Push to End Orphanage Tourism Gains Further Momentum
8 November 2017 at 5:24 pm
The push to end Australia’s involvement in orphanage tourism has gained further momentum, with another major organisation planning to stop sending volunteers to overseas orphanages.
Projects Abroad, a leading volunteer organisation which has facilitated trips to overseas orphanages for over two decades, announced it will cease its partnerships with these institutions at the end of the year.
Australians heading overseas to volunteer at orphanages (known as “voluntourism”) is a popular practice, which has been facilitated by the tourism industry for years.
But advocacy agency ReThink Orphanages has led a campaign to end the supply of Australians to these institutions, because of the “very strong links” between children in orphanages and modern slavery.
General manager at Projects Abroad Australia, Will Pashley, told Pro Bono News that this decision came at the end of a “fairly long process” researching the orphanage industry.
“It’s a culmination of something that’s been happening for quite a few years now. We’ve been gradually moving away from residential orphanage type placements, partly because there’s a growing body of evidence that it’s not the best option for kids,” Pashley said.
“We’ve always vetted the placements that we’ve worked with very well – we have full-time local staff everywhere that we work.
“But as our community-based programs gain more traction, and we’ve moved away from some of our residential projects, we’ve got to the point where there’s only a small number of placements left – around 20 worldwide. And we’ve decided it’s probably clearer if we have a position where we say we don’t do this at all, rather than working with a few places.”
Projects Abroad has committed to shifting all its childcare-focused volunteer work from orphanages, and other residential care facilities, to community-based childcare by the end of the year.
“There’s a good model in Cambodia where we work with a local partner, which supports families. These offer more of a holistic range of services for some of the poorer families in the region,” Pashley said.
“It’s looking at communities and working with local organisations to see where we can appropriately fill those gaps.”
Greg Thomson, the CEO of Projects Abroad, said this new strategy was key to building a better future for children currently in residential care.
“In 2016, the Projects Abroad leadership team embarked on a review and assessment of where our volunteers make the most sustainable and significant impact, especially when working with children,” Thomson said.
“A recurring theme from this process was that community-based care for children is where we should be focusing the efforts of our volunteers.”
Pashley also noted that Projects Abroad was not completely cutting ties with their partner orphanages immediately.
“We’re setting a date at the end of the year where we will cease to place people [at orphanages], but we’ve been talking to those placements and explaining our position and we’re trying to run a responsible exit strategy,” he said.
“We’ll be making sure… that we aren’t abandoning the placements. We’re trying to move towards and encourage a better model.
“If it’s something that helps move that along and leads to a better long-term solution then we’re glad to be a small part of that.”
This move has been welcomed by Australian Senator Linda Reynolds, who currently sits on a parliamentary inquiry committee into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.
“I’m delighted the travel and volunteering sectors now recognise that there are better ways to help vulnerable children, and are moving towards supporting community and family-based care,” Reynolds said.
“I applaud ReThink Orphanages Network for this successful collaboration – it stands as an example to other organisations, and to us all, that Australians can responsibly and progressively withdraw from supporting institutions in favour of community-based care for vulnerable children.
“This is why I have fought so hard to have this issue recognised as a form of modern slavery and successfully advocated to have it included in the Parliamentary Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia. As a result of our collective efforts, Australia is leading global efforts to tackle this insidious trade in children.”
ReThink Orphanages’ coordinator Leigh Mathews, told Pro Bono News that Projects Abroad joining their network was another positive development in the push to end “voluntourism”.
“ReThink Orphanages Network is very proud to welcome Projects Abroad as a member. This kind of commitment from travel companies is crucial in ensuring that vulnerable children can have the best chance at life, by growing up in families, not orphanages,” Mathews said.
“There’s still a long way to go in the push to stop orphanage tourism, but the kind of leadership shown by Projects Abroad, World Challenge and the Intrepid Group is integral to the systemic change we need to see in the way we care for vulnerable children.”