How to Responsibly Work with Orphanages

At the Adventure Travel World Summit last week I met Andy Woods-Ballard from GVI and he believes GVI has developed a sustainable model through which it sends volunteers to orphanages without any harmful effects felt by the community. I welcome this kind of post as I think its something we can all learn from and hopefully take to heart and incorporate into our daily activities.

They also have fabulous examples of video from the host communities – I’ve been calling for this type of media, if you don’t have any you really need some now to prove to your future customers how effective your in country work is.

So where is your video? And what do you think of the guidelines for orphanage work below?

Much of running a successful programme is experience in the particular areas you are working in. If you and the partners are working with the goal of helping the children rather than making money it would quickly become apparent if the situation were being abused. Importantly I think its worth recognising that sometimes the term is used in a slightly different way in that there will be children who have one or two parents alive attending orphanages/schools/drop in centres and the definition is not as cut and dried as it is in the UK.

There is a huge list of things that can be done to ensure this type of program is not exploitative or exploited a few comments from our team in Cape Town on what they have felt most important. They work in an orphanage that has taken in children from around the township who are in need. Some are disabled and outcast from their families, others may be orphans or neglected.

1. Ideally you should try and ensure that any orphanage where you send volunteers is linked to a social worker and that all children that are placed their have come via the correct system and that the establishment is regularly monitored and checked by social services.
2. If you are running safe houses or education programs for street children it is very important to have a strong link and regular input from a respected community leader who understands the inner workings and dynamics of the community.
3. It is very important to have longer term staff to act as mediators between the community and volunteers and to provide continuity and consistency.
4. It is extremely important for children to only be allowed to eat on the premises and not be allowed to take any food away with them. In addition it is very very important that volunteers do not hand out any gifts or money directly to children at any time and any resources which are provided need to remain on the premises. For this reason it is imperative that volunteers are supervised and managed as they would more often than not make these common mistakes meaning well with out realising the consequences.
5. We have also looked into ways of encouraging support to parents and other adult members of the community by getting them involved at the centre’s in exchange for food, never money as more often than not this would go to drugs or alcohol. So for example if they came and worked in the vegetable garden for a day they would get a box of groceries which would last a family for a week. Thereby offering them the opportunity to get food for themselves without exploiting children in anyway. However this does need to be very carefully monitored by a strong community leader as you have got to be very careful from a security point of view who you allow onto the premises and how things are managed.
6. It is also imperative that all volunteers are background checked, e.g. our volunteers obtain a CRB check (Criminal Record’s Bureau) in the UK or national equivalents if from outside the UK.
7. For programmes with the older children, education forms a vital part of the work we do.

New Concept for Voluntourism –! Check them out.

This is a great new idea that I love and wanted to share! We could definitely learn from this example and add similar programs to our projects! Check them out at

Non-profit organization Investours is offering a completely new way to give back while you travel! Founded in 2008, Investours is pioneering a new concept called “microfinance tourism,” and currently running tours in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  Investours offers travelers a chance to get off the beaten path and interact with local people while directly contributing to poverty alleviation in the community they visit.

During a tour, travelers meet several local entrepreneurs – people who are seeking loans to start up small business projects like woodcarving, fishing, dressmaking, food stands, make-up sales and piñata making. The tour participants engage with the entrepreneurs about their businesses, their lives and why they need a loan. Over a traditionally prepared meal at the end of the tour, the group decides on one of the entrepreneurs to receive an interest-free loan funded by the group’s tour fees. This loan, along with ongoing financial education provided by Investours’ microfinance partners, helps to improve the lives of local business owners and their families.

This past week, Investours visited several entrepreneurs in the small town of Bucerias outside of Puerto Vallarta and chose restaurant owner Mari Chui to receive the interest-free loan (photo attached). Mari runs a restaurant out of her home in order to supplement her husband’s construction salary and support her children. With the loan, she plans to improve the look of her restaurant by adding a cement floor and painting the outside. Her dream is to one day open a rooftop restaurant so that guests can enjoy her spectacular view of all of Bucerias and the sea.

