15 February 2011 ~ 101 Comments

The Dangers of Hero Worshiping (in the Social Sector)

I heard a disturbing story this week. A friend who works in Battambang, a northwestern province of Cambodia, told me that she had recently met a young traveler from Australia in her late teens who said she was starting an orphanage.

When asked why she came to Cambodia, she said:

“I was so inspired by a story I saw on TV that I decided to come here myself.  Cambodian kids are SO cute!  Now I have three of my own!”

Uh oh …

The most disturbing part of this statement is the issue that this girl is treating Cambodian kids like Barbie dolls—as if she can just pick the cutest one off the shelf, take it home, and call it hers. But I want to focus on the bigger picture. Why did this girl think coming here to “save” Cambodian children was ok? Where did she get the go-ahead to do this?

She got the thumbs up from us. From society at large. From what the media chooses to highlight. And from hero-worshipers who focus on the WHO of social causes and not the WHAT.

This teenager had been inspired by a TV feature she had seen about another young girl who came here to Cambodia at 21 years old and later, as the media describes it, “saved Cambodian orphans” by becoming their “mother.”  She was given awards in her home country for setting up an orphanage and the media produced a documentary starring this girl, reenacting not only her original rescue of 17 kids from a horrible orphanage, but also her own reenactment of how she took in additional kids she had found who were living with other families whom she felt needed a better home.

Although the media was clearly trying to highlight this girls bravery, her story of leaving a wealthy society behind to help the poor, and her remarkable instinct to act while so many others might have been too scared, for a range of reasons, to do so, the media and the award judges probably did not consider that other young people might view this as permission to go to a poor country and “getting a few cute orphans of their own”?  It seems like they should have.

I think we as a society need to be careful how we highlight philanthropy and who we choose to idealize. The stories people hear about development work around the world tend to be those of people who have led lives others might envy (working in film, Hollywood producers or starts, wealthy New York elite, etc). The media LOVES it – they love talking about how beautiful people, who could have continued to pursue popular and idealized careers, “gave it all up to help the poor.”

But they rarely focus on WHAT those people are doing—or better yet, HOW is they are doing it? Before we turn “do-gooders” into national heroes we need to move beyond the hero story of leaving fame and fortune behind and ask the tough questions. We need to do due diligence and dig into the WHAT of these organizations, not just the WHO, to be sure we are promoting responsible, educated, long-term efforts which can be models for replicable positive change.

In Cambodia, the Ministry of Social Affairs has guidelines around orphanages, and they—and so many other child protection groups around the world—state that keeping children with their families or extended families should be top priority where possible and, if that is not possible, one should consider foster care or small (8 children per adult recommended) family-style living. By promoting media pieces, awards, and articles which make it almost seem easy to take a child out of a bad situation and put them into a better one just by the nature of only rewarding and recognizing the act of removing the kids from where they were, we are giving others permission and incentive to repeat those actions.  The media rarely digs into best practices around an issue. In the case of orphanages, the media didn’t think to discuss alternatives or to do into questions about what globally respected child rights organizations describe as best practices in this area. When people fall in love with the hero stories they see on Oprah – people building schools, digging wells, building libraries – they often take a deep look into the story of the person taking action, but gloss over the details of the organization’s actions.

If we skip over those things, all we see is a hero’s story. The desire to help is something we need to embrace and then harness for good in the most responsible way. But, good intentions are not enough, and we can’t continue to praise people because their IDEA was good, or their INTENTIONS were good. This post is not intended to say that things which start out without following best practices can not be great or praise worthy in the future.  This post is to remind people who vote for “hero” awards, people who work in media, and all of us who talk about/donate to/volunteer for/idealize those who have gone out to “do good” in the world, to BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU PROMOTE THROUGH YOUR PRAISE!

By praising things which make development work look easy, which make it seem like any person with no specific training can come in and start a successful NGO project, which only focus on praising how something started but overlook the discussion of the long-term systems in place to ensure a positive impact, we are setting up more opportunities for development work disasters. This isn’t the first time a young, self-identified-as-unqualified person has been praised for taking in orphans in a “poor country.” Nicholas Kristof promoted this type of action in the New York Times by highlighting a 19-year-old girl who started a children’s shelter in Nepal (see Maggie’s story in this DIY Aid article).

I feel passionately about this issue because I was once the young idealistic 20-something myself who started something I too was unqualified to start (and I sure am glad that what I started didn’t involve taking children into my home!). The reason I have this blog is to share the lessons I have learned in order to help prevent people from making the same mistakes I made. When I was twenty-six, some friends and I organized a bike trip across Cambodia, and we thought we could improve education by building a school.  We were fortunate to realize that starting a school on our own would not have been the wisest decision, so we found an NGO building schools and raised funds for their work. Were we praised for this “heroic deed” or building a school in a poor country when all of us came from rice places like the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand and Finland?  Yes, of course!  Lots of people wrote notes or articles about our heroic deeds.

But what were they praising?  A bunch of kids building a building which would sit there empty if we left it at that.  It has taken us five years of hard work to try to make that initial investment of a building worth while as we realized that other organizations were more concerned with building buildings than building education.

We started off funding this work by offering “voluntourism” trips, where people could “save the world in a week” and come volunteer in Cambodia.  What we learned early on was that we were doing two major disservices by offering trips which were focused on giving rather than learning: 1) by rushing to help, we were encouraging people to take action before they fully understood a problem or a goal, which can often lead to unnecessary mistakes; and 2) we were creating experiences which made US feel good, which were catering to the universal desire to be a hero, and which were more about filling the needs of the looking-to-feel-needed traveler than of the “beneficiaries” of the projects we claimed to be supporting. We realized through our own missteps that we have to learn before we can help, and that sustainable change takes time and expertise.

My friend Nik made a great comment about this mentality when she said:

While I understand the desire to help kids who are in bad situations, I can’t understand why people think the logical solution is for the kids to be then entrusted in the care of a young girl. If we come across someone who says their community needs a well, no one would just start digging on the spot and fudge their way through it, would they? It would be obvious that you didn’t know what you were doing!

But sometimes it isn’t obvious to the “doer”, and that is why I think we need more development education initiatives in schools, for travelers, and for the philanthropists.  It also isn’t always obvious to the media, and then the media sells heroes to the public based on their personal story of taking action without the knowledge to back that up, as if that were a GOOD thing.

So why do we allow this when it comes to KIDS—real humans—rather than wells? And why do we incentivize it by making people heroes, thereby encouraging others to do the same? After seeing too many cases of people who have been praised as heroes who then leave the project they started after a few years when it gets too hard, I think we need to redefine a hero as someone who takes the time to research, learn, and make sustainable choices in an effort to make their project NOT all about them, but about the impact the media seems to always overlook.

The media is not afraid to dig deep into the hero story. They are looking at THEM with a microscope – interviewing their parents, finding out about her past – but they are not looking at THE WORK they are apparently being praised for with the same microscopic lens.  Where is the interview of the the stakeholders? Where is the discussion of long-term plans for the wells, for the schools, for the kids?

