Does Volunteering Really Support NGO’s?

Does Volunteering Really Support NGO’s?

VOLUNTEER TOURISM, otherwise known as voluntourism and a form of charity tourism has exploded in popularity. 

While it’s nice to be able to give back to those we deem less fortunate (it is a “feel good” activity, after all), we should also take a step back and ask if you’re doing more harm than good.  We should start with asking ourselves if the organisation you’re “working” for is ethical or trustworthy and how visiting or volunteering actually supports / helps the work they do.

The ways volunteers get involved tend not to address the causes of suffering. Unfortunately, the design of many volunteering programmes leads to superficial engagement. This makes it hard for us to think about – or do anything about – the structural issues that create humanitarian crises in the first place.  These issues can range and include the history, social, political and economic conditions that frame people’s lives.

Voluntourism is at risk of becoming a business, exploited by illegitimate organisations which claim to be humanitarian groups.  In some places in Asia, voluntourism is fuelling the orphanage crisis. For example, in Cambodia, little children holding placards reading, “Support our orphans” at favourite tourist haunts are a common sight.

Using wide, innocent eyes and heartwrenching tales of abandonment, these children are capable of luring unsuspecting travelers into making a donation or volunteering at their orphanage.

“Those ‘orphans’ might have been bought from impoverished parents, coerced from loving families or simply rented for the night. An official study found just a quarter of children in these so-called orphanages have actually lost both parents,” The Guardian reported.

“And these private ventures are proliferating fast: the numbers increased by 65 percent in just three years.”

Last year, The Guardian highlighted Sinet Chan, one of the many children who was used and abused at a rundown Cambodian orphanage. At nine years old, she was made to sing and dance for tourists who are armed with cameras and the best intentions. But the reality is she was being starved, having to hunt for mice to eat for survival.

Worst of all, the orphanage’s director beat and raped her repeatedly over the course of several years. She was also forced to work in his rice paddies and farms without pay, and her belongings (donated clothes and toys) would be sold at the market.

“He dressed us up looking poor, so the visitors see us, they feel pity for us, and they donate more. But they don’t really know what was going on inside the orphanage.”

Obviously, this is an extreme example but voluntourism is something that I think about a lot, particularly following some of the trips that I have done recently, such as Borneo and Cambodia.  I ask myself, why do I want to give my time and resources? What is my true motivation? And, how will visiting / volunteering actually help?  I want to make sure that travelling to these destinations is done for the right reasons and with the right organisations.  I also consider, what I plan to commit to long term.

For me, just visiting and volunteering for a few weeks is a selfish act.  It fulfils my internal desire to ‘help’, but how much of an impact does it make for them?  I only visit / volunteer with projects that I plan to have a long-term relationship with.  I try to make sure I share what I learn, with the hope that I bring more awareness to the projects  which will result in further financial support.

Websites such as www.ethicalvolunteering.org can help volunteers to critically examine schemes. It allows us to check what training we’ll receive, whether local people are involved in running the project, what proportion of their fees go to the communities they are helping and whether the project delivers lasting and sustainable benefits.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll also know that I’ve partnered with B1G1, and it is usually their Study Tours that I participate in



I love travelling and try to go 'off the beaten track' as much as possible. I've travelled through out 50+ countries and cannot wait to reach my next target of visiting a total of 100 countries around the world.

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