I recently tried to post a comment in response to this listing on Trip Advisor which encourages visits to orphanages while traveling in Siem Reap.
As my comment was not a review of the area, it was not approved, so I am posting it here.
I am writing in response to a post stating that one way to give back to Siem Reap is by visiting orphanages.
I beg to strongly disagree.
Having lived in Cambodia for over four years, my opinion on visiting orphanages has gone from encouraging it to abhorring it. Recent research has shown that the number of orphanages in Cambodia has tripled in recent years with the majority of those “serving” kids who are not orphans at all. There are some groups standing up this movement to encourage support for whole families rather than removing children from their parents, but in many of the worst cases, the poor practices are not from lack of foresight but instead from fraudulent intentions to start.
Orphanages that keep kids in squalor and can attract tourists on a daily basis are able to bring in far more funding than they choose to use to support their “orphans”. The practice of keeping kids looking needy to bring in more income is highly linked with donor visits to orphanages and with increasing travelers’ philanthropy in the area. Sometimes “doing good” can cause harm, and the practice of visiting orphanages which you have not properly vetted, and which have not properly vetted you, can be a harmful practice.
People have asked me “What is a good orphanage I can go visit today?” And my answer is always: “Any orphanage where they will LET you visit today, un-planned, is likely NOT a good orphanage.”
Keep these things in mind when visiting Siem Reap, or any developing country. There is so much to see and so many great projects to support which, can provide more direct benefit than funding the often corrupt orphanage network in Cambodia. Overall, if you want to see temples, learn about history and culture, are looking for an adventure, and want to meet people who are working hard to improve the future for their next generation, Cambodia is the place to do it. Just don’t trust all orphanages to be the best choice of your additional support.