04 February 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously?

“Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously, “ he said. My co-worker was referring to a heated debate in our office about volunteer tourism or “voluntourism”, and how to do it “right.”

Living in Cambodia where the major cities have more “orphanages” sprouting up on each corner than you can keep track of, anything involving tourism, money, and development becomes skeptical. Even more worrying is when children are added to the mix: most “orphanages” are actually more like boarding schools, the children have parents who have chosen, or the organization has chosen for them, that their kids would have a better life at the school. Here you see these orphanages which offer daily tours: “Look but don’t touch”…. at least you hope. Others which have their students perform dance shows nightly: “We took our kids off of the street so that they didn’t have to work, and now they will dance for you again, and again, and again.” A group here just moved their “orphanage” up from Phnom Penh because “it made sense for the organization.” Did it make sense for the kids or their parents who are all still back in Phnom Penh?

Is one dance performance for donors per month ok? 10? Nightly? “But it brings in support.” Aren’t there other ways to do that? I have heard groups complain “We have foreign volunteers who come teach our English classes for a few weeks or months at a time…. the kids learn ‘head, shoulders, knees, and toes’ once a month from a new volunteer….. But, they company they are placed here with does make a donation per week, so I guess that’s why we do it.” Is this a GOOD situation for them? Could you not recruit, interview, train, and monitor a longer-term volunteer? Could you take a few other volunteers to do fundraising on short contracts? Does everyone want to spend time with the kids? Shouldn’t “volunteering” involve helping others achieve goals outside of our own?