Call me a cynic, but – like most people – it takes a special kind of ad campaign to have much of an impact on me these days. So when a friend sent me a link to the When children become tourist attractions campaign put together by Cambodian NGO Friends International, and it had an immediate, lasting impact, I realised it had struck a nerve.
The campaign essentially encourages tourists to Cambodia to think twice before ‘helping out at an orphanage’. As the campaign helps inform, the reality is that in most cases, a ‘voluntourist’ is going to be of limited value to the organisation they are supporting, and more importantly in the case of orphanages, may actually have a detrimental impact on many of the kids they are there to help.
For me, one of the reasons the campaign hit home is because I’ve been that guy. So have many of my friends. We’ve been on a gap year / sabbatical / year off – and thought, “I’d really like to do something helpful, something that will help others” and turned up for a week or two thinking I can make a difference. And the reality is that voluntourism is now big business, with many people forking out thousands of dollars for the chance to build housing, teach English, or help out at an orphanage in a developing country.
With that in mind, for Get Lost mag‘s ‘Responsible Tourism’ section I decided to take a bit of a look at voluntourism, its impacts – and suggest some potentially more helpful alternatives. Have a read and let me know what you think.