Why you shouldn’t volunteer or visit orphanages in Cambodia

Although you may think you are ‘giving back’ by volunteering or visiting an orphanage, you are actually contributing to the rise in Cambodia’s fake orphanages.

During my five years living in Siem Reap, I witnessed an alarming increase in the rise of Cambodia’s fake orphanages. Many orphanages are set up as a profit-making business, and do not contribute to the development of local communities at all. There are reports around the country of children not having enough to eat, orphanage Directors abusing children and incidents of fraud.

Despite the amount of bad publicity about Cambodia’s fake orphanages, people still continue to volunteer at these institutions for days, weeks or months at a time.  There are also busloads of tourists who rock up at orphanages for the day, armed with their camera and an eagerness to hug and play with children they are only meeting for the first time.

Many of these orphanages encourage and advertise for tourists to visit their premises. They say that the only way they can survive is through the generosity of visitors and volunteers. Assisting Cambodian Orphans and Disabled Organization (ACODO) posts flyers around Siem Reap town and invites people to come to a nightly dance performance at their orphanage. The children are turned into tourist attractions, and are, in reality, a commodity.

Tourists are coaxed into visiting these children at their homes [the orphanages], and don’t question that this would not be allowed in countries like Australia. They bounce in and out of the children’s lives, starting with disruption and ending with feelings of abandonment. It becomes a normal part of life, and it shouldn’t be.

“When I worked at an orphanage in Siem Reap, at least half of the children still had one parent.” – Cambodian staff member

According to a 2015 report by the Ministry of Social Affairs Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, one in every 350 children lives in an orphanage, while 80% of these children are not orphans.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Social Affairs Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation completed a study of orphanages in Cambodia and concluded that almost a third of children in care should be returned to their families by 2018. Although this is good news, it is estimated that 38% of orphanages have not been inspected, 25% of orphanages don’t have the necessary agreements with the government and 10% of orphanages are not even registered with the government. This means that it could still be a long time before the orphanage issue is under control. And with two million tourists visiting Cambodia each year, they are still likely to be encouraging the rise of Cambodia’s fake orphanages.

Yes, I am sure there are well-run orphanages around, but the fact is that Cambodia’s fake orphanages are playing with people’s lives. When children are raised in institutions, they are 500 times more likely to commit suicide, 10 times more likely to be involved in prostitution as adults and 40 times more likely to have a criminal record. These children deserve to be with parents, guardians or foster families instead of orphanages. We, the tourists, have the ability to stop this.

You can help by signing this petition to stop orphanage volunteering.

How to help in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Are you heading to Cambodia and looking for ways you can help in Siem Reap?

Instead of jumping on the ‘voluntourism’ wagon, which has many negative consequences, you can effectively help in other ways! The best way you can help Cambodians is to be a responsible traveller. Do your research about the country up front, educate yourself on the culture and familiarise yourself with basic Khmer sayings. Then, take a look at these three ways you can help in Siem Reap and select one!

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Giving blood at Angkor Hospital for Children. Source: Ya Nuon

Donate Blood

Donating blood is an incredible way to help Cambodians. Angkor Hospital for Children is a free hospital for children in Siem Reap that aims to provide children with access to high quality, compassionate care wherever they live and whatever their ability to pay.

They are always in need of blood donors, whether it be for an open heart surgery patient, a child suffering from chronic haemophilia or to a survivor of a motor bike accident. Just like in countries such as Australia, the lab staff will run a few quick tests to ensure your haemoglobin levels are high enough and blood pressure is within a safe range to donate. 

The best part about this is that it doesn’t cost you any money to make a big impact in a Cambodian child’s life!

Location: Tep Vong (Achamean) Road & Oum Chhay Street, Svay Dangkum, Siem Reap,

Hours: 8am – 4pm

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‘Eclipse’ at Phare, the Cambodian Circus

Shop/Dine/Stay at Social Enterprises

There are a large amount of social enterprises in Siem Reap that you can shop/dine/stay at. These social enterprises usually support the work of an NGO (non-government organisation), or simply just care about fair wages and conditions for their workers.