It is interesting that, for all of the general population’s talk about wanting to understand the impact that an organization has before we make a financial contribution, we seem to say one thing and yet do another. We get blinded both by great advertising and by fame, yet we state that we understand the responsibility of donating. When we donate, we are voting with our funding – we are voting for what we want to see repeated. If we don’t do our homework and we fall victim to flashy branding or tear-jerking stories, we are voting for something we know little about. In this case, the media voted, and more teenagers are coming to Cambodia to start their own orphanages.

Let’s focus on impact rather than on the “hero” if we want to praise successful models which we’d like to see repeated. This is not to discredit the entrepreneurial spirit – I love people who see a problem and come up with new and previously unimagined solutions to the world’s problems – we need those people! But I’ve learned that those of us who are inclined to jump into action with our ideas need to take a breath, look around and ask questions, and examine other possible solutions which have already been tried and tested, ESPECIALLY when it comes to kids. We continue to dole out praise for this type of work at the same time that the mainstream media is finally recognizing that orphanages and orphanage-based volunteer work can cause such negative impacts!

Kjerstin Erickson, founder of Forge, gets it right when talking about the focus on “The Social Entrepreneur.” Her complaints from her SocialEdge blog against focusing on the founder’s story can apply here:

“…the mythology of The Social Entrepreneur revolves the whole story around the individual. Through a shrewd sleight-of-hand, our attention is turned away from the collective movement and toward an individual onto whom a Hero’s Journey is imposed. The drama of such a tale is high, but at what cost? Kings and Queens are made, and many a speaking career launched…but what is sacrificed? What collective narrative, what real representation of holistic social change, what inclusive vision for proudly joining hands as small cogs in a big wheel?”

She knows all about the problems of focusing on the “hero” rather than the work because she herself went to Africa as a teenager and then started up a development organization.  She too was recognized around the world as a talented young woman who had every opportunity available to her through her Stanford education and yet she chose to “do good.” It must have been frustrating for Kjerstin to get praise around her hero’s journey all of the time when she was probably more proud of the cases when people dug in deeper and learned about her work enough to praise her for her IMPACT, not her decision to put her pretty face into a poor country.

THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT THESE HEROES CAN’T OR DON’T GO ON TO DO GREAT THINGS!  If anything, let’s hope the praise and fame incentivizes them to continue to improve their work.  In my own story, once all of these people had donated their hard-earned money to help us build a school and praised us for our efforts, I felt a need to prove them right.  When we realized a school does not teach kids, people do, we could have walked away with a pretty building with our name on it, but instead we stayed.  We started off unqualified, and in my opinion, NOT worthy of praise.  I would NOT recommend anyone to move to Cambodia and start an NGO when they know very little about the people/place/systems.  We didn’t deserve praise when we got it. BUT, now, after five years, there are parts of our work and our programs that I think can and should be viewed as repeatable models, and many other organizations are coming to look at or train with our programs to see them repeated.  In other words, for all of the heros we have commended for how they STARTED, we should check in and check in to commend them for how they IMPROVED as, we don’t want to provide incentives for unqualified people to start things.  We want to inspire people to support or learn about models which work to positively impact their goals and target areas, and that takes a lot more time/effort/know-how and commitment than just the heroic act of starting something.

There is a debate going on in the comments of this blog right now which has gotten into this “hero’s journey” dilemma as well. One of the commenters admits that his respect for the popular organization, charity:water is due in part to his love for the founder’s “leaving big fancy job to save the world” story. If we are going to focus on impact, we need to dig deeper and know what we are funding behind the famous face.

We need to dig into the WHAT of these organizations, not just the WHO, to be sure we are promoting responsible, educated, long-term efforts which can be models for replicable positive change. We should be praising people who go out and learn – who go out and educate themselves on the responsible ways to have an impact before they act, ESPECIALLY when it comes to taking kids in. If we don’t and if the media continues to depict acts of young people with little or no qualifications working directly with kids as heroic, then we are providing incentives for more development disasters with other young people “getting a few cute orphans of their own”?  What a shame.

Watch what you promote.

NOTE: This post was changed to remove a name/organization, but the message and previous examples are still the same with additional examples added in.  The point is still the same: Promote good impact. Not just good and interesting people.

ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE: I recognize that criticism is less helpful than suggestions for improved future actions. Read this next post about actions you can take as a budding-do-gooder and a wanna-be-responsible-donor which can help us avoid funding or starting irresponsible aid projects.  This is by no means a complete or thorough list – please add your thoughts!


How to evaluate an orphanage, by Saundra Schimmelpfennig

Before you pay to volunteer abroad, think of the harm you might do, by Ian Birrell

Cambodian Orphanage Tourism, on Aljezeera

Orphanage Tourism: The Catch-22 of Orphanage Funding, by Eric Lewis

Orphanage Tourism in Cambodia: Good Intentions are Not Enough, by Saundra Schimmelpfennig

A Protest Against Orphanage Tourism, and other orphanage tourism related posts on this blog

Sasha Dichter of Acumen Fund reminds us to be generous and use our heart, but to “ask the tough questions”

  • Saundra

    Thanks for the links! I’ve seen this issue with the founder story up close. After the tsunami so many Westerners were in it but survived and started a charity after it. They had no experience in what they were doing, but their story was just so compelling that people gave. I don’t think a single one of them is still in existence now – 6 years later. And a few of them had some pretty questionable practices. But nobody was ever really examining their work.

  • http://planningtheday.wordpress.com Meg

    Thank you thank you thank you!!nnI was talking about this issue with Bob Maat (Battambang resident and organizer of the Dhammayietra peace walks through Cambodia) a few days ago. He reminded me of Maha Ghosananda’s illustration: we must walk on two legs of compassion and wisdom. Without both, we will fall. Bob made the comparison that well-meaning but ill-conceived efforts like the ones you describe are like trying to walk with only one leg, compassion, without the balance of wisdom.nnLooking forward to your post about responsible actions.

  • Anonymous

    I know this is true, because I was in Sri Lanka a few months after the tsunami and I got involved and got behind some of the work going on. I volunteered my time and praise to projects I knew little about with less of a mindset towards sustainability…. probably where I started learning these lessons without even recognizing it at the time!

  • Indodiver34

    I agree with you, but many people who’ve started NGO’s in Cambodia start that way. The two guys who started the NGO friends were I think in their mid 20’s when they started that NGO and they faced violence and a lot more issues than one would face today. And they’ve done well. The lady who runs green gecko started out in a similiar way helping street kids in Siem Reap. She’s done quite well. Scott Neeson gave up his big job at 20th century Fox and started the Cambodian Childrens fund. And that girl in her late teens will probably do a better job than Geraldine Cox the woman who had baby fever and always wanted a baby, but was infertile. Sho she paid a bunch of gay thai prostitutes to fuck her so she’d know she wasn’t. She ended up adopting a Cambodian baby, later found out it was disabled, dropped it down at the state center for disabled kids when the kid turned 18 and returned to Cambodia to run an orphanage.

