Responsible travel operators leading change in industry approach to orphanage volunteering

StopOrphanTrips graphicEvery day from May 3rd to International Children’s Day on June 1st, a blog on the subject of orphanage volunteering has been published in a bid to raise awareness of the negative impacts of this practice and #StopOrphanTrips. So many writers have been keen to contribute that the campaign is now running on for a few days more…

Coordinated by Better Volunteering Better Care and supported by a number of responsible travel bloggers and campaigners, the blitz has been aimed at raising awareness of the harmful practice of orphanage volunteering and encouraging volunteer travel providers to removed orphanage placements from their produce offerings.

During this time, a number of travel companies contributed their voice to the conversation and gave statements on the matter:

Intrepid Travel – who also co-hosted a Responsible Tourism Twitter Chat on May 25th (#RTTC) on the topic – released the following statement:

Intrepid Travel on Orphanage Tourism

Travellers volunteer at or visit orphanages with the best of intentions, but the reality is that there are many negative consequences for the children and the communities that they are trying to support.

While we do not offer volunteer opportunities, our itineraries have included visits to residential childcare organisations that we also support through The Intrepid Foundation. We have re-evaluated the inclusion of these visits, and through the support of leading partner organizations Plan International and Friends International, have identified the following concerns:

  • Children may be exposed to abuse: Direct and unsupervised access to children, without any background checks.
  • Volunteers often don’t have a lasting positive impact: Children need permanent caregivers and teachers, who have appropriate training and skillsets.
  • Children need to develop stable, long-term reciprocal attachments – frequent visitors and high-turnover of volunteers can’t act as stable attachment figures. Children may create bonds with volunteers who leave and are replaced by new volunteers.
  • Volunteering drives the growth and expansion of orphanages, in some case families are persuaded to place children in orphanages with the belief that their children will receive a better education and care, which is not always the case.
  • Volunteers often pay high fees, which can lead some to see orphanages as a successful business venture.

That’s why Intrepid Travel no longer visit orphanages or offer any form of volunteering trips. And neither do and our sister-brands Peregrine Adventures, Geckos Adventures, The Family Adventure Company and Urban Adventures.

It’s a complicated issue and the last thing we want to do is walk away from organizations we have supported for many years, so in the short term we will continue to support a selection of child residential centres in Asia and Africa who have been carefully vetted to ensure that they provide a strong reunification programme or family-based care.

However, we believe that there are better ways for travellers to give back to the communities they visit. That can simply be through supporting locals by staying in locally-owned accommodation, eating in local restaurants, buying local goods, and taking local transport.

We also actively support a number of community based tourism projects and social enterprises, such as our new community lodge homestay in Myanmar and our new In Focus range of Urban Adventures trips.

Our message to travellers with a conscience is this: travel abroad, volunteer at home.

Travel4Change, a Dutch organization offering volunteering, internships, and group tours in Uganda, Ghana, and Burkina Faso, who previously facilitated orphanage volunteering, contacted Better Volunteering Better Care saying:

“Travel4Change has decided to send no more new volunteers to orphanages. A few years ago we already decided not to add any new orphanages to our volunteer program. With the 2 orphanages included in our program we worked closely to ensure the best possible way to engage volunteers. This with various results. We sent volunteers for longer periods of time who helped the projects with love, professionalism and energy, but unfortunately it also happened regularly that volunteers looked upon the children as “teddy bears” and selfie models. With the support of former volunteers we have now ensured that local staff has been hired and the projects no longer depend on volunteers. We will continue to follow and support the projects as after so many years the children and staff have place in our hearts. Travel4Change will focus on knowledge exchange and medical project in Uganda and Burkina Faso in the next years.”

The School Travel Consultancy, a UK educational travel organization also contributed the following statement:

“Working with school groups, we believe it’s vital to set a good example to young people when it comes to responsible tourism and volunteering.  We fully support the campaign to stop orphanage tourism and we have committed to not including such visits as part of our responsible tourism policy.  We want to maximise the positive impact of our clients’ travels abroad and help educate the next generation of travellers into thinking about their actions when travelling.

EXO Foundation, the non-profit organization established in 2011 by EXO Travel signed the Better Volunteering Better Care petition to #StopOrphanTrips, having already banned scool and orphan trips back in 2012. As an earlier statement it wrote stated:

“EXO Travel has removed all visits to orphanages and children centers from its tours, especially where the children are under 12 years old. This decision was motivated by reports indicating that such visits along with short term volunteering can be disturbing to the children’s emotional balance and educational process.”

EXO provides information on How Best to Support Children In Need when you travel and How To Make a Difference when you travel. Recommendations include supporting organisations that work with children and families (suggestions are given) and being aware of ChildSafe services where you are traveling.

Such a positive response to this issue from leading travel operators is extremely encouraging. Better Volunteering Better Care welcomes any new connections with organisations connected to volunteering – especially those who currently facilitate orphanage trips and are considering changing this model. Better Volunteering Better Care can offer resources and technical support to enable organisations, as well as the orphanages they support, to transition away from the practice of working with volunteers in a manner that is responsible, safe, and puts the best interests of the children at the centre of this process. For more information please contact [email protected] to start a conversation.
Better Volunteering Better Care is an initiative led by Better Care Network and Save the Children UK and funded by the Human Dignity Foundation.

Travindy is an independent website featuring news and opinion on all issues to do with tourism and sustainability. Written primarily for an industry audience, our aim is to support the transformation of the sector into one that is regenerative, restorative and fully inclusive.

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