You may choose to catch a nightly circus show at Phare, the Cambodian Circus, where the profits support their mother NGO in Battambang. Or you may want to help in the preservation of Khmer culture by watching the Sacred Dancers of Angkor perform traditional Khmer dances.

When it comes to eating, Footprint Cafes has a delicious selection of food and donates 100% of net profits as educational grants back to the local community. Salabai is a hospitality training school that also has a restaurant, hotel and spa on their premises.

Soria Moria Boutique Hotel has an employee-share program, and also sells a gorgeous range of fair-trade products from multiple social enterprises and NGO’s.

There are many more social enterprises you can support with your dollars, and the Social Enterprise Cambodia website lists many of them. If you were interested, research into a few!

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A donation can go a long way in Cambodia.

Make a monetary donation

Money goes a long way in Cambodia. Another good way you can help in Siem Reap is to donate money to reputable NGO’s. It is a good idea to research these NGO’s before travelling to Cambodia. Look out for organisations that are transparent and have their finances and annual reports online. Make sure that they have child protection policies, and require pre-bookings for you to visit.

When you do visit, don’t take photos (children are NOT tourist attractions), and keep an eye out for any red flags, such as the staff allowing you to roam the premises unaccompanied or walk into classrooms and ‘teach’ the children. A good NGO should have a strict visitor policy and child protection policy in place, and they should be adhering to it. As a responsible traveller, you are to respect that NGO’s are learning environments and the community should feel safe and comfortable. Disturbing the students/beneficiaries is not responsible, and reputable NGO’s should not allow you to do that.

Also, consider the time it takes for a staff member to show you around. This is time they could be spending developing their community, so a substantial donation (an absolute minimum of $50USD) is suggested. Then, once you are inspired from your visit, head home and fundraise for the cause!

Websites for volunteering opportunities in Australia

There are thousands of causes you can support with your volunteer hours in Australia. The problem is, where do you start? This guide will give you the best websites to find volunteer opportunities in Australia.

Volunteering locally is a fantastic way to help your community. Whether you decide to join an advisory board, help out an event, or walk shelter dogs once a week, the experiences can be worthwhile and also beneficial to the organisation you support.

Probono Australia ProBono’s platform, VolunteerMatch, helps people from right across Australia match their skills from professional industries such as law, marketing, business and IT to a relevant and rewarding volunteer role. It is free to search for and post roles. They also have a great blog that is updated frequently with news on the not-for-profit sector.

Idealist Although Idealist has worldwide opportunities, you can still find an abundance of volunteering roles in Australia. This is also a great site to find ‘online’ roles, which you can undertake from the comfort of your home.

EthicalJobs – This is my ‘go-to’ site for finding employment. Just select ‘volunteer’ in the work type, and you will be met with many volunteer opportunities from all over Australia.

SEEK Volunteer – I find this website has more ‘hands on’ opportunities than other volunteer websites. Want to spend time with an isolated elderly person? Or be a Marshall at a fun run? Chances are, you will fine the opportunity here.

The Centre for Volunteering –  This website is great, as it breaks search categories down into skilled volunteering, event volunteering and youth volunteering. If volunteering is your passion, might even want to undertake a ‘Certificate in Active Volunteering’, which is what I did in 2011.

If you had a particular organisation in mind to volunteer with, be sure to visit their website directly, as most organisations have a page dedicated to this. Best of luck with your volunteering, and thank you for helping your community!

Four social enterprises to support in Cambodia

When you visit Cambodia you are bound to come across many Cambodian social enterprises. These social enterprises usually support the work of an NGO (non-government organisation), or simply just care about fair wages and conditions for their workers.

Unless you are staying for an extended period of time, I doubt you will be able to visit every Cambodian social enterprise that exists, as much as you may want to! To help you to shop and dine responsibly, I have composed this short-list of Cambodian social enterprises.

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Source: Bonhomie

Bonhomie | Siem Reap

Bonhomie is a boutique fashion and accessories brand in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This Cambodian social enterprise supports the work of  Life Project Cambodia, a local NGO that empowers disadvantaged Cambodian children and youth to create their own solutions to poverty.

