Poster in Guesthouse in Pyay

We were shocked to see this poster in the guesthouse we were staying in last night in Pyay, Burma. This poster should take its place:


It is estimated that 80% of the 8 million children in orphanages worldwide have at least one living parent. So what brings them there, you might ask?

Tourism! In Cambodia the number of orphanages increased by 75% between 2005-10. The number of orphans didn’t suddenly skyrocket, but tourism did. ‘Enterprising’ people pay parents in poor, rural areas to give away their children to them under the pretence that they can better look after them. These children go to ‘orphanages’ where westerners pay to come and ‘do good’ for a couple of weeks: voluntourism! Although it’s easy for tourists to believe they are improving the children’s lives, they are in fact often harming them further by not following a suitable curriculum and by creating social bonds that are instantly broken when the tourists flies back home again. Moreover, tourist money feeds and sustains the industry of removing children from their parents.

When we searched online for the orphanage near Pyay, we came across a TripAdvisor review. A Burmese tour guide lumps in a visit to an orphanage in the area with other tourist ‘destinations’ such as the ‘abandoned British mansion’ and ‘monastery with a view’. This perfectly illustrates the point – children should not be tourist attractions.

Tripadvisor Comment

Friends International, with their programme ChildSafe Movement, have a global campaign to educate tourists about the damage that volunteering or donating to orphanages can cause: ‘the more you donate, the more you create’. Friends International is also educating people in these countries where children are most at risk so that parents understand the damage of breaking up their families and sending their children away. The best way to help marginalised and vulnerable people is by spending your money at cafes, restaurants and in shops that support them. We have written about many of these social enterprises in our cycle touring advice articles, for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (so far).

Although there are genuine orphans in need of care, all young people need an education and the prospect of a stable future and income. Along with the ChildSafe Alliance, Friends runs a holistic programme to save, and build futures for, marginalised young people. One aspect is their social enterprise training restaurants which train vulnerable youth to work in the hospitality industry.

So what can you do? If anyone you know is thinking of doing some volunteering in an orphanage, especially in south-east Asia, please get them to have a look at this page on the ChildSafe Movement website. Tip number 1 of 7 is:

Child Safe Movement Tips for Travellers