Tourists have been raving about the Investours experience on blogs, publications, and travel sites. Check out Trip Advisor Dar es Salaam and Trip Advisor Puerto Vallarta pages for some great quotes from tour alumni. For more information about the Investours model and to sign up for a tour, visit or e-mail

Snapshot of Survey Results on Voluntourism

Just got back from the Adventure Travel World Summit in Chiapas – which by the way you all really should attend – and wanted to report back a little on the happenings. Planeterra and South Africa Tourism sponsored a session on Voluntourism to help with the TIES Guidelines research, below are a couple results from the survey pushed out before the conference to a wide database of both volunteer and adventure companies. Over 200 companies responded so I thought I’d share a snapshot of the results – the full report will come later.

Most horrifying for me is the amount of travelers that want  to go to orphanages, seriously people if this isn’t going to stop we need to find a responsible way  to do this. Any suggestions?

What is THE most popular activity you feel travelers would like to do?
Paint or Build 26%
Orphanage 20%
Nature/Wildlife Conservation 18% (ish)
Schools 15%

This is a mine field for discussion so I’m super excited. The fact that so many people think traveler’s want to go to orphanages (not surprising) but we know that is a hotly contested topic – so what is an adventure company to do? I think we could explore this a lot!

Do you feel that adding voluntourism makes your itinerary more marketable/sellable?
Yes 46%
Not Sure 42%
No 12%

The fact that 42% said they aren’t sure if voluntourism makes them more marketable is a great topic to chat about, and the 12% that said No – is that because they don’t believe in voluntourism or they’ve had experience with travelers not responding to this as an incentive to travel with them.

Are Best Practices/Guidelines for Voluntourism Realistic?

Yes 36%
No 34%
Not Sure 30%

Cambodia Launches Anti-Voluntourism Campaign

“Anti-Voluntourism campaign?”, “Taking Aim at Voluntourism?” If you are still offering projects/tours that include orphanages you need to read this because your clients are. If you have a guaranteed responsible way to work in orphanages then please share it in the comments so we can all learn, if you aren’t 100% sure and have a nagging feeling then PLEASE STOP – you’re killing our industry (and hurting kids).

Read the full story here – credit to Phnom Penh Post.

Campaigners are hoping a new social-media campaign launched yesterday will shock tourists into rethinking what are ultimately harmful engagements with orphanages in Cambodia.

The brainchild of Friends International and Childsafe, the anti -“voluntourism”campaign, supported by Unicef, features the tagline “children are not tourist destinations”.

“There has been a 65 percent increase in orphanages in Cambodia since 1995,” said Friends International communications director James Sutherland. “This is the 21st Century; the situation should be getting better, not worse. Tourists are perpetuating that system.”

The campaign uses the image of two children trapped in a glass exhibit box, peering out at Western tourists who are aiming digital cameras at them, an attempt to highlight the number of children who are forced to perform, advertise, beg and work to bring in funding for their orphanage directors.

“Orphanages are not zoos, and tourists should not be allowed to move through their home” the Friends International promotional material states.

“We know this is going to be contentious, and we invite debate,” Sutherland said.

About 97 percent of children in orphanages in Cambodia are not orphans, according to Friends, which said it was eight times more expensive to house a child in an orphanage than it is to house them with their families at home.

“As almost all residential care centres are funded by individuals from overseas, many centres turn to tourism to attract more donors, fuelling a system that exposes children to risk,” Unicef representative Richard Bridle said.

“Orphanages fundraise by offering tours to foreigners, in which children are required to perform dancing or to solicit donations. There is no legal requirement for orphanages to account for funds raised in this way.”

Friends’ executive director, Sebastien Marot, said the campaign is being launched on social media to combat the online recruit of volunteers and to get the message more efficiently to young people.
“The campaign aims to bring about a behavioural change in young people visiting Cambodia,” Marot said.

“You aren’t allowed to go anywhere and hug a child in your own country, why should you be able to do it here?”

The campaign is being done in cooperation with the Royal government, which in 2008 passed minimum standards of care for children in orphanages, and in 2010, a draft prakas on child care.

“Orphanages are not required to be registered; there are not standards of practices across the orphanages,” Marot said, adding that some orphanages are not registered with the government.

Voluntourism to be Highlighted at Adventure Travel World Summit

The Adventure Travel World Summit is coming up next week in Chiapas and this year Planeterra has sponsored a Voluntourism session. Read more here:

Do you have any questions/issues you want me to bring up to this group of adventure operators? There is a lot of room to partner with the adventure industry and the adventure folks are more and more pushing into voluntourism – let me know what I should bring up!