Their bracelets are made by the parents of Life Project Cambodia’s students, thus directly providing the families with regular income and reducing the reliance on aid and assistance. Their other boutique fashion items and accessories are handmade by the sewing graduates at Human & Hope Association in Siem Reap.

Bonhomie is exclusively available in the upstairs ‘den’ at The Little Red Fox Espresso in Siem Reap’s Kandal Village.

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Source: Cambodia Knits

Cambodia Knits | Phnom Penh

Cambodia Knits is a social enterprise working with marginalized communities in and near Phnom Penh. Their goal is to produce beautiful, high quality and unique hand-made products while providing fair and flexible employment opportunities.

Cambodia Knits has a gorgeous range of products, with my favourite being the Sleepy Snogus. You can purchase Cambodia Knit’s products at their store in Phnom Penh, Cambodian Creations. If you aren’t heading to Phnom Penh, you can also purchase their hand-knitted crafts through their stockists in Kampot and Siem Reap, too!

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Source: Eco-Soap Bank

Eco-Soap Bank | Siem Reap

Eco-Soap Bank is a non-profit organization working to save, sanitize, and supply recycled soap to the developing world. They collect gently used soap bars from hotels and guesthouses in Cambodia then have their local staff sanitise and reprocess the soap into new bars. Once the bars are ready, Eco-Soap Bank donates them to NGO’s, hospitals schools and communities whilst paired with hygiene training. The overall goal of this Cambodian social enterprise is to impart the tools and skills to keep people healthy for generations.

You can have the opportunity to explore Eco-Soap Bank’s Siem Reap recycling facility and make your own recycled soap by booking one of their tours. 100% of this revenue is invested back into the local community

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Source: Footprint Cafes

Footprint Cafes | Siem Reap

Footprint Cafes is the newest Cambodian social enterprise on this list. Located in a quiet road in Siem Reap, Footprints Cafe offers an excellent selection of both Khmer and Western food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

They put people first, and provide training and career progression for their staff, living wages, paid parental leave and health insurance. Not only that, they donate 100% of their net profits as educational grants back to the local community.

There are thousands of books in the cafe, so if you were looking for a relaxing day this is the place to be!

How to Run a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign for your Charity

It isn’t easy for charities to stand out from the crowd nowadays. It takes a lot of planning, networking and commitment to run a successful crowdfunding campaign. 

These 10 tips on how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign have been put together from my personal experience of running several crowdfunding campaigns for Human and Hope Association, a Cambodian charity. With each crowdfunding campaign, I developed my knowledge, worked out what didn’t ‘speak’ to people, and understood that many different factors contribute to whether a crowdfunding campaign is a success or not. Here are some tips on how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign for your charity.

Plan ahead

It pays to plan ahead. When I run a crowdfunding campaign, I put together a comprehensive document with all the details. These details include a comparison of crowdfunding platforms (with my preference being Chuffed), the text for the campaign, social media images, mail out text,

Set achievable goals

Sit down with your team/workmates/board and work out an achievable goal. It is good to be ambitious, however, if you aim too high you may end up feeling deflated and not appreciating the funds that you DID raise. Try and calculate how much an average donation might be by looking back at previous donation records, searching for crowdfunding campaigns with a similar purpose to yours, or asking around your network.

Be creative

The market is full of crowdfunding campaigns, with everything from people fundraising for medical costs, voluntourism trips, or the next big invention. It pays (literally) to be creative, otherwise, your campaign will get lost in the crowd. Take a look at Edgar’s Mission. They have held several engaging, cute and inspiring crowdfunding campaigns over the years on Chuffed. Their message is always clear and positive, their images are bright and hopeful, and their videos tell a great story.

Have excellent perks

Being a charity with limited funds, it can be challenging to find perks that engage people. Remember though, perks don’t have to cost you a lot! If you are fundraising for new tables for your classroom, offer to write the donor’s name on one. If you are raising funds for care packages for a women’s shelter, go for the ‘buy one, give one’ model. Or you can even hold an exclusive VIP night for donors, and use it as an opportunity to meet them face to face and generate more revenue.