  • Leigh

    Daniela, thanks for posting a wonderfully insightful article touching on these issues. As an Australian, a founder of an NGO, a recipient of the same award as Tara, and somebody who has lived and worked in Cambodia this story is close to home. I too am deeply opposed to orphanage tourism, the establishing of orphanages by foreigners, and the misplaced ‘maternal’ mentality that seems to drive so many of these endeavours.nnHaving witnessed first hand the devastating results of orphanage tourism and the rampant corruption, exploitation and abuse of children in some of these establishments i am always deeply concerned when i see another orphanage has sprouted where there were once no orphans. A true orphanage (when all other avenues for placement of children within the community have been exhausted) should be a place of peace, respite and recovery for children who have lost their connection to family and community. These are children, not tourist attractions, not playthings, not things to make us feel good about ourselves, they are real, live children who deserve to live a life free of exploitation. nnOver the years, i have been approached countless times by well meaning Australians wanting to “go and work with kids in an orphanage in Cambodia”. My response to this was usually one of gentle education, of sharing my insights and experiences of the damaging aspects of orphanage tourism and explaining that we do not operate in that area. Nine times out of ten, they would not be interested in hearing this, and would actively seek another organisation who would facilitate their ‘dream’. I resorted to sending prospective volunteers are checklist developed by LICADHO of what to look for to ensure an orphanage was operating above board. Needless to say, i was unsuccessful. Even the argument that orphanages no longer exist in Australia as it has been established long ago that institutionalising children has detrimental effects of development, did not work. nnI have been aware of the Cambodian Children’s Trust for some time and have been disturbed by the stories that i have heard. In fact, i was contacted by a current affairs show here in Australia who were investigating Tara and her orphanage and asked for comment. Apparently there are many questions about the ethics of this project. nnOne aspect of this that resonates deeply with me is the sheer level of responsibility Tara has taken on at such a young age. You are right in saying that one day she will want to go home, and then what? PEPY and FCF were established at around the same time, and I, like you learnt very quickly that the approach we were taking wasn’t the right way to go about things. I was far too young and idealistic to take something of that scale on and i learnt very quickly to take a step back and constantly ask myself why i was there. What is going to happen when Tara burns out, as it seems she inevitably will. Who will pick up the pieces? nnWhy is it ok in Cambodia for a young foreigner to walk into an orphanage and actively remove 17 children to another house, post armed guards at the door and refuse to communicate with anyone? You raise a very good point – there is so much focus on Tara’s sacrifice and so little focus on the actual work she is doing with these children. Who is guiding Tara? As a recent parent myself, i have learnt just how difficult it is to parent one child let alone 30 children who have experienced ongoing abuse and are traumatised. How can a 21 year old Australian parent 30 children adequately while providing appropriate support and recovery for these children? nnI too am fearful of what this will create among other young Australians. As a recipient of this award, i have spent countless hours talking to young people about following their dreams – this award thrusts you into the spotlight and can be a powerful tool for inspiring young people….Unfortunately, despite receiving this award, the NGO i created shut down in 2010. Our work wasn’t shiny enough, or cutesy enough to warrant long term funding. nnI don’t know what it is, but there is a deep seated desire amongst Australians to work in an orphanage somewhere…i partially blame it on Geraldine Cox and the Sunrise orphanages…She is famous here, every time she is here she is lauded and praised…i wonder if any of them have actually read “My Khmer Heart”? This desire confuses me, as Australia is a nation of well educated, socially aware individuals who have a genuine desire to help…many just can’t seem to get past their desire to work in an orphanage – no matter how much education is provided.nnI was contacted some time ago by a young man who wanted my help to set up his NGO in Cambodia. I asked him what he was wanting to achieve there. He responded that he had never been there before, but he heard about the prostitution industry and went to see it himself. He was then inspired to set up an NGO that ‘saved’ these young women from prostitution. He was going to actively remove them himself and pay their debt out. I don’t even need to go into the ethics and dangers of this – the story was purely to illustrate how misplaced the desire to help can be.nnDaniela, keep on writing this blog – it’s wonderful Hopefully your words will resonate across the world louder and clearer than those stories of people like Tara.n

  • http://planningtheday.wordpress.com Meg

    I would love to see more discussions around this very topic — what distinguishes the young start-ups that end up getting it right from the ones that obviously are falling short? And what structures/programs/media messages can we use to walk people through that process BEFORE they start their own orphanage or NGO?nnSome friends and I were chatting the other day about the centrality of role models and mentors that we trust absolutely, even when we don’t understand their perspectives. I am incredibly fortunate to have an incredible boss here in Battambang; without his advice (which I questioned at the time) I would have made so many more mistakes with the program I helped start. Is that a realistic model or expectation for every newcomer to the world of development work though? nnAs an aside, I think it’s also interesting to note the contrast in social mores around being a young, confident, self-starter between US/Aus. culture and Cambodian culture. It’s been a huge challenge for me to encourage my staff to initiate and lead projects, I think in part because the social risks involved with failing seem much greater. If I came to Cambodia and tried to start an NGO but failed, I can be reasonably confident that people from home would still talk admiringly about my confidence, initiative, courage, and good heart. From what I’ve seen in the last few years, my Cambodian community is far less supportive of youth who dare to start projects, especially when they don’t work out. Here’s to working towards a happy medium…

  • Joni

    What about the effect that westerners have on Cambodians?nMy Cambodian friend started an orphanage because she saw so many examples from westerners and her youth was very poor so she wanted something else for Cambodian kids. Her husband comes from an extremely poor and remote village, 2 hours from Siem Reap and many children there were starving, abused or orphans.nShe took them in and ended up with 24 kids in her house. Her salary is very low and her husband doesnu2019t work. Although I do support the fact that sheu2019s Khmer and is ambitious and that she can relate to the kids much better, she still shouldnu2019t survive without our help.nAlthough she has the idea to raise funds, make leaflets and create an educational program, she doesnu2019t have the knowledge. We as westerners ended up doing all this things. Sheu2019s strong and works hard, but these things are just too difficult for her to do.nThe kids were there and I felt no choice then to help them. Note that these kids come from extreme situations of abuse and neglect and can not live with the parents anymore.nI do not take the full responsibility of the centre on me, because indeed Iu2019m too young and also believe that Khmer people should have the last word. Also she started it, I try to guide her. nWeu2019ve had people coming and taking advantage of the fact that this nNGO is mainly run by Khmer people. These people want to change everything, want to make the orphanage (which we call a ` home` not an orphanage) into a superb example on how to do it right in only 1 week. Theyu2019ve seen the example of Green Gecko project ( which is a fantastic project by the way) and decide that our home should be like that over night. They ended up frustrated, yelling at the Khmer staff that theyu2019re incompetent and refusing to invest the funds they raise in the Home. Like you said, they come here with their ideas on how it should be and get frustrated. Not knowing how extremely careful and patient you should be when working here.nThis Tara must indeed have a very heavy burden on her shoulders and we can only hope she succeeds.nIu2019ve worked with ConCERT Cambodia for awhile, where we always advice people to support the NGO`s that are doing well, in stead of starting 1!nnOn the other hand, I do think that orphanages can benefit from the skills of volunteers.nWe have to admit that most of the Cambodians donu2019t have the skills or knowledge to teach kids photography or learn about the world or critical thinking. I do strongly believe in training Khmers to become NGO staff but this takes time, this takes years.nVolunteerism is an extremely difficult topic and people keep on referring to this 1 article about aids orphan tourism but where are the other studies? And what should the orphanages, centers and NGO`s really do with volunteering?nI intend to study this topic ( Iu2019m a Master in Responsible Tourism Management) in Siem Reap and I live here as well , so youu2019ll hear from me more.nGreat blog, and interesting to read about PEPY and what you do here!n

  • MarkChildSafe

    Daniela, well done!! I greatly appreciate all the hard work you put into bringing this message to those with misguided good intentions. This kind of dialogue is essential to prevent more self-agendas from being realized. I hope those who are exploring possibilities to set up their own NGO to look closely at the double standards they may be cultivating. Would they do this, or even be permitted to do this, in their own country? And what gives them the right to do so otherwise?

