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Voluntourism may be doing more harm than good for children living in orphanages in Phnom Penh [Al Jazeera]
People & Power

Orphanage volunteering: The Do’s and Don’ts

Some basic guidelines for those interested in volunteering in orphanages in Cambodia.

An estimated one-third of Cambodian children live below the poverty line, and few would doubt that help is much needed. Below are some guidelines for potential volunteers to consider:

  • Volunteer at a childcare facility in your own community before considering the option of participating in an orphanage voluntourism experience.
  • Go to any orphanage that actively solicits tourists.
  • Your research. Ask local educators and NGOs about reputable organisations that are helping orphaned Cambodian children. Look for one that is legally registered and employs an active family reunification programme.
  • Work with the children directly. Instead, assist the permanent staff; this keeps the locals in charge and minimises attachment issues.
  • Select programmes that require a thorough background check on you, including fingerprinting, in order to participate and have a long-standing track record of working in a given community. Ask the organisation if they have a child protection policy in place and a system for reporting suspected abuse.
  • Hand over large volunteer placement fees (which can top $1,000) without ensuring that a portion is passed directly to the organisation.
  • Sign on for a long-term project. Choose a placement where you are supervised and working within a long-term curriculum. Consider helping community-based programmes, which support families and enable the children to live at home.
  • Volunteer at any organisation that does not ask for a CV, references and police reports in advance. The more that is demanded, the greater chance that the children are being protected.
  • Bring special skills. Medical specialists, teachers and human rights educators are often needed. Ask to speak to a volunteer who came before you.
  • Select programmes that will put you in a position of playing a direct role, as opposed to a staff-supporting role, in working with children.
  • Donate goods in kind. Ask the organisation, rather than a tuk tuk or taxi driver, about their needs. A common scam involves exorbitant charges for rice on the advice of a profiteering driver.
  • Volunteer in an orphanage without having made arrangements to do so prior to departure from your home destination. ‘Spur-of-the-moment’, in-destination, orphanage voluntourism should be strictly avoided.

For more information on volunteering:

Anti-Human Trafficking and Exploitation Organisation (SISHA) – A not-for-profit organisation that aims to ensure justice for children, women and men who have been subjected to trafficking and exploitation in Southeast Asia.

ICC-Project Sky – A Phnom Penh-based project that seeks the safe reintegration and social inclusion of young adult orphans into communities in Cambodia.

International Organisation for Adolescents (IOFA) – Focuses on empowering orphaned youth and building effective response systems for child trafficking victims.

ChildSafe Travellers Tips – A list of seven better ways to help protect children around the world, who are at great risk of being abused.

Child Safe International – A proactive child protection network involving key members of society, protecting children from all forms of abuse and preventing child exploitation and trafficking.

Cambodian Children’s Fund – Provides life-changing education, nourishment and healing to vulnerable children from some of Cambodia’s most destitute communities.

Friends International – Provides information on a wide range of myths and realities about orphanages in Cambodia in the hope of educating visitors and travellers.

UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – One of the UN agencies mandated to make Cambodia a country fit for children.

Good Intentions are not enough – Provides donors with the knowledge and tools they need to make informed funding decision, such as the type of charities and projects.

International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) – A company that boasts 4,000 international volunteers each year who are sent to assist developing countries in a variety of jobs and for various periods of time.

STAR Kampuchea – Aims to promote democracy, poverty reduction, the respect for human rights and civil society, on the basis of the rule of law in Cambodia.