Projects Abroad Orphanage Project Recommended by

I saw this on and was very surprised and concerned to see Projects Abroad’s orphanage volunteer program in Fiji was mentioned:

After recent prominent Al Jazeera coverage of the same organization’s irresponsible operations in Cambodia, is it OK for a trusted source like Peter Greenberg to promote this company and these sort of trips? Or do we as an industry expect too much of the media, how can they realistically keep track of every negative coverage out there?

I realize that Projects Abroad is a large international organization and that the situations for different programs in different parts of the world will be different, however it brings up an interesting debate on the value and power of the media in this space.



8 thoughts on “Projects Abroad Orphanage Project Recommended by

  1. I agree – this raises a question not only about ethical and responsible approaches to choosing or working with voluntourism organizations, but also, as noted above, “the value and power of the media” in promoting or raising awareness of these issues.

    I think that the above article from was also a missed opportunity, to critically address the question of orphanage tourism. To just mention ‘working in an orphanage’ in passing, I feel, is at best lazy, and at worst extremely damaging because it could lead to readers just accepting that orphanage tourism is indeed something to be recommended for teens (or that the organizations recommended are trust-worthy ones just because they’re mentioned by a major site). Or is that also expecting too much of the media?

  2. Call me a cynic – but do you think there is a possibility that some journalists may simply take press releases and cut and paste? It happens all over the rest of the press why not in travel journalism. I expect a lot of the press ( see I am not really a cycnic atall!”)- they are gatekeepers to information – so pressure of work and inability to check etc doesnt wash with me. How come some journos can do it and not others – and in these days of easy internet searches there is even less excuse……and ditto to Ayakos comment above

  3. Hi Alexia,

    Sorry that you weren’t able to join us on the program.

    Like many other programs that send volunteers to orphanages, Projects Abroad is always looking to improve the worthwhileness of our program for volunteers and partners alike. Clearly we disagree about how volunteering in orphanages should be done. I’m happy to have that conversation and hopefully move the field toward a consensus about best practice.

    However, it’s disappointing to see that you are veering away from that substantive issue and toward Al Jazeera’s misleading reporting on the particulars of our program in Cambodia. Their claim that our operations in Cambodia are irresponsible is unsubstantiated. You should not echo such lazy name-calling.

    Some facts bear repeating:

    1. Despite inflammatory innuendo, Al Jazeera has not made any accusations of inappropriate behavior occurring during a Projects Abroad placement.

    2. Despite inflammatory innuendo, Al Jazeera has not made any accusations of corruption at Projects Abroad, CUCO or any other partner of Projects Abroad.

    3. CUCO was at that time, and still is, a registered NGO that is legally permitted to operate an orphanage in Cambodia.

    4. Al Jazeera takes a contradictory stance by saying that Projects Abroad provides too much money to orphanages (thereby creating unwarranted supply) and yet too little money (due to greed).

    5. Al Jazeera claims that Projects Abroad’s policy in Cambodia of requiring background checks on orphanage volunteers age 30+, and references for those under 30, is insufficient. This is an opinion, not a fact, and we disagree based on the feedback from our partners and the level of on-the-ground staff that we provide.

    Tom Pastorius
    Vice President
    Projects Abroad

    • Hi Tom –

      I have heard of questionable or unethical behavior of your projects in other countries as well, and would love to hear your thoughts on these and give you a chance to refute them. For instance, in Senegal, do you pay the rent of the organizations you work and in exchange require that they don’t take any volunteers from other companies or sources? I have heard reports of such from people who have worked with your teams there saying that this is in some ways holding those organizations hostage to the will of Projects Abroad. Would love to hear your thoughts!

      And with regards to orphanage tourism, if there is anywhere in the world you should be extremely concerned about fueling more orphanage tourism, Cambodia must be one of the highest on the list. Having lived there for 6 years myself, I find it unethical to continue the practice at all, especially given the recent UNICEF report.

      – Daniela

      • Hi Daniela,

        I welcome the opportunity.

        Yes, in many countries we ask partners to stop taking volunteers from other organizations like us so long as we provide enough manpower to cover their needs. This is true whether or not we provide financial support.

        The broader context is that we want to develop a real partnership. We want to get more involved and manage a volunteer workforce for them: discuss goals and program needs, and ensure a reliable flow of people. We can’t do that if we are just another program dropping off yet another volunteer. Programs like that are indeed careless operators that give us all a bad name.

        I don’t see how this holds anyone’s will hostage – unless their will is to stuff too many volunteers into a placement.

        We do pay the rent for some partner organizations, or provide other financial support, where we think an organization serves a worthy cause and would otherwise not be able to function. The amounts are usually small, and the goal is for the partner to eventually become self-sustaining. I do think that financial support is appropriate in some cases, but to be honest it is something that we’re always working on. We deal with cases individually and I would welcome advice if other organizations have guidelines that are based on first principles but also recognize the complexity of the situation on the ground.

        Best wishes

  4. I appreciate the thoughtful response from Tom Pastorius at Projects Abroad. Media can be lazy, but it also just as likely to engage in sensationalistic stories for the benefit of ratings and buzz. Let’s give a worthy organization the benefit of the doubt!

  5. This is a great discussion to highlight the challenge we face in the information world. It’s so difficult to know what information to trust.

    My quick check of Projects Abroad shows that they are not accredited with the BBB charity list, nor do I see them on other evaluating agencies such as Charity Navigator and CharityWatch. I don’t know if a volunteer ttravel organization would be subject to a different type of review compared with other charities, but these evaluators are the best way an average person would have an idea of the ogranization is trustworthy. I know other volunteer travel organizations are listed with some of these evaluating groups.

    The organization must request for the evaluation, and I hope Projects Abroad can make that happen.

    I have posted about checking out charities before supporting them, you can view that at:

  6. Pingback: A Manayunker Abroad

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