Would You Do This in Your Country?

On our first day in Thailand, we attended a Child Safe workshop, where we learned a lot about the exploitation of children in countries such as Thailand. It was extremely informative and I learned a lot. One thing that really stuck out for me was a talk by Marie, a Child Safe worker, about orphanages.

In Thailand, many tourists are given the opportunity to visit orphanages and spend time with the children (walking into the workshop, I never knew visiting orphanages was something you could do.). While this sounds like an amazing opportunity for those who truly love children in that they are able to give attention and affection to those without, it is extremely harmful and foster a cycle of child exploitation. According to UNICEF, 70-90% of the children in those orphanages are not orphans to begin with, 99% of those children have a living relative somewhere (this was extremely surprising to me. Being raised in America, I have come to expect that children in orphanages are in fact orphans. I am sure this applied to most tourists visiting so I can see why they would have less issues partaking in such activities). However, because of the profit orphanages make, many children are taken away from their parents or relatives with the promise of free education and place of residence for the child. The families are also usually compensated with rice (this is extremely sad, children have to pay the price for the profit of others. It is also sickening that orphanages profit by the exploitation of children and families in poverty).

Aside from most children in orphanages not being orphans, it also brings up the issue of qualification. While many people go to orphanages with the right intentions, most are not qualified to interact with the children. They do not have the training or education needed to interact with children in an institutional setting, especially those without a family. Children in orphanages usually have abandonment issues and need care that tourists are inadequate to give. When the tourists leave, it can make a child feel like they are being abandoned all over again. Children need regularity, not people who come and go (listening to Marie talk about all reasons why you should not go to an orphanage, it was all pretty self explanatory. Anyone with some common sense should be able to deduce that it is not appropriate, however, so many people are unable to and still go. Sadly, I could totally see myself being one of those people. I am not sure why just because it is offered in a country that people tend to think it’s ok, even though they would never do it in their own country).

In the United States, visitation from strangers in orphanages would never be allowed to happen. Orphanages are heavily regulated and maintained by the government. This begs the question, “why do you think you can in another country?” (Marie asked the group this question, and I honestly do not know. I’m not sure why my common sense goes out the door when I am in another country. I’ve also never really been aware of this fact until that workshop. But now that I am, I know that I will be a better traveler for it).

Overall, Thailand has been an amazing experience. I have learned so much and became a better traveler for it. I have also met so many great people along the way. I have been to Thailand many times before, but I can definitely say that this is one for the books.

2 thoughts on “Would You Do This in Your Country?”

  1. Hi, Ernie!
    Reading your blog about the ChildSafe workshop was informative-ly refreshing. I appreciate your honest reflection about how you felt or thought about it as it was similar for me too. I was also surprised to learn that 99% of the orphans in orphanages are actually not orphans. When Marie said that it was common sense that we do not visit orphanages in the USA but then we lost that common sense when we are in another country, I also struggled to answer or think about it.

  2. Despite all of my public health education, I never knew the prevalence of orphanage voluntourism. What’s even more sad is the number of people who have done this; of course with the purest of intentions but none of the knowledge we now have. I, much like you was shocked and devastated to learn that orphanages take advantage of impoverished families by using children with living family members to profit from well intentioned volunteers. This whole process of course perpetuates poverty in areas with these orphanages because these children are not getting a reliable schooling and are burdened with unstable interaction with their parents.

    I really appreciate your transparency on this issue Ernie, knowing what we know now, moving forward it will be significantly easier for us to identify friends who may try to engage in such ” voluntourism” and we will be able to direct them to a more impactful productive volunteer position!

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