  • TC

    I am reluctant to get in to a war of words, however It seems as though the essence of this “lesson” is hinting at naivety on the part of people trying to help. Which doesn’t sit right with me when this post is based on, firstly a rumour and secondly a (highly dramatized) TV show without physically going there, speaking to the people who work there, speaking with the children or looking at the historical context of each child. It seems naive to question the status or motives of this organisation without first hand information. Shouldn’t the assessor be equally as accountable for their qualifications, experience and motivation as those that set up these organisations before implying irresponsible aid?

  • Chris

    Tara did not win Young Australian Of The Year, she was a nominee. Here is the complete list of winners since 1979. Since this is a fundamental point of the author’s argument, it should be pointed out. nhttp://www.australianoftheyear.org.au/recipients/?action=list&type=2&cat=2

  • Laurenkatz

    It must be very difficult writing with your eyes closed. nnWhy not go and have a look at the ‘orphanage’ and speak to the actual people working there (including all the local staff, social workers and experienced aid workers) You might actually form an opinion based on fact and not from just one sensationalised TV show and some bitter former NGO workers.

  • Anonymous

    “We must walk on two legs of compassion and wisdom. Without both, we will fall.” – I love this! nnThis is exactly why I write this blog. Tara, myself, and so many other people who have jumped into trying to fix a problem we see with little to no experience in the field we have entered are walking on one leg of compassion. We are able to grow the other one as we go – as we make mistakes – and as we open up to learning opportunities, but it sure would be better (especially when dealing with children) if we started out with two solid legs and brought the wisdom in with us. I am hoping this blog will help kickstart people’s knowledge and interest in these issues so they are ready to consider being more balanced before they make their own leaps.n

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the post, Indodiver34…. you help prove my point. Geraldine Cox was a state finalist in the Australian of the Year awards: http://www.australianoftheyear.org.au/recipients/?m=geraldine-cox-2010nnThe point of my blog is that we choose to praise and hero worship the WHO’s of these stories – not WHAT they do. By doing that others emulate their work – and if the work hasn’t been vetted well, you have Aussie teenagers thinking that, in order to get recognized as Australian of the Year, they should take in young Cambodian kids too. In this case the “what” was starting an orphanage. “Good” or “bad” practices aside, it is still an orphanage, and that alone is something ChildSafe, Friends, M’lop Tapang and other groups I respect here would say is not the most responsible option for children. Our own countries (the US for me), feel the same way – hence why you rarely see an orphanage in the US. Yet, we praise a girl for starting something we think is wrong for our countries. Why is it then right for Cambodia? Or is the praise coming, as I suggest above, because of Tara’s story of leaving a good life behind to help people? I commend Tara for her bravery – for her willingness to try to do something when others would just walk past – but I personally am very against the growth of the orphanage sector in Cambodia. nnThe three groups I mentioned in the paragraph above also, as you said, were started by young people with little knowledge about Cambodia and best practices in this work. One of the founders of Friends actually commented below, and he would be the first to tell you that he does not support the spread of orphanages or orphanage tourism in Cambodia. He also is the one who said to me once “You have to learn before you can help” and that is a phrase I try to spread as often as possible. Friends would be the first to tell you the mistakes they made along the way – and they share their lessons from years of work and the things they believe on their site in order to prevent people from going out and starting something in a “trial and error” sort of why when others have already tried and erred. It’s ok when designing a new shoe line – but these are kids. And it’s not an afterschool soccer program that is being tried and tested, it’s a HOME for abused kids. My point is not intended to focus on Tara’s example as “good” or “bad” as she, and I hope she does, can continue to work on improving her work and her impact each and every day (as we all need to do) and prove me and other skeptics wrong (and all of the praise givers right). I emailed Tara to say just that. My point is that, until the WHAT of her work is praise worthy, and in my opinion starting yet another orphanage in Cambodia when those (like Friends) who have put in years of time to study this say orphanages are not the best option for kids, then we should not create idols because of their personal hero journey.nnHere is a link from Friends about the Myths and Realities of Orphanages in Cambodia: http://www.friends-international.org/ourprojects/myth-realities_detail.aspnnI know Scott as well, and he is another person who has been idolized for his personal story. Ask anyone in Hollywood what they know about Cambodia and if they know more than the killing fields, Angkor Wat, and Angelina Jolie, they probably know Scott Neeson. Do they know WHAT he does as in, do they know if his model for working with children is better than other options out there? Probably not – because the articles focus on the same personal story line of leaving riches to save the world, rather than featuring the details of what works, and what doesn’t. When moving to Cambodia, you wouldn’t be surprised to know that I got countless emails forwarding me articles about Scott and his work saying “This guy used to work in Hollywood and now he started this amazing project saving kids in Cambodia.” He is getting praise for his heros story and people translate that into praise for his work.nnI spent a lot of time with Scott and CCF when I first got here, and our programs provided multiples of thousands of dollars to CCF for a few years. Scott would tell you to – he started something without knowing much about the how and the what of what he was doing and has been learning along the way. I wonder what he would say to the young Australian girl quoted at the top of this who moved here to take a few Cambodian kids in, but I bet his lessons would be similar to mine. I’d say “THINK! ASK QUESTIONS! LEARN! This is a lot harder, and a LOT bigger of a commitment than you might think!”nnYou are pointing out people who started something they weren’t qualified to do and STAYED. What about all those who leave? And what about those of us who started things we weren’t qualified to do and made mistakes and wasted money along the way? I for one, and I hope most of those listed, would NOT recommend making the same mistakes we made. Learn from us. Don’t go out and just “start” something, when someone else is out there who can help you learn. nnI wish that the next Australian of the Year voting team or the next People magazine feature on a hero out to save the world would feature a heroic PROCESS of how someone took action as a higher rating factor than the personal “leave everything behind and try something I know little about” heros story. That would help others from emulating preventable mistakes.n

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Leigh. First of all, congratulations on being a mother – wow! Great news! Second, thanks for sharing your personal story and for open to talking about mistakes and lessons you are learning. We need more of that.

  • Anonymous

    Would love to discuss this more with you – so reach out and connect and we’ll meet up here in Siem Reap some time. I disagree with the relevance of your statement “We have to admit that most of the Cambodians donu2019t have the skills or knowledge to teach kids photography or learn about the world or critical thinking” as I am not sure that photography is what orphanages are about and we have a Creative Learning Class at PEPY, taught by a team of phenomenal Khmer staff, who teach critical thinking much better than I could. nnI do see volunteers continuing to want to come through Cambodia and, as Leigh mentioned above, no matter how hard you try to steer them away from orphanage tourism, they always seem to think they found the “exception to the rule” with whatever orphanage let them walk in and pet their kids. My advice is always that any orphanage that will let you come in off the street and help for a few days is not one you want to be supporting.nnI am glad you are studying this topic. I think it is phenomenal that people are taking the time to educate themselves about these topics, and I wish I had done so first myself before fumbling my way through our work. I share these thoughts now to encourage people to act like you and go out and learn. Please be in touch and I look forward to meeting you.n

  • Anonymous

    And I appreciate all you do at ChildSafe to spread these same messages: http://www.childsafe-international.org/nnWe clearly need to do a better job of spreading them though – so let’s keep at it!