Have a strong social media game

Social media is crucial for crowdfunding campaigns. However, you can’t just rely on your posts to be shared. You will need to invest in advertisements on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, and ensure that your target audience is on point.

Recruit crowdfunding champions

This is something I have always struggled with. From the get go, you need to have a reliable team of champions who are willing to go above and beyond for your crowdfunding campaign. They need to be passionate about the cause, committed to it and have the right attitude to promote it. By getting a team of 5 – 10 crowdfunding champions on board,

Make it urgent

Crowdfunding campaigns should only last for one month, to keep the message urgent. Any longer, and it just drags on. Trust me – I once ran a crowdfunding campaign for three months, and it was excruciating to spend so much time each day on it. When the campaign ended, we were $700 short. That evening, a donor contacted me and pledged the remaining funds. I always regret spending so much time and energy on that campaign. Urgency is key!

Connect with the media

The last crowdfunding campaign I ran for Human and Hope Association generated support from a lot of people who had never heard of us before. I had reached out to numerous bloggers, and as a result, our online presence was strong. When you are in the planning stages, spend a few days researching potential media outlets, bloggers and influencers that can relate to your cause, and come up with a way to entice them to write about your cause.

Keep your team motivated

If you don’t keep your team motivated, they will lose focus and your crowdfunding campaign is bound to fall flat. Use rewards, such as a small party when you reach your goal. Set individual targets for people with their input. Share stories with them about the people your organisation has helped, and keep their eye focused on the end goal.

Celebrate and learn

Take the time to stop and celebrate your achievements. I know that this is something I find difficult, as I usually move onto my next fundraising strategy before I have even finished this one. But you DESERVE IT. Running a crowdfunding campaign is NOT easy, and you should be commended for your efforts.

Good luck!

The Heartbreaking Yet Inspiring Story of Sophy

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This is Sophy, a woman I worked with during my time in Cambodia. Sophy grew up in a war-torn country. With the Khmer Rouge taking control of Cambodia, she and her family had very little food to eat, worked all day at risk of punishment, and didn’t have access to education or medical support. When her father was killed, her family struggled to survive. Yet, Sophy was considered lucky, as she wasn’t one of the two million people (a quarter of Cambodia’s population at the time) who perished under the regime.

Once the Khmer Rouge regime ended in 1979, Sophy’s family struggled to rebuild their lives. Her mother remarried a very violent man who directed his anger towards her family. One day, despite their pleas to stop, Sophy’s stepfather killed her sister with a piece of wood. Her mother spiralled into depressed and died several months later.

All alone, Sophy had no option but to continue to live with her stepfather. After a few months, he married a woman who forced Sophy to work from early morning until late evening. Sophy would work in the rice field and collect rattan. With no free time and no one to care about her, Sophy never had the opportunity to attend school.

Sophy’s stepfather was killed by stepping on one of the millions of landmines left over from the war. This meant that she had to work harder than ever to support herself, and she was overcome with a feeling of helplessness.

That feeling changed when she was approached by an artisan association to work with them. Sophy learnt how to paint statues and earned a good income for her work. She was finally happy, and when she met a man in her village at age 20, she decided to get married. Sophy chose him as he didn’t smoke and drink alcohol, unlike many of the men in her village.

Sophy gave birth to her first child a year after getting married. Despite being allowed by her employers to take maternity leave and return to her role, her husband didn’t allow her. He was jealous that she worked away from home and expected her to stay and do housework. He began to drink alcohol and became an alcoholic. With the alcohol came violence, and Sophy’s life was back where it had started.

Sophy began collecting rattan to make baskets for 25 cents each. She also worked on a farm and completed seasonal shifts as a builder. Despite working three jobs, her salary wasn’t anywhere near as much as she made when she was a statue painter.

Sophy started spiralling into depression, and with four children to look after, she never had a free moment. Sophy was often sick and her hospital bills pushed her family further and further into debt.

In 2014, Human and Hope Association opened our new community centre just 300 metres from Sophy’s house. Whilst conducting assessments for scholarship students, our staff came across Sophy at her home. We offered her a role as our Sustainability Assistant, where she would be in charge of cooking, cleaning and taking care of our farm.

