definitely would want to read up more on it one day, especially when it’s about an issue I deeply care about. 

Voluntourism is defined as ‘The ugly truth is unscrupulous operators capitalise on well-meaning Western guilt. Orphanage volunteering is an Aussie rite of passage that fulfils all the needs of the volunteer and none of the child.’

Basically, what ‘Western guilt’ means is that westerners/other well-to-do people often feel guilty that they are not doing anything to help the less fortunate. They sympathise with them and in order to ease themselves of that guilt, they would go to some developing nation, spend an amount of money in order to spend time with some of the kids in orphanages. They take pictures, put them on social media for everyone to see what a “kind soul” they are, and then leave.

The way I typed this out may sound very stereotypical, but this I hate the most.

And the worst part is, ‘unscrupulous operators’ refer to the bad people that are in charge of orphanages, use those orphanages to make money from tourists. The tourist attractions? KIDS.

I learnt that there are some shocking scenarios where those kids in orphanages aren’t actually orphans. About 80% of them have parents. How did they end up there goes a little like this:

  • orphans have parents, but the family is struggling financially
  • Unscrupulous operators approach the poor families and promise to give them money in exchange for their child. They also promise them that their child will have a better life.
  • The parents then believe them and sell their child away to them.
  • The unscrupulous operators use children to attract volunteers from richer nations
  • Volunteers would pay an amount of money to help and spend time with the children, give them temporal joy and love.
  • When they leave. and the children are left traumatised. Think about it. They would be confused with people crashing in and out of their lives, showering them with the affection they crave, then abruptly leaving.
  • Worse still, some of the funds donated, are pocketed by the ‘orphanages’.

So true. It definitely doesn’t apply for all orphanages, but this makes it harder to volunteer in Cambodia now without being discerning. I initially had plans to go to Cambodia last year, but they were halted due to my studies. I’m so glad I didn’t go now because I wouldn’t know what am I signing up for! I want to do something that truly benefits the kids and yet, Cambodia is actually one of the hottest breeding grounds for this kind of business.

Orphanages are now a booming money making industry in Cambodia. Attachment and abandonment issues are common, exacerbated by hoards of volunteers swooping down and in the end, they have gained more than they gave away.

What is kindness today? 😦