  • Anonymous

    You are correct, Chris. I adjusted above. She was the winner for NSW – thank you for pointing it out: http://www.australianoftheyear.org.au/recipients/?m=tara-winkler-2011

  • Anonymous

    I appreciate your perspective, TC, and thank you for commenting. I agree. I would love to go see for myself to judge the status of the orphanage, and have written to Tara via her website asking to meet some time. BUT, the point of my article is NOT about Tara or her orphanage. It is about those who praise her and her work because of HER story. Do a search for her, or Scott Neeson (CCF), or Scott Harrison (charity:water) and nearly every story starts describing the heroism of that person leaving a good life to go help others. I recognize that these stories start this way – because that is what sells. People want a hero. I am not trying to say that a hero story implies that the Scotts or Tara are therefor doing anything bad but I am trying to point out that the readers/donors/voters aren’t digging deep into the “good” either – it just means we love their personal story. nnI wrote this piece not to highlight Tara’s decisions, but to highlight OUR decisions. Every time we buy into a heros story and thereby imply a great model for change is behind it, we avoid giving the person real praise for something they might have done which indeed SHOULD be commended and repeated. Let’s find those things and highlight them – rather than focus on the people who leave a nice life, knowing little about what they are doing, and just start to try to make change. One article about Tara highlights “After discovering the abuse the children were being subjected to, she set up the Cambodian Childrenu2019s Trust and her own orphanage in just two weeks.” as if starting something in two weeks is something we should all strive for.nnPlease read my comments above and below – and especially this: http://www.friends-international.org/ourprojects/myth-realities_detail.aspnn

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for commenting, Lauren. I have just written a plethora of comments above, which I’d love for you to read if you have the time, but to touch on your thoughts, I’d like to highlight:nn1) This blog post is about US, not about Tara – it is about you and I and all those of us who have put our time and money and votes on a hero story, rather than asking more questions and digging deeper.nn2) I am not specifically against Tara’s orphanage. I am against the spread of orphanages in Cambodia, especially those started by foreigners, PERIOD. Please read the comments above.nn3) I have lived in Cambodia for more than five years and orphanages and orphanage tourism have become an issue I am extremely passionate about as I think we are fueling a broken and often corrupt or harmful system. This is not a subject I just hopped into today for a fun little blog post, but something I have been actively speaking about and learning about for a few years and something I legitimately want to and try to take action towards seeing changed. nn4) Before posting this, I sent this piece to more than 10 people for edits. This is probably the 5th or 6th version of this piece as I wanted to get the wording right to highlight my own concerns about orphanages and people starting NGO projects with little experience (as I did when I moved here five years ago, so I want to share my mistakes to prevent others from making them too) and not just highlight Tara but use the example of other young Aussie’s trying to emulate her as one example of the result of focusing on the hero story in this sector. I ran this piece by people who have been working in orphanages or education related work here in Cambodia for many years. One of my friends, who has been here for 6 years and worked with one of the more respected orphanages highlighted above, reached out to Tara and asked to come visit and share lessons learned when she was recently going through Battambang. The response she got was that Tara was too busy for the visit. This was not any old volunteer off the street looking to say hi, this was someone with years of experience and expertise in this work asking if she could come share advice and stories and help in any way. We are indeed trying to connect with her.nn5) I wrote to Tara via her website and I hope she will jump into this post to comment. I would love to know what advice she has for people like the young Aussie described at the beginning of this email (the impetus for writing this). I bet Tara, who in the interview I linked to seems to understand that her decisions come with a lot of weight and responsibility, would not advise young people to emulate her. I bet she too would say “Wake up! This is a HUGE commitment and a LOT of work!”. I bet she would agree that we shouldn’t be encouraging or incentivizing people to take on work of this responsibility without really thinking long and hard about it and, more importantly in my opinion, asking questions and learning from others who have already made all of the mistakes there are to make in a sector. By doing so, we can avoid them ourselves. And by praising those who DO educate themselves about the most responsible solutions to problems they come across, we will incentivize others to do the same. nnI hope Tara chimes in and adds her thoughts, but in the meantime, thanks for reading, and I hope these comments might have given you an alternate perspective on the point of my post.n

  • Anonymous

    As promised, I have added my thoughts on actions we can take before deciding to act as donors, supporters, or do-ers which will help us focus on the most positive impact of our actions. This is not a thorough list, but rather a start. Please add your thoughts: http://lessonsilearned.org/2011/02/would-be-donor-code-of-conduct/

  • Peter

    Daniela, Have you actually even taken the time to go to the Cambodian Children’s rust website to research what Tara and the CCT team (almost all Cambodian) are actually doing? From reading your blog it appears not. It seems that all you did was watch a 30 minute documentary the editing of which Tara would have had no control. And that doco was made more than a year ago. How do you presume to know what Tara and the staff at CCT have learned since? And what is actually happening in the CCT project now? Your observations of that project are ill informed. I urge all people who may assume you have done your homework before posting this blogg to go to the CCT website and see for yourselves what CCT is doing before you accept Daniela’s distorted view. In particular look at the family projects. In fact have a good look around and see if Daniel’s criticisms dressed up as “lessons I have learned’ are valid in this case.nhttp://www.cambodianchildrenstrust.org/nn

  • Peter

    Daniela, in addition to my previous comment. How can you just use the sad story of that poor misguided 19 year old wandering around Battambang to promote your blog and not try to do anything about it? If this story is true this girl needs help not exploitation for your own purposes. If you are not prepared to do anything about this please alert CCT or any responsible organisation to try to help this girl rather than exploit her story.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I have Peter. If you read above you will see a lot of other comments I have written addressing the fact that I am not trying to challenge how good or not good Tara’s orphanage is now or is going to be (and I do hope she continues to improve things as she clearly has), but that she started an orphanage, period – and that in doing so – she was commended – and that in doing that – others are following suit. nnAs you might also see above that I have edited this piece many times, and one version had a lot of quotes from her website, like this one:nn”There is now mention of mental health programs on CCTu2019s homepage, the project Tara started, which involved a counselor from the UK coming over to do a consulting project and now u201chas expressed keen interest in returning to CCT for a longer period of timeu201d. The page states that u201cRather than specific interventions or one-to-one counselling, (as practiced in a Western model), we are working to implement the House Model of parentingu201d.)nnFrom the notes above you can see that I note the Ministry of Social Affairs and the recommendations I have noted from those who are experts in this field in Cambodia, and they recommend foster care as a first choice and then family style living of up to 8 people as their second option. I can see from Tara’s site that she is learning a lot – and I commend that. Those of us who have taken on projects and learned along the way can attest to the fact that sometimes when you start something with little knowledge about a topic but with your heart in the right place, you find a way to learn and improve and get where you need to be.nnI love the quote added above from Maha Ghosananda “We must walk on two legs of compassion and wisdom. Without both, we will fall.”nnI am glad that Tara is taking the approach so many of the people listed above, including myself, have taken where we started just with compassion, and then rather than quitting when we realized we were walking on one leg, committed to gaining wisdom. nnMy blog exists to help people get there faster – and ideal to start with a more balanced approach having both the wisdom and the compassion when getting involved in development work to avoid having different groups of people make the same mistakes over and over again.nnThis post is about what we promote – in the media, in awards we give, and in articles written. If we are promoting the idea that someone walking off the street and starting something they know little about as a GOOD thing, we encourage others to do the same. Conversely many of us listed here who started things we weren’t qualified to start would probably all agree, and hopefully Tara too, that that is not the best way forward. nnTara’s site does show a growing knowledge of what international standards require for orphanages, but shouldn’t we be striving for future people who follow her lead to have that knowledge before they start something? One thing that really concerns me is that the CCT site really is “Tara’s” site – in that the site focuses so much on her. The autoresponse when I wrote to her even addresses that you are probably trying to reach Tara. I hope the attention moves away from Tara’s story to the most responsible approach to childcare in Cambodia, and I am glad to see that people like you believe it is heading that way as well.n