Sophy’s husband agreed that she could work with Human and Hope Association, as it was close by. As time went by, Sophy’s role developed from part-time to full-time, with her taking on additional responsibilities such as teaching in art class and promoting our organisation to the community.

Sophy’s four children now study in our educational programs, including English, Khmer, preschool, art class and library. They continue to study in public school, with her eldest child already in secondary school. Sophy has learnt basic Khmer through our language classes and also partakes in weekly staff development workshops and external training sessions. Through our staff savings scheme, Sophy has been able to start a chicken farm and build a well for her family to access water. Their quality of living has been steadily increasing.

We work with her husband to reduce his drinking and violence by involving him in our family happiness workshops. Sophy continues to live with him in the hope that he will change and be a positive role model for her children.

Change in our community doesn’t come easily; it takes a lot of hands-on work. Our local team work with whole families like Sophy’s to provide them with the education, training and support that they need to break the cycle of poverty and lead happy lives.

To continue this important work with the families in our community, Human and Hope Association needs your help this end of financial year.

Choose Human and Hope Association as your end-of-financial-year charity. You can literally change a life like Sophy’s.

Mentoring Young Australian Men

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It amazes me how ignorant I can be to issues that are happening in Australia. Did you know that suicide accounts for 24% of deaths of young Australian males? And that young men are five times more likely to commit suicide than young women?

I had no idea until I became involved with the Top Blokes Foundation, an organisation that runs mentoring programs for young Australian men. By teaching young men about topics such as drugs and alcohol, racism, healthy relationships and cyber bullying, the Top Blokes Foundation is challenging the statistics. Here are some more that you may not have known:

  • Young men are 3.5 times more likely to die from a preventable accident than young women.
  • Nearly 90% of young people in juvenile justice are male.
  • The fastest growing consumers of pornography are boys aged 12-15 years. The average age of first viewing is 11 years old.
  • 46% of young Australian males have been in physical fights.
  • 99% of ‘King Hit’ attacks are by males, with 49% of those males aged between 18 and 23 years.
  • One in four teenagers have experienced an unwanted sexual encounter, with 61% of teenagers reporting they have felt pressured to send a ‘sext’.

Each year, the Top Blokes Foundation works with around 1,500 young Australian men to increase their skills and knowledge while increasing their attitudes and behaviour. Their youth workers facilitate weekly workshops in schools, and by mentoring these boys they have achieved amazing results.

  • 92% of young men have learnt something new about looking after their own mental health
  • 85% of young men stated that their self-esteem and confidence increased as a result of their programs
  • 84% of young men have significantly changed their opinions about alcohol and drugs
  • 74% of young men stated that they learnt new techniques for conflict resolution and anger management
  • There was a 46% decrease in young men judging others based on their gender or sexual identity

By igniting the inner ‘Top Bloke’ in young Australian men, we can reduce the negative impact on society by young men who grow into adults. We can build a better Australia, by mentoring these young men at an early age.

To continue the good work, and to get to boys on their waiting list, the Top Blokes Foundation needs your help! A tax-deductible donation of $300 can sponsor one young Australian man in their Junior Top Blokes Mentoring Program for a whole semester. Their campaign ends on the 16th of June, so please donate today.

Thoughts About Direct Aid

A few years ago I was at a hospital about 60km from Siem Reap, Cambodia. My friend, a nurse, was working as an advisor there to build the capacity of the nursing staff. She became frustrated as the staff weren’t taking care of their equipment. When she raised the issue with them, they shrugged and responded, “Who cares? We will just get more donated.”

Giving direct aid is a sensitive topic. In some cases, it can be effective, such as cash transfer programs. However, there are potential repercussions to think about when handing out direct aid.

Awhile ago, I was approached by an Australian charity who were doing work in Cambodia. They wanted feedback on what they were doing.  Basically, they come over every couple of months, working with the local community in Siem Reap where they see a need, and give direct aid. They come armed with hundreds of kilograms of luggage, holding countless stuffed toys, shoes, clothing and electronics amongst other things. These items are distributed amongst families, students, teachers and health centre workers. I was gave my honest feedback, which didn’t go down well.

