18 Responses

  1. Sebastian
    Sebastian October 1, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    One problem is also that voluntourism companies have close connections to review and advertising platforms which make it hard to find a good program based on reviews.

    We have written a series with absolutely new findings and industry insights about this problem. You can follow us on our Facebook page for more updates on voluntourism.

  2. Philippe
    Philippe May 30, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    Thank you Ashlee for your article, i m in Siem Reap right now and was planning to visit the Tonle Sap with my family tomorrow. I was doing my research and thanks to you i know what i have to do and what i have to avoid.

    Kindly, Philippe

  3. Ron Hawkins
    Ron Hawkins May 25, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    Hi Ashlee – Very good article. I was caught in this orphanage tourism con/scam, it is a major issue in Cambodia. We have to look at what the Khmer Rouge period did to this people and the societal loss of parenting skills, the abject failure of the UN in the eighties and nineties in dealing with rebuilding Cambodia and basically handing the nation over to a gangster and his cronies. In receiving aid the Cambodian Government is held to very little accountability from the large NGOs or the wealthy nations that give money. The orphan industry is not only a Khmer issue but one of Westerners who establish orphanages for nefarious reasons, or just because they are looking for a place in the world themselves.

    I have actually just published an ebook on my experiences in Cambodia, I spent a year there and I was taken to school and received an education.

    I would implore all tourists to refuse to go to these places, children are not for performance or dollies to be played with. We do it with the best of intentions but the issue is that we are supporting a system that is essentially slavery, that is enforced institutionalization (even the so-called good Western run ones), that is not supportive of Khmers learning ongoing parenting skills that are handed down through generations. I’m starting to get angry again at myself and at Cambodia, so I will finish.

    Please all, do not support orphan tourism in any part of the world.


    1. Helen McLean
      Helen McLean October 31, 2015 at 12:23 pm

      Hi Ron,
      4 years ago i visited Siem Reap as a tourist.I was asked on the street if I could donate a bag of rice to an orphanage.. I visited the Heart and Love Center,At the time 25 children lived full time with a christian Pastor and his family.. The conditions were terrible!! Now I sponsor this center,,,I live in Cambodia for 6 months every year,have rented a house for staff and 43 children..They go to school. learn English,have access to medical and dental. I pay the rent, food, electricty, wages and anything else that I consider necessary. I have fund raised and purchased a new motor bike and tuk tuk….I have a few people who help me and many people who have visited the center and helped us ….Every cent of a donation goes to improving the lives of staff (all live at the center with their own children) and the children I pay all my own expenses….I will be in Siem Reap from november 27th…
      Helen McLean,,,proud to be sponsor of the Heart and Live Center

      1. dave
        dave December 16, 2016 at 3:54 am

        Are you going to be there January 2017?

  4. Fiona
    Fiona May 19, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Hi Ashlee,

    I am a Master’s student at Lund University studying International Development and Management. I’m toying with some ideas for my thesis and was hoping you (or anyone else) could help give some input on the feasibility or carrying out the research in Cambodia. Ideas: (1) Perceptions of voluntourists from children at orphanages, (2) How orphan tourism hinders the protection of children, or (3) The prevalence and expansion of orphanages in a given area (using GIS mapping).

    Thanks so much for a great post and any assistance or advice you may have!

  5. Sabina
    Sabina May 3, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    “Second, tourists should stop signing up for this stuff and do their research. Traveller education is key. Supporting orphanages and organisations that work to help children can be a very positive thing, but not when the children themselves are used as a prop.”

    With regards to the above quote, *where* can tourists find this information? What do you recommend for tourists be better prepared when they’re out there, with no access to information, and a tour operator takes them to one of these places? I don’t see how you could have avoided it in your case?

    1. Nikki
      Nikki May 6, 2013 at 12:16 am

      ConCERT Cambodia is a great source of information, both online and in person, for information about what to do and how to respond to the issues of poverty in Cambodia.

      There is a main office and a drop-in centre at the Sister Srey Cafe on the riverside near the Old Market in Siem Reap.

  6. Jeff Mowatt
    Jeff Mowatt May 1, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    If it’s obvious that children are being used for profit then there’s an obvious question to ask. Why do charities help sustain the orphanage culture when there are so many indicators to suggest that a loving family home is a better outcome.

    Instead of helping the unscrupulous who exploit children, why not use business to fund the placement of all children in family homes. That at least was what was suggested 6 years ago, but we were treading where nobody wanted to go.

  7. Maria
    Maria May 1, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    It’s also important to ask who gets the money from these tours? I was on a similar tour and paid around 20 dollars per person. Our guide told us a rich businessman owned the tour boats and the community didn’t really benefit from these tour fees.

  8. Pacific Watcher
    Pacific Watcher May 1, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Excellent piece highlighting a number of concerns regarding the charity tourism industry. Voluntourism is an increasing problem, and most people are unaware of the negative impacts.

    I’ve seen some youth-focused sites discussing the issue – I particularly like this series.

    Perhaps a good message is that charity is for life, not just a holiday. Like all commitments, it needs to be done consciously and over the long term if it is to have an impact – not just a stop-off on an organised tour.

  9. Daniela
    Daniela May 1, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Thanks for posting this. Orphanages.no has a lot of material about this issue, should anyone want to learn more about the problem of orphanage tourism in Cambodia (and many other parts of the world as well, unfortunately!).

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