Guide for Voluntourists – An Ethical Compass

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Enrolment day 2011. This mother came to the school to ask questions and ensure the school could help her son. Two days later she came back with the website address for a books in schools program. One that I had been unable to find on the net. I love this sense of community involvement.

While debate swirls around Twitter about the pros and cons of voluntourism I thought I’d search for a constructive document to refer to. A good platform for thinking about the issues has been prepared by a group called TIES – The International Eco-Tourism Society. And their objective is to provide an ethical compass both for operators (come on our amazing orphanage tour!) and for tourists who are thinking about the ethical pros and cons.

Click here for their 24 page PDF: Guideline for voluntourists.

Today I’ve been quite busy responding to Twitter criticisms levelled at orphanages in general – and it is no medium in which to have a debate. But it is clear that there are naysayers out there who find it much easier to find fault (but surely the children should be with their parent.  Er, not if there’s domestic violence.) but not so easy to come up with positive, practical ways of helping the poorest Cambodian families and their children.

I don’t mind any such debate. I’m glad that NGOs are being held to higher account though I find some of the critics’ arguments quite risible or over-simplistic. (Money isn’t the issue…we should do what’s best…) Hmmmn. If only money wasn’t an issue.

But at the root of the discussion, on both sides, there beats a common heart – and that is one that cares for the children of Cambodia. If you’re planning to visit, do read up on these issues.

Some guidelines:

  • Deal with licensed, reputable NGOs.  Ignore those that tout for your visit.
  • Expect to be asked for photo ID. Don’t just walk in.
  • Plan to make a long-term difference – ask yourself how you might do this.
  • Work with children only in the presence of other adults.
  • Do your homework. There’s an good argument to say that many of us could reduce our negative footprint simply by sending money to a good cause. So ask yourself – am I making a difference by being here?

For more about volunteering see also:

Click here:  A new policy at Savong’s organisation: designed to raise the bar.

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2 thoughts on “Guide for Voluntourists – An Ethical Compass

  1. Thanks Duncan – this is an issue that I do struggle with. What is the most effective way to contribute to this community? How to make a positive difference in a way that is culturally appropriate, useful and not paternalistic and colonial. Certainly committing to long-term financial support I think is useful, and supporting an organisation that is run effectively by local people, with a focus on education and the long-term future of children is critical. But turning up for a day or two to distribute colouring books and teach a few English classes – which I have done – I feel less and less comfortable with. An important discussion to have. PS the link to the document isn’t working, I would be interested to read it. Thanks for keeping us both in touch and informed. Cheers LA

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