First let’s look at the giving clothes issue.  When we give clothing for free to people in developing countries, it undermines the local economy. Small, local businesses are affected as the recipients of the free clothing don’t purchase new clothing from the local markets. Africa experienced a 50% reduction in apparel production between 1981 and 2000 due to the influx of clothing donations. This resulted in a decline in employment, which meant that citizens who didn’t need assistance from aid programs before were more likely to……because of the effects of said direct aid.

Added to this, when we give clothing it shifts the responsibility of providing for children and families from the parents/guardians onto donors. It gives the wrong impression to the recipients, who begin to think that it is normal to receive handouts from foreigners, and they come to expect more of these donations. Let me be clear; it shouldn’t be normal, and local governments and NGO’s need to be providing education and training opportunities to their citizens so that they can afford to buy clothing themselves, and not be shifting their basic responsibilities as parents onto someone else. It isn’t sustainable, it isn’t empowering, and it isn’t effective.

Then, there is the toys issue. Oh my, how many times I have seen charities distribute toys to kids in Cambodia. But why? Why do kids in Cambodia need toys? They are very versatile, and can create their own games with no resources apart from their imagination. Yet, foreigners are distributing homemade stuffed animals made in their knitting circles and other toys because they THINK that is what Cambodian children need. It makes them, the donors, FEEL good.

I have news for you; supporting marginalised citizens is not about how it makes you feel. It is about what is best for the local communities, and to determine what is best for the local communities, you need input from the….that’s right, LOCAL COMMUNITIES. I guarantee you, that when asked what they need, they will not be saying ‘stuffed animals’.

I once went out to a rural community in Siem Reap with an NGO who was distributing donated goods. The villagers rushed to get close to the van that was filled to the brim with toys, shoes, clothing and stationery. It was chaos. I saw one woman who ended up taking ten pairs of shoes, without permission, and other villagers  shoving each other to get their free goods. After everything was (unevenly) distributed, I took a walk down the road. To my disgust, I saw a few colouring in pages and toys that had been distributed to children laying on the side of the road, broken and discarded. Just 10 minutes after the children had received them.

When we give things for free, people don’t tend to value them, as was the case of the nurses who worked at the rural hospital. This goes for many people, regardless of their wealth or status. I know that I personally respect and take care of things more when I have worked hard to purchase them myself. When you are given something, you don’t connect that feeling of accomplishment and achievement with the item. Thus, there isn’t a big willingness to protect those items, especially if the recipient is under the impression that there is plenty more where that came from.

We once signed up a lady living in poverty to study in our sewing program at Human and Hope Association. However, just before the program began, a local NGO built her a house. After that? She didn’t want to study in the program, gaining a skill that she could use to earn an income to support her children as a single mother. She already had a house given to her, after all, and the sewing program required dedication and hard work. 

The charity I spoke about at the beginning also builds houses for people. Do you agree with it? I mean, sure, it isn’t that expensive to do so. You can build a very simple house for $1,000USD in Cambodia. But what about the repercussions of that? Is this house a long-term solution? Will this bring a family out of poverty? Will this create a dependence on aid? Will this cause them to stop seeking employment opportunities?

Some might argue that when we give direct aid, we are setting the recipients up for failure. I tend to agree with that. We are encouraging people to take aid instead of empowering them with the skills and education they need to earn an income. It isn’t a long-term solution. It is putting a band-aid on the problem, more often or not to make the givers feel like they have done something useful.

During Christmas 2016, a tourist visited Siem Reap. At the last minute he decided to gift food, and put a call out on his Facebook page for people to donate money to buy rice bags. He distributed these rice bags with the help of a translator who drove up to ‘poor shacks’ and asked the stories of the people living inside. He raised thousands of dollars and randomly gave these rice bags to handfuls of people. 

I was asked by three different friends to approach this man and persuade him to direct his money elsewhere. I knew it was a hopeless case, however I reached out to him and explained what my Cambodian workmate thought about the situation. My workmate said that distributing the rice really creates a dependency for people. Even though to the donor it was a ‘one off’ donation,  the mindset of many people is that when they receive something, they think it will always come, and become dependent on it. Many actually then don’t have a willingness to work/seek income from other sources due to it.

