The world is looking east, and Cambodia is on the tongue of every responsible travel journalist discussing the latest hot topic: orphanage tourism. As Siem Reap residents, we find ourselves living in what has become a microcosm of this controversial area of the travel industry, and it’s something we feel strongly about.
As many of our guests are in fact children (school and educational tours), child protection for us is a big deal. Therefore, we are proud of the fact we are a ChildSafe certified tour operator, and promote ethics in child protection through every part of our little business. We encourage staff and visitors alike to consider ways in which we can protect young people.
Increasingly, campaigners are highlighting the pitfalls of misguided good intentions. This ranges from exposing vulnerable young people to unvetted strangers and an ever-changing roster of care-givers, to tourist dollars unintentionally investing into ‘scams’ and systems that don’t prioritise the children’s welfare.
At Ayana we continue to get requests for volunteer trips (often with interactions with local children) as a means for a ‘meaningful travel experience’, particularly from school groups. Staying true to our values, rather than offering orphan visits, we create itineraries in which our guests can learn about associated issues, and from experts working in education and child protection. We strive for the utmost ethics that put the benefits to host communities at the forefront of the experiences we design. By carefully curating learning journeys, with interactions with projects and organisations aligned with our values, we hope to use tourism as a force for good. Whilst we’re normally flexible to meet our guests requests, orphan visits or tokenistic volunteering is a strict policy for us, and you won’t find them on our books.
Anna McKeon, a dear friend and valued freelance trip leader, is spearheading a global movement to #StopOrphanTrips. Over the past month she has been running a ‘blogging blitz’ of associated articles on why it’s time to rethink the volunteer travel sector and remove visiting orphanages from everyones bucket lists.
And for those who want the structure voluntourism provides, McKeon recommends learning trips. “You can have a guide who supports you through your trip,” she explains. “But instead of volunteering you’ll be meeting local leaders, going to workshops, learning about everything from environmental issues to child rights issues, and each NGO will receive a donation.”
– Anna McKeon talking to roundtheworldflights.com
Our highlights from the blogging blitz: