Local NGO the Cambodian Children’s Trust (CCT) has launched a new ‘advocacy tourism’ initiative, bringing the latest movement in sustainable tourism to Battambang; educating tourists on local issues and showing them the best way to make a difference.

The project reflects a global shift away from ‘voluntourism’, where unskilled tourists pay to spend days to weeks volunteering in NGOs, often resulting in harmful impacts to both beneficiaries and the local economy.

With a guiding principle of ‘learn before you help’, CCT’s advocacy project offers tourists an opportunity to participate in a free workshop and learn about the complex issues facing Cambodia and how tourists can ensure they don’t unintentionally do more harm than good.

“Coming to Cambodia and being confronted with so many families and children living in poverty, it’s only natural for travellers to want to do something to help,” said Tara Winkler, Co-Founder of CCT, Managing Director and TEDx speaker.

“But sadly these efforts to help often end up creating other problems and fuelling unsustainable, and damaging, practices.”

Whether taking jobs away from local people, perpetuating the myth that Westerners are needed to ‘come to the rescue’, or treating children like tourist attractions, the unintended impacts of voluntourism come in many forms.

Well-meaning foreigners paying to help at orphanages, for instance, unwittingly create a demand for ‘orphans’.

“Most children living in orphanages have family who, with a little support, could care for them,” Ms Winkler said.

Even though the vast majority of ‘orphans’ in Cambodia have at least one living parent, the number of orphanages has doubled in the past five years.

Research shows that institutions, like orphanages, harm children and that having a family is crucial for a child’s psychological, social and cultural wellbeing. This explains why The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that, “Any child who is temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her biological family, has the right to grow up in another family or in a family-like environment.”

CCT’s workshops are designed to inform visitors about the drivers of institutionalisation and equip them to become advocates for the importance of family-based care.

By teaching travellers more about the issues and solutions surrounding complex problems in the countries they visit, advocacy tourism provides tools for them to raise awareness in their own circle of friends, school, workplace or community.

“Tourists will walk away with practical tips about how to support vulnerable children without contributing to family separation,” Ms Winkler said.

“The workshops aim to inspire people to learn before they act because once we know better, we can do better.”
Disclaimer: This article was written by a CCT staff member.

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