Not only this, the unfair distribution of aid can cause jealousy resentment in communities. Think about it. If there are five houses on a piece of land, and you are distributing rice to two households, how will the other three households feel? Regardless of whether or not they are poor, they will expect something as their neighbours received it. There is a whole ‘losing face’ culture in Asia, and I have known of villagers who get very very jealous when one child/family receives something, and they don’t. It can cause conflict and we don’t want that, do we?

Needless to say, the man didn’t listen to me. Like many others, he attempted to justify his actions. He didn’t see anything wrong with the fact that a stranger was going into people’s houses and giving them rice. His message that this sort of giving was to be commended spread very far; I actually saw several people post about it and congratulate him on his actions. This was very concerning, as countless other people would be believing that direct aid great way of helping people, and would be more likely to do it when they visit a developing country in the future.

I don’t have a solid answer to the question of whether direct aid is a good thing or a bad thing. However, I do know that we need be very VERY careful in what we do. We are undoubtedly affecting people’s lives and their futures. As an alternative to giving direct aid, I highly recommend supporting education and training programs in developing countries that empower people with the skills and knowledge they need to break the cycle of poverty. Do your research, find a reputable and effective NGO, and donate. Because we need to be thinking before we act. 

This is Why You Shouldn’t Be a Voluntourist Teacher

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So you want to travel to Cambodia as a voluntourist and teach children.

It is great that you have the urge to help, but before you jump online and book your flights, stop and ask yourself the following questions.

Am I qualified?

Firstly, are you a qualified teacher? Many people who visit Cambodia to ‘teach’ are unqualified teenagers or young adults who are still learning themselves. Would you want your child to learn from someone who wasn’t qualified to teach; who didn’t possess the necessary skills to control a class; who may be so unsuitable to teach that they deter your students from learning? Nup? I didn’t think so. Let’s stop thinking that people in developing countries deserve second-best, and strive to give them what everyone in the world deserves – quality education.

Is there a need?

This is a good one. Are you actually needed? I know, I know, it can be a bit of a downer to know that you aren’t needed, but we should be celebrating the fact that there are qualified teachers in Cambodia who can teach and interact with students in an appropriate cultural context. If an NGO doesn’t have qualified teachers, it could be because they are lacking the budget to fund these teachers (believe me, salaries are on the rise and it can be difficult to stay competitive when you have limited funds). How about you help fundraise for the cause instead, once you have vetted that it is a legitimate NGO?

Many NGO’s also have you ‘assist’ a local teacher, or have the local teacher ‘assist’ you. Stop and think how you would feel doing your job and having a stranger come in to tell you how to do things better (even though they have no idea about your local context), take your duties from you, or disrupt what you have worked so hard to build up (such as your students respect and attention). It wouldn’t feel very good, and you may feel unmotivated to continue doing your job once that person goes, which would then affect the beneficiaries. We wouldn’t want that, would we?

Do I have to pay?

If an NGO really IS in need of your help, they won’t ask you to pay or fundraise for them. If they are asking for a fee, or a ‘donation’, chances are that they are only accepting volunteers as a money generating mission. What you should be looking for is organisations who, for whatever reason, don’t have access to qualified teachers and genuinely need your help.

Am I planning on spending more than a month volunteering?

Would you like to study at an organisation where volunteers are coming and going every month? There isn’t consistency, there are potential detachment issues for the students, it takes the volunteers some time to settle in to the new country and context….there are just so many reasons why the standard ‘one month’ volunteering schedule just isn’t a viable option. If you were planning on volunteering to teach, you need to be prepared to spend a decent amount of time there. I understand that it isn’t an option for most people, however maybe you should then think that it isn’t what is best for the people you are trying to help.

Have you thoroughly researched the country?

OK, so your friend visited Cambodia and thought it was awesome, so you just had to jump on that train. Or maybe you had already visited the country and fallen in love with the people. That doesn’t mean you really know everything about it. There are so many issues in this country. Even after living here for five years, I am discovering new ones every day. While you may think that the country you want to volunteer in is fabulous, there is always more than meets the eye, and you have to be prepared for that. So hop onto Google and research the shit out of the country before you make the decision to spend an extended period of time there.

