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Join the fight to stop orphanage tourism


The effort to promote responsible volunteering over harmful 'voluntourism'. 

What is harmful volunteering?

VSO’s network of over 35,000 youth volunteers is joining in efforts to end orphanage tourism and other harmful ‘voluntourism’ schemes. Research shows that orphanages can be harmful when used as a long-term solution.

However, such institutions are in high demand from (usually well-meaning) backpackers seeking volunteering experiences while travelling in developing countries, who will pay thousands of pounds to have them. This has created an economic incentive to keep orphanages open, encouraging vulnerable families to place children in care, exposing them to serious harm.

Children within institutions lack stability and are often cared for by volunteers who lack the proper skills, experience and background checks to work with young children, adding further to the risk.

Woman standing outside next to a river looking out to the water Becky Mursell/ VSO

Clare's passion for responsible volunteering was kickstarted by a visit to an orphanage

Currently on a two-year voluntary placement in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, VSO’s Responsible Volunteering Specialist, Clare Hawkes, explains:

“There has been decades of research showing that children are better cared for in a family setting and growing up in institutions has all types of long-term detriments. Almost 80% of children in these long-term residential institutions aren’t orphans at all but have at least one living parent, who are often encouraged to put children into institutional care due to factors including extreme poverty,” said Clare.

“We need to address the root cause of the problem by providing support and care to the families themselves. If we can increase people’s wealth through focusing on livelihoods, we’re reducing the risk of unnecessary family separation.”

Kickstarting our campaign 

Over the next six months, VSO will focus on an external campaign raising awareness of responsible volunteering. Volunteers from the International Citizen Service programme, the UK Government-backed volunteering for development scheme that is led by VSO, will play a huge part. Thousands of participants each year deliver an ‘Action at Home’ following their voluntary placements, during which they campaign to raise awareness amongst their fellow youth of the harms of voluntary placements in orphanages.

Group of volunteers sat on steps looking and smiling at eachother

ICS volunteers like this team in Kratie, Cambodia, are encouraging young people to think about their volunteering choices and ensure they do no harm

A focus on responsible volunteering is essential to ensure volunteering opportunities are ethical, sustainable and only in the interest of the communities we work in.

VSO is proud to support the Better Volunteering, Better Care campaign to end international volunteering in residential care centres for children. VSO will join Forum in launching new Volunteering Standards at the annual Conference of International Volunteer Cooperation Organisations (IVCO), during October 2019.