The Volunteer Tourism Industry and Child Abuse Potentials (Or: Just a Few Bad Eggs?)

In yesterday’s posting, mention was made of the Children’s Umbrella Centre Organisation, which was closed down by authorities for abuses. This center was typical of those which are used for self-funded volunteers in the growing industry known as volunteerism. While most volunteers, and the sponsoring organisations, behave well, there are more and more exceptions. This posting covers those exceptions and the potentials for disguised pedotourism.

[Little information is available about Australia’s involvement in this system but the Royal Commission could potentially flush out more data. Once, when collecting bush rocks for the garden, my daughter dutifully warned me to be careful in case there was a scorpion underneath. Humouring her, I took exaggerated care with the next rock – which exposed a scorpion. I suspect that lifting the rock of voluntourism may reveal something equally nasty lurking underneath.]

Anyway, back to the Children’s Umbrella Centre Organisation. Recently, Mao Pises, Director of the organisation Projects Abroad in Cambodia, proudly announced that he had formed a partnership with the Umbrella Centre. Projects Abroad (formerly Teaching & Projects Abroad) is a commercial volunteer tourism organisation based in the United Kingdom. Projects Abroad arranges volunteer placements in 30 countries worldwide. Volunteers travel to foreign countries to teach conversational English or gain experience in medicine, conservation, journalism, business, and many other professions. For a program fee, volunteers receive food, housing, insurance, training and 24 hour support from local staff and trained professionals. Many work in centers like the Cambodian “orphanages”.

In May last year, the Al-Jazeera television network aired a report on its undercover investigations of the Cambodian facilities. It was titled “Cambodia’s Orphan business”. In its report, Al Jazeera criticized Projects Abroad for expensive program fees, for example more than USD $3000 per month for orphanage volunteer work in Cambodia while donating only USD $9 per week to its partner orphanages. It also criticised Volunteers Abroad for sending volunteers to one orphanage that was being investigated for not meeting minimal standards of living. There were further concerns over the inadequacy of criminal background checks for volunteers.

The Al Jazeera report paints a chilling picture of the orphanage industry in Cambodia: “children being kept in deliberate poverty to encourage ongoing donations from volunteers who have become attached to them and organisations that repeatedly ignore volunteers’ concerns about the children’s welfare.”

Worse was to come as a result of the covert surveillance by the SISHA organisation (mentioned in yesterday’s posting) of the Umbrella Centre. In the past, volunteers had complained about the living and sleeping facilities for the children, including an open sewer right in the centre of the compound, the director’s constant request for inflated donations and worst of all – his offer to give up children for adoption. (Adoption is illegal in Cambodia).

The undercover investigation revealed more problems as well as confirming the volunteers’ complaints, to which they alerted local authorities. SISHA found a new volunteer, a young Dutchman, at the Umbrella Centre. To their surprise he told them he had been sent by Projects Abroad, the organization whose volunteers had first raised alarm bells about what was going on at the orphanage and whose complaints had triggered SISHA’s and the government’s inspections. Yet Projects Abroad was still sending people on placements at the Umbrella Centre.

To test how serious the director, Mr. Sineth, was about looking after his children they asked him if they could take some of them out of the orphanage. He lined the children up against a wall for us to pick our favorites — and a few minutes later we were allowed to drive off with four of them. Never once had the SISHA people been asked for identification, never once had their credentials been checked. It was deeply shocking for them, not least because Cambodia is one of the world’s sex offender’s hotspots and children are especially at risk.

Orphanages in countries like Cambodia are big business. For example, in Cambodia alone, the “World Orphans” organisation constructed 47 orphanages housing over 1500 children in a three-year period. Most are not formally registered, and more than half of the children are not true orphans.

The voluntourism industry is also big business. According to David Clemmons, founder of, an estimated 11 million people traveled to volunteer in 2011 alone, proving that voluntourism has become a “multi-billion dollar expression of travelers’ desires to find meaning and to make the world a better place.”

With industries this large, even a small proportion translates into large numbers. Depending on the reader’s position on the cynical- naive spectrum, this can mean a minor through to major opportunity for pedophiles to subvert the system. The Royal Commission should investigate the extent of this infiltration by undesirables, and determine the level of responsibility of those (Australian) organisations sending volunteers, and those organisations operating the children’s facilities.

Read more here:

TOMORROW: A broad look at the Victorian Parliamentary Enquiry into Clerical Child Sexual Abuse

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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One Response to The Volunteer Tourism Industry and Child Abuse Potentials (Or: Just a Few Bad Eggs?)

  1. Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon everyday.

    It’s always helpful to read content from other writers and use something from their websites.

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