  • Anonymous

    Hi Peter – Clearly, you don’t live in Cambodia. If you did, you would know that sadly the story of the 19 year old girl is one of many countless irresponsible actions undertaken by the ever growing stream of volunteer tourists here in Cambodia. In that particular case, my friend who met the girl surely laid down her strong opinion and did her best to influence her actions and connect her to resources to help her learn more. nnHere in Siem Reap I often see volunteers following behind some of the most irresponsible orphanages carrying their signs “Come visit our orphanage” as they traipse down “bar street” bar street at night with the orphans they claim to be trying to help. Those volunteers are trying to do what they think is right – helping an orphanage – but they don’t realize that the orphanage they are helping is corrupt and a dangerous place for kids. I have had many conversations with these people, trying to pull them aside and speak with them privately to try to influence their ideas, but they are too wrapped up in their desire to help the specific children they have me to realize that they are adding to a corrupt system. Usually, the ones who stay longer than a few weeks, quickly change their tune and realize the group might be causing more harm than good. My goal is to help travelers be more educated before they start supporting irresponsible efforts, or before they take things on on their own without the support of those people who have already learned these lessons. nhttp://lessonsilearned.org/2009/10/a-protest-against-orphanage-tourism/

  • Peter

    Daniela. That’s all well and good. I’m glad you are doing what you say you are doing to prevent misguided people trying to set up orphanages without going through the proper channels etc. But why nominate Tara and CCT in this context when she is in no way in this category? CCT is properly set up with an MOU with the Ministry of Social Affairs and a Cambodian Director who is qualified,skilled and capable of running the NGO properly. Do you reserach before jumping in..

  • Peter

    Daniela. You are glad to see that ‘Tara’s site does show a growing knowledge of what international standards..etc ….’.What is that makes you a self declared expert on this? What are your qualifications to pronounce judgment? From what I can gather you run a commercial business in what we might call ‘Welfare Tourism”. What is it about your background that makes you an expert apart from being extremely self opinionated?.

  • Anonymous

    I am very glad to see that these things have been set up and that you and the CCT team are working towards the highest of standards. As per the video interviews of Tara posted above when the award was given, and the setting up of an orphanage in two weeks by Tara, that was not the case from the start, and my post is about what we are awarding and when. If/when CCT continues to become a respected organizations working for the rights of children in Cambodia, as you and I both hope CCT continues to do, then promoting the process and model of how you got there would be a great thing to promote and get others to emulate.

  • Alia

    Just curious, I have no experience in sailing…but if I were to get on a boat tomorrow and try and sail around the world, and I drown, will you be writing a blog blaming Jessica Watson, the actual winner of Young Australian of the year, because I was stupid enough to try and emulate her actions?

  • n/a

    Hi Peter, Hi Daniela. Interesting post and comments! Thanks. nI have started with the end of the story and am opening now the above-mentioned website first on Peteru2019s recommendations.nHomepage: “sustainable-vulnerable”… wonderful wordsu2026. “break the cycle of poverty”.. . really in phase with the MDGs and that whole crappy system of assistance and development ideas that is persisting for decades and auto-nourishing itself. “making donations”… it makes me so sad how NGO beg for money all the time (sustainable you said?). “Australian story”… so you re yourself actively advertising that 30-min cry-maker documentaryu2026 nAfter going through the rest of the pages, I still donu2019t really get what you concretely do. You talk a lot about the kids of the programs (u2026they are SO cuteu2026) but not really about any real content, philosophy, guidance or purpose (apart from the survival swimming and firefighters projects maybe). I guess it is a communication issue as showing happy beneficiaries is probably more efficient for you to raise money from western individual donors than explaining why you are doing it and for which reasons. Can you sit and stop begging for money for a minute if it allows you to speak openly without any distortion due to communication and promotion matters?nCongratulations to Jessica Watson, who sailed solo, unassisted, non-stop around the world, at the age of 16 and received the national award of Young Australian of the Year 2011. Jessica is a shining example of what young women can achieve with courage and determination. I guess thatu2019s what Daniela is precisely talking about: building hero-worshiping. u201cA shining example ofu2026 womenu2026 courage and determinationu201d. Hell! There are no shining examples of courage and determination. Only the ones built by media or NGO crying for money. There are courageous, determined women everywhere on this planet. Fighting for their life, for their family, for their values. On a daily basis. Without spotlights and awards. The reality is dark, painful, anonymous. That is courage and determination. So is life.nCan you explain me in 50 words WHY CCT is in Cambodia, without using the following words: vulnerable sustainable, future, love and poverty? nNext time Peter, please, donu2019t push people in need of a real, deep discussion about the role of NGOs today towards such an emotional website…nI am not judging or condemning NGOs though. Neither blaming people for having good intentions and ideas. What I donu2019t like is that once good intentions are involved and love spread, then we shouldnu2019t be allowed to say u201cthat looks rightu201d, u201cthat should be improvedu201d, u201cthatu2019s wrongu201d etc.nCheersn

