A crusade to end orphanage tourism has found a surprise ally in World Challenge, probably the world’s largest student voluntourism company based in Australia.
World Challenge has for decades been linking high school students to do volunteer work in orphanages in countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Madagascar. According to an ABC report, the company has partnerships with 300 Australian schools and sent 150 children to orphanages last year.
Its newest partnership, however, is a much different kind. Last week, it announced it was joining hands with advocacy group ReThink Orphanages Network to make a stand to stop orphanage tourism around the world.
“We have committed to withdraw from all residential care homes by the end of September 2017,” World Challenge said in a statement.
Motivating the decision is its belief that “regular, short-term visitors” could “reignite and exacerbate damaging feelings of abandonment” in orphans.
Moreover, it recognises that far-reaching problems are being perpetuated by demand in the orphanage tourism industry. “Regrettably institutions are often driven by well-meaning but uninformed support of foreign donors and orphanage voluntourism. At best institutions can become reliant on financial aid, at worst they drive child trafficking. By ceasing to visit orphanages, we are opting to end our contribution to this cycle of demand,” the statement read.
Intrepid Travel, which is part of the ReThink Orphanages committee, has also been speaking out against the issue.
Earlier this month, reports surfaced of an Australian crack down on schools and universities that send their students to volunteer in overseas orphanages. In July, abc reported that West Australian Liberal senator Linda Reynolds was campaigning to criminalise those facilitating trips to overseas orphanages that profit from the children housed there.
These recent developments mark a big step forward in an ongoing crusade against orphanage tourism. Advocacy group Childsafe has for several years been raising awareness on the unintended consequences of tourist visits to orphanages, notably through its Children are not Tourist Attractions campaign. In 2014, the Responsible Travel umbrella body for ethical-minded tour operators and hoteliers ceased its orphanage volunteering trips.