“Be careful because Cambodia is the most dangerous country you will ever visit. You will fall in love with it and eventually it will break your heart.” – Joseph Mussomeli, former US Ambassador to Cambodia.

Is there a more effective way I can help?

Chances are, yes. Instead of volunteering to teach, you can:

  • Hold a fundraiser in your home country and donate it to fund a local teachers salary instead
  • Become a monthly donor, so the NGO has a consistent stream of income
  • Still visit the country, but be a responsible traveller instead of a voluntourist
  • If you are a skilled volunteer, search www.idealist.org for opportunities where you can capacity build staff or contribute to the sustainability of an organisation
  • Join a fundraising board to raise funds for an organisation

This is Why You Shouldn’t Buy From Street Children

reasons-not-to-buy-from-street-children

Although it is tempting, buying from street children isn’t the answer to helping these kids.

“Ten postcards for one dollar. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten”. The young girl at Ta Prohm temple showed the postcards she was holding to the tourist waiting in the tuk-tuk beside her. “No,” he answered. “I need money, you buy 10 for one dollar,” she persisted. The man kept saying no. The girl stayed firmly planted. Finally, the man gave in. “If I give you one dollar, will you leave me alone?”

Watching all this unfold, I finally decided to say something. “It isn’t a good idea to buy from that child or give her money,” I called out. 

The guy looked over at me and responded, “I know, but she is so annoying, I just want to get rid of her.”

“That’s her strategy,” I replied. “However, stand your ground. If you give her that dollar, it will only trap her in the cycle of poverty.”

The man nodded and didn’t reach for his wallet. Eventually, the girl walked away.

When you travel to developing countries, you are likely to come across street children, child beggars and sellers. It is natural for you to want to help them, and I can completely understand why you would want to. Back in 2009, on my first trip to Cambodia, I too, bought palm leaf trinkets from a child. However, it is best for the wellbeing of the child that you keep your wallet secure and you don’t give into their selling tactics, for the following reasons:

  1. It traps them in the poverty cycle

“I need money for school”, is a common line from street children. Maybe they do. Public school in Cambodia runs for half a day, though children usually have to partake in extra classes. However, even if the children ARE in school, do you think they will have the energy to concentrate if they are working in their free time? And once they see they can make money by selling on the streets, they are more likely to drop out, as they and their parents see the value in earning an income over the investment of education. This means that the child is likely to remain uneducated, thus not being able to break the cycle of poverty as they won’t have the skills or knowledge to access gainful, full-time employment in the future

  1. It shifts the responsibility from their parents

I know two brothers who sell balloons each night at 60 Road, a local hangout for Cambodians. Despite receiving the support from an NGO, they kept on selling. Whenever I saw them, I would ask them, “Where are your parents?”. They would respond, “At home.”. These boys would work from 6pm – 11pm every night (from when they were seven years old) and cycle home in the dark. Their parents were responsible for them, yet they shifted their parental obligations onto the kids.

When we buy from children, their parents see the value in it. They see the money that the children bring home each evening, and realise it is an ‘easy option’ for them to get food on the table. I know that each situation is unique, however we are perpetuating these attitudes and behaviours by buying from children.

  1. You could be exposing them to bigger risks

Aside from the two points above, there are other risks that child sellers could be exposed to. Sexual predators, trafficking and exposure drugs are just a few. These children are likely to be much better off staying at home or school where the exposure to these risks is reduced.

There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution to the issues of poverty. However, as you can see from above, buying from children will only aggravate the issue. Instead of buying from street children, consider supporting local organisations who address the issue of getting kids off the street and into schools. Or, buy from adults, who are working hard to earn money to support their families. Around Siem Reap you will often see handicapped people who sell books and paintings by themselves, instead of making their children beg for them. Those are the people you can be confident in supporting. Finally, you can shop at social enterprises who train adults so they have the ability to earn while their children can learn.

What is best for these children is that they have the chance to be kids; to study, to play and to have fun. Not to be working.