  • Anonymous

    I’m very opinionated on this topic, that is an understatement! I have spent the last five years starting and running a non-profit I too was unqualified to start. We started out with one off education programs and building schools but now have Cambodian leadership, employ more than 40 Cambodian staff, work in 11 schools, and have leadership programs which I believe are working towards being repeatable models in 15 community areas. I also do run a tourism business, you are correct. We started out in the totally wrong direction – offering voluntourism options and supporting orphanages and part of why I have this blog is to talk about those lessons so others can learn from our mistakes http://lessonsilearned.org/2010/02/traveling-responsibly-%E2%80%93-learning-trips-over-giving-trips/nnWe now offer educational tours aimed at sharing development success and failure stories and encouraging people to consider possible improvements in the way they live, travel, and give after they have traveled with us. Our goals are to create better educated donors and help would-be-volunteers or NGO workers consider the best placements of their skills.nnI began to be an anti-orphanage-tourism spokesperson here in Cambodia a few years ago as I started getting (and continue to get) requests from travelers and schools for orphanage visits and because I have seen many negative cases of this work here in Siem Reap. A group of us here connected with people doing academic research on the topic, experts in the field such as ChildSafe and others and started a group working towards trying to prevent the spread of this growing phenomenon. We have not put enough time into this yet to have huge results of our work, but I do think talking about these issues is a start. I have paid for storyboards to be drafted for a video piece we are looking to animate on the topic and now many people connect with me things like Tara’s project when they hear about them as they know this is something I care about. nnI am not an expert in this field, but I care and have researched a lot about it, and that is my point – the people voting in the Young Australian of the Year awards surely are not experts in this. This is not just about Tara and her award, as many of us have gotten awards which were based on our stories rather than on our actual impact, it is about ALL of us who choose to promote great stories without thinking about promoting the responsible processes of how to get there. nnI do not need to be an expert in the field to know that taking children into a home when one has not had training in social work or any of the areas required to provide an internationally recognized safe home is not something we want to promote. Going through the process of researching and then creating a the most responsible situation for children like the ones Tara took in, is. I hope we promote the most responsible processes, and I too hope to continue to learn about these issues, so I welcome your expertise in helping me continue to learn as you do.nnAdditionally, I see that you are the one who responded to my email to Tara on her site. I am sorry to see that her email is filtered from her and hope that it was still passed on giving her the opportunity to add her voice here. I hope the offers to connect and support her learning process, if not from me, than from others who are indeed experts whom I know have reached out to her to know avail, will get delivered to her and that she will consider connecting with them.n

  • Alia

    Why, if it the lessons you have learned that you are so kindly sharing with the world, did you not single yourself out for criticism? Why choose someone who actually went through correct avenues and involved local authorities and Cambodian people from the start? For someone so apparently passionate about Cambodian people you seem to have been very blind to the presence of CCT’s Director, Jedtha (who is Cambodian) who has been present from the very start of Tara’s work.

  • Peter

    Again this indicates your lack of proper research. The Australian Story documentary was made in 2009. The award was finalised in Canberra last month (January 2011). Tara and CCT were not controllers of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s editing or content of that documentary. Tara did not nominate herself for that award. No staff or board of CCT nominated her for that award. Let’s leave it at that. You keep posting your self opinionated ill informed blog to promote your commercial business plan in Cambodia. And CCT will get on with running an exemplary NGO in Battambang..

  • n/a


  • Lee

    I think Peter’s and other nay-sayers responses clearly prove your point that “no matter how hard you try to steer them away from orphanage tourism, they always seem to think they found the ‘exception to the rule’ with whatever orphanage let them walk in and pet their kids.”nnThank you very much Daniela for wiritng the article. It was long over due. I applaud you.

  • Peter

    Hello Lee. CCT does not engage in any ‘orphanage tourism’ at all. CCT is properly set up with an MOU with the Cambodian Ministry of Social Affairs. It is run by a Cambodian Director who is well qualified. It is not just an ‘orphanage’. It runs many programs including family support and vocational training in order to enable people to keep their children with them rather than send them to an orphnages..

  • Alia

    This blog makes comments about CCT and Tara’s work that are misleading and slanderous. The only effects of singling out Tara and CCT incorrectly will be to create hostility amongst NGO’s, waste valuable time for all involved, and create false fear for potential donors, without whom there are less resources for Cambodian kids, who, I would have hoped, should be the focus of all those involved with trying to improve their worlds. I highly suggest this blog be removed and rewritten without the references to Tara, you would have made some very, very good points if the example you chose to use was not in such stark contrast with what you are trying to change. This makes me very sad.

  • N.

    You seem to think that Tara actively sought out children to fill her orphanage. Tara did not “start” an orphanage. The children originally in the CCT orphanage were already institutionalized in a corrupt and abusive orphanage. I do not see any problem with the removal of these children from this environment. Tara started an NGO that focuses its work as much on community development, and family projects as it does on the orphanage it also runs. CCT understands that institutionalization should be a last resort, and operates in line with this belief. Sometimes, though, there is no other safe option. CCT has been officially operating very successfully for 4 years now, which isn’t a whole lot less time than your 5 years of experience, especially considering your experience comes from tourism- a rather unrelated field. nnFor a post not aimed at condemning Tara and the CCT, that really is all you talk about. Your thread seems extremely focused on a lot of ill-informed criticisms of the organization and Tara personally. If you want her to succeed, why give her organization a bad wrap? I smell a tall poppyu2026

  • Lee

    Perhaps it is worth your time to read all of the comments once again. It appears you missed the entire point.

  • Sharni

    Makes me think of Sunrise Village. Some people are very good at self promotion.nStill there are volunteer individuals and organizations quietly and without media fanfare going about their work who are committed to building good local governance and use ethical and sustainable development practices. nNot because it’s glamorous but because they are committed to social justice and simply because its the right thing to do. nwww.acecambodia.org.au check it out if you really want to be inspired by the true spirit of volunteerism.n

  • Susan

    Good luck trying to change the world through your blog Daniela! nnIn an ideal world the media would focus on impact rather than on the u201cherou201d but thatu2019s not the world we live in.nnThroughout human history, people have been inspired by the herou2019s journey. nnThe herou2019s journey is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual, and psychological development. It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization.nnThe herou2019s story touches peopleu2019s hearts. It personalises the issue.nnThe previous Australian Government recognised this when it refused to allow reporters to interview individual asylum seekers it was holding on Nauru. It feared that if their u2018herou2019s journeysu2019 stories were told, public opinion would turn against their inhumane policy of detention.nnI know Tara well and she is one of the most reluctant heroines you could find but she recognised that, in order to get people to open their wallets, she would not get another opportunity like Australian Story and she just had to do it, however distasteful to her personally.nnYou are obviously unaware that u2018Australian Storyu2019 is a documentary program about individual Australian people not issues. It seeks to u2018explore how Australians lead their lives through ordinary and extraordinary events and to elicit the ways in which different individuals are able to give meaning to their lives.u2019nTHATu2019S WHY u201cThey are looking at HER with a microscope u2013 interviewing her parents, finding out about heru201d And thatu2019s why thereu2019s NOT u201c the interview of the extended families of the children she is taking inu201d or u201c the discussion about what makes for a safe and responsible orphanageu201d or u201cwhat are the alternative means of care, and how do they relateu201dnnYou confidently state that u201cIn this video, as Tara is u201csaving another kid,u201d the children are crying and apparently not wanting to leave their extended familiesu201d Well I happen to know that those children were crying because they thought they were going to have to leave their 2 cousins, who had also been orphaned by AIDS, behind to fend for themselves.nnYou ask u201cBut WHAT is Tara doingu2014or better yet, HOW is she doing it?u201dnWell why didnu2019t you find out before writing this blog? Battambang is not that far from Siem Reap.nnI suggest that before you u201cwrite with your eyes closedu201d again, you do some research.nnI agree with Alia that you have made some very, very good points if the example you chose to use was not in such stark contrast with what you are trying to change.nnMeanwhile in order to get the affluent west to care a jot about the impoverished people in the rest of the world, we sadly have to rely on herou2019s stories that they can relate to in order to fund u2018models for replicable positive changeu2019.nn Oh and good luck too with trying to get young idealistic young people to listen to your pearls of wisdom instead of making their own mistakes. Ask any parent!n

