I had the privilege of attending TedxSydney 2016 at the Sydney Opera House this year. Of the 15 talks that I heard in one day, the one that was most memorable was one from Tara Winkler- the Manager Director of Cambodia Children’s Trust (CCT). She speaks out against the spread of orphanages in developing countries, caused by the good intentions of foreign donors like myself, and of harm that comes to children when they are separated from their families and left to grow up in institutions like those so-called ‘orphanages’.
Tara established CCT in 2007 in order to rescue fourteen children from a corrupt and abusive orphanage and has led CCT through a number of significant organisational changes, including the closure of the initial CCT orphanage in favour of a family-based care model to empower Cambodian families to escape poverty, assist institutionalised children return to families, and help orphanages transform to a family-based care model. Her first book, ‘How (NOT) to Start an Orphanage – by a woman who did’ was published in April 2016.
After TedxSydney ended, I kept in contact with the team from CCT to ask for more information on organisations that support family-based care rather than placing children in institutions. The truth is, the number of orphanages in Cambodia since 2005 has risen by 75%, and the number of children living in Cambodian orphanages has almost doubled, despite the fact that the vast majority of children in these orphanages are not orphans, but rather, children WITH parents.
If you’d like to read up on this topic, here are some useful resources:
- TED Talk Daniela Papi ‘What’s wrong with volunteer travel?’
And finally, Tara’s TedxSydney 2016 talk can be viewed here: https://tedxsydney.com/talk/we-need-to-end-the-era-of-orphanages-tara-winkler/
My own story (in a nutshell):
When I was at the orphanage, the manager would constantly beg me for more money, which I questioned and instead gave them resources such as toys and stationeries. However, after receiving contacts of other ex-volunteers and chatted to them after I was back in Australia, I realised that EVERYTHING that we donate to the orphanage gets locked up. Even when I was there, there were problems. Within that one short month of my stay, the manager had at least three groups of foreign visitors. These small hints all gradually added up, which led to my horrible realisation of the consequences of volunteerism.
Along with a group of other ex-volunteers, we aim to close down our orphanage in Siem Reap and instead transform it into a family-based organisation.