August 24th, 2017

Voluntourism is a concept born of travel and humanitarianism, or tourism and solidarity. Some travel agencies seize this marketing strategy in order to attract a clientele interested in giving a humanitarian objective to one’s vacation plans, and indeed to one’s broader existence, in underprivileged countries. This new alternative tourism market rakes up tens of millions of euros annually by sustaining poverty and disrespectful approaches to human rights.

Tens of thousands of voluntary clients travel to unknown countries without an understanding of local situations. They pass themselves off as doctors, teachers or lawyers for a short time to the local population. Businesses provide expensive travel packages (from 800 to 2’000 USD). Children and their families are excluded from these financial gains.

In Asia, especially in Laos, Thailand, Burma and Cambodia, voluntourism is a growing business. These perverse, money-making schemes hide behind the guise of aiding poor children placed in orphan care. Within the past 10 years, the development of voluntourism has abetted the three-part increase of orphaned children in Cambodia, which has gone from 7’000 to 47’000 in thirty years. Over 80% of children placed in such institutions have living parents.

Children from underprivileged families are withdrawn from families with the promise of education, food and better living conditions. Subsequently children are rendered unable to reconnect with their parents who are unable to fight the system.

In addition, according to Sébastien Marot, the co-founder of Friends International, “in order to ensure that the project remains lucrative, funds should not be invested, given that this would harm the product. The orphanage needs to remain in disrepair, and the children need to continue to be perceived as miserable”.

Experts and journalists on the ground are trying to shed light on the issue by means of investigation, denunciation and awareness-raising. For example, the International Volunteering Service is a Belgian, French and Vietnamese association that provides expertise in awareness-raising to educate potential clients of voluntourism business-schemes.

The NGO Friends International Switzerland also provides awareness-raising workshops to school-aged children, stressing the complex life-courses of children exploited by voluntourism, who are vulnerable to the coming and going of tourists which reinforces the feeling of abandonment.