  • Peter

    Daniela. Since you didn’t do the required research before uploading your blog to give it any credibility let’s try this one more time. Tara and The CCT Cambodian director Pon Jedtha set up CCT originally in 2007 with the full support of the Battambang Governor, the Cambodian Ministry or Social Affairs and an MOU with that department in place. CCT does not engage in ‘orphanage’ tourism or ‘voluntourism’. The staff at CCT are qualified and dedicated Cambodian people. As well as an orphanage for children for whom there is no other alternative CCT runs extensive programs to support families and offer them vocational training and small business start up loans and grants so they can become self supporting and keep their children with them. With regard to your also ill informed opinions about hero worship. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation that made the Australian Story documentary did not give Tara or CCT any rights to view the documentary and change the line it took before screening. What would have CCT do? Say no to the publicity and forgo the funding boost for the project just because you are uncomfortable with the the tendency for the public to want to identify projects with a leader or figurehead? Tara did not nominate herself for the Young Australian of the Year Award. Nor did anyone else at CCT. When she was nominated for that award would you have had her reject the free publicity because you have a bee in you bonnet about ‘hero worship’? Please be realistic. NGO’s doing good work in Cambodia and elsewhere in the developing world need to raise funding. This funding when used by a well run organisation like CCT is used for the benefit and development of the children they work with and in the case of CCT the wider Battambang community. If you had done your research or contacted CCT in a spirit of cooperation you would have found all this information. But you based your entire blog on a two year old 30 minute documentary documentary over which CCT had no control. How would you feel if I were to judge you on the basis of your 2007 video on Youtube about your Notre Dame business plan competition win http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wNM9KSDL4M without even talking to you to verify it’s contents and relevance to your current work? A very poor blog indeed! Cheap shots! Shame on you!

  • n/a

    i must say focusing on Tara’s work is not my interest here, and i dont think it should have been the main point of this article and comments. I guess Daniela mixed a bit too much her passion for the “orphanage” issue and the “hero” question. CCT’s reactions are legitime even if it makes the whole thing even more focused on Tara… and the whole discussion a bit fruitless. nnthe general topic on the responsibilities and duties of the NGOs towards their communications (do we need to create heroes to raise money?) and the whole NGO system and actions in Cambodia ( NGOs) is far more interesting. considering the number and power of NGOs in this country, the impact of their actions and communication on other audience (not only the beneficiaries but also the donors, the volounteers, the mass…) and the ways the NGOs are using the various media to communicate are worth to study and discuss. Perhaps it is not Tara’s fault to create followers, but if her image is used to promote a cause, she has clearly a responsibility in that.nnAlia, you are talking about “hostility”and “resources sharing”. Isnt it the NGO”s system itself that creates that? Nothing to do with this blog, or any other blog. You guys are all fighting day by day for your own daily subsitence. You live in a highly competitive market. And you all try to attract new payers and payees :) nn”Improving the kids world” is absolutely not a reason for an NGO to exist. Doing something that nobody else can do, both in quality and quantity, and in a certain and limited period of time and location is the only one acceptable reason I see for any NGO program to be ran.nn

  • Peter

    Hello Sharni. I had a look at the ACE Cambodia project. It looks very good. What makes you think that project is good and the CCT Battambang project is not? Very strange logic. They both do good work. They both seek funding and fundraising activities. What is about CCT that makes you think it is not the ‘true spirit of volunteerism’? Because a documentary was made by an independent producer? Beacuse some NGOs are more successful than others at raising funding for their worthwhile projects? Or simply because you have personal experinece of ACE and not of CCT.? Very strange.

  • n/a

    who said NGOs are doing good work in Cambodia or elsewhere in the developing world apart from the NGOs themself and donors?

  • Peter

    Some are some aren’t. Proper investigation has to be done to verify which ones are doing good work and which ones are not. This blog from Daniela is by no means a proper investigation. Very far from it. It has been inaccurate and misleading and badly researched throughout.

  • http://planningtheday.wordpress.com Meg

    From your descriptions, it sounds like CCT is providing great support to families and children in Battambang. I think Daniela’s point is that it would be so much better for the media to focus on the work that the organization is doing, the Cambodian staff, and the incredible amounts of preparation and education that are necessary for program’s like CCT to be successful. When the media focuses instead of a simplistic do-gooder narrative and does not engage the inevitable difficulties and nuances of child welfare and protection, Tara’s example may seem too easy to follow for young people with big dreams and a desire to help. That’s when we get young people showing up in Battambang, wanting to make a difference, looking for kids of their own, without any training or background in NGO management, child psychology, Cambodian culture or Khmer language. nnCan they learn, as Tara apparently has? Sure. But it takes years of hard work, investment from mentors, and flexibility to move around in your work until you find your niche. Taking responsibility for children before that does not seem like the wisest choice, because your mistakes may translate directly into more difficult or less effective programs and living situations for them.n

  • N.

    How dare you suggest that any person may go to CCT and “pet” the kids. That is a disgusting statement, with some quite serious and offensive undertones. These are children, not animals.

  • Peter

    Hi Meg. Yes, that’s quite right. In that case Daniela’s blog is about the media. Fair enough. Then why couch it in a long criticism of Tara and CCT? Especially with all the misinformation. We’d all like to change the media but we don’t all start by attacking each other. This is ill informed sensationalism. nPS. Tara is a fluent Khmer soeaker.

  • leigh

    Hey Daniela,nnJust wanted to send a quick note to let you know that i wholeheartedly support your views put forward in your blog post and wanted to offer my support. I have been following it keenly and it all seems to be getting a bit nasty and personal. What you wrote was insightful, truthful and to the point. Everything you said was absolutely correct and comes from living and working in this industry and actually thinking at a higher level than those who want to run orphanages. You see, and always have seen the bigger picture and are many steps ahead of people like the CCT folk. I know you are confident in this and this is why you write your blog and are so successful in your endeavours.nnThe orphanage industry in Cambodia is something that i feel very passionate about and is one of the most unjust and corrupt institutions operating in the NGO space. I have seen some of the most horrific incidents of abuse and exploitation through these so called orphanages and i agree with the theory that institutionalising children in any way is extremely detrimental to their physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. This theory is widely accepted in developed nations yet, citizens of these developed nations who accept this idea in their home country cannot accept it also applies in developing countries. Obviously the psychology behind this is complex, and something that many would find it very difficult to own up to.nnAll this money that NGOs like CCT are begging from the public through their ‘publicity’ would be better used to strengthen the child rights movement and educate all Cambodians about the negative impacts of institutionalising children. There is so much research out there to support this, so why aren’t we doing it?

  • Peter

    Hi Leigh. So are you saying that there is no such thing as a good NGO? That it is as black and white as that? They are all bad? Everyone of them is involved in ‘horrific incidents of abuse and exploitation’? If so there there is no point discussing this with you. If not then what makes you assume that CCT is in the ‘bad’ category? Because you simply believe the views professed by Daniella? What research or genuine investigation into CCT have you conducted? Don’t believe everything you read. Even if it is from someone who professes to know it all.