A team of ICS volunteers sit on the steps outside a building
VSO/Andrew Aitchison

Join the fight to stop orphanage tourism

Our network of over 35,000 youth volunteers is joining in efforts to end orphanage tourism and other harmful 'voluntourism' schemes.

What is harmful volunteering?

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.

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.

Clare Hawkes, VSO’s Responsible Volunteering Specialist
A group of four ICS volunteers laugh and talk together as they sit on a stairwell
VSO/Cesar Lopez Balan
ICS volunteers like this team in Kratie, Cambodia, are encouraging young people to think about their volunteering choices and ensure they do no harm.

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 fellow young people of the harms of voluntary placements in orphanages.

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.

We are 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.

Read more

Giving up the ‘gap yah’: how to make sure you volunteer responsibly

We caught up with VSO’s Responsible Volunteering Specialist to find out how she's raising awareness about orphange ‘voluntourism’ and responsible volunteering.