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6. Transitions: advice on safely moving away from orphanage visits

October 30, 2019
Harold Goodwin
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The purpose of this resource is to help organisations currently supporting orphanage visits to understand why these activities are harmful and to consider transitioning towards more responsible practices.  Whilst this should be the goal for all responsible travel and volunteering organisations, it is very important to emphasise the need for this transition to be carried out in a carefully planned and safe way, with professional support where necessary.  To simply cut off financial or other types of support to an orphanage partner may result in harm coming to the children.  In this situation the orphanage partner may do one of several things: (i) find a new partner and continue operating using the same harmful practices; (ii) move the children to a more exploitative situation, such as another orphanage or even a form of child slavery; (iii) leave the children to fend for themselves on the street; or (iv) reunify the children with their families, without any professionally-supported preparation or assessments being undertaken to determine what types of support they will need in their new placement.  On this last point, it is always essential that before children are moved out of an orphanage, assessments and preparation is needed, as otherwise, the children may be at risk of harm, abuse or being re-institutionalised.  Principles underlining responsible divestment are the same for all types of organisations managing environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks in their supply chains, and failure to do this by travel and volunteering organisations risks reputational damage to the organisation, as well as risks to the children.

  1. Introduction: beyond orphanage visits
  2. The Problem: why are orphanage visits harmful?
  3. Alternatives: what does good practise look like in principle?
  4. Alternatives: what does good practise look like in practice?
  5. Pitfalls: what should be avoided when developing alternatives to orphanage visits?
  6. Transitions: advice on safely moving away from orphanage visits

A responsible and safe divestment strategy is therefore not just about developing alternative responsible products or services to replace orphanage visits, but also about ensuring that the orphanage partner is supported to safely and sustainably move away from the orphanage model of care.  This is a complex process involving:

  • a good understanding of local laws, policies, regulations, culture and services relating to child protection; a good understanding of the socio-economic context of the area where the children originate from, why they were initially separated from their families, and what services exist in the areas from where they originate which could support their reunification or other family and community-based placements (this information will dictate the parameters in which the transition process can happen, for example: What are the laws and permissions needed to support child reunification? Which government services or NGOs work to support deinstitutionalisation?);
  • detailed assessments undertaken by social workers of each child and their new potential placement, and professionally-guided plans for how the children can be safely and sustainably prepared for and returned to their families or other placements;
  • a plan to support the orphanage workforce to find alternative and ethical employment or business opportunities, where appropriate, so as to ensure they do not simply establish another orphanage or be left unemployed;
  • a comprehensive and sensitive communications plan for all relevant stakeholders, and most important of all, sensitive communications with and involvement of the children themselves;
  • training and support provided to stakeholders to guide them through the process; and
  • plans for how the process will be managed, financed and monitored to ensure it is achieving its goals and not putting the children at further risk.

The above is not a comprehensive list of everything which needs to be included in a divestment strategy, but it does give a top-line overview of the process and emphasises the seriousness and complexity of what is involved.  These child-focussed activities need to happen alongside any moves towards alternate models for responsible tourism or volunteering.

To support the transition process organisations are strongly advised to seek support from reputable child protection organisations, and experts specialising in deinstitutionalisation and responsible tourism and volunteering.  I provide details about some of these below.


Divestment resources and initiatives

The ‘Orphanage Divestment Action Group’ is currently developing a divestment resource to support travel and volunteering organisations in transitioning away from relationships with orphanages.  The Group is made up of leaders from the travel, volunteering, and child protection sectors and is convened by Better Care Network, working with partners from the ReThink Orphanages global coalition.  The purpose of the resource is to equip operators with the information they need to make this transition responsibly.  The resources will include a step-by-step guide to the divestment process, as well as useful guides to the case against orphanage visits, child protection principles and practice, communication tools, links to external resources and case studies of organisations that have successfully transitioned away from relationships with orphanages.  The resource is scheduled to be launched in November 2019 – check the ReThink website for the latest information.

Another emerging initiative worth watching closely is the ABTA and Home and Homes for Children led Orphanage Tourism Taskforce, involving founding members TUI, Intrepid Travel, Projects Abroad and Exodus Travels.  Its mission is to develop, coordinate and implement a whole-of-industry response to orphanage tourism, making it unacceptable.  Its work will fall into two broad categories: (i) education and awareness raising with the UK public; and (ii) education and influencing of the travel industry at UK and in-country level.  The Taskforce is coordinating closely with the Orphanage Divestment Action Group and may help implement its recommendations.  If successful, the Taskforce is a mechanism which could be replicated across other countries.


Child protection organisations

The following is a list of some of the main child protection organisations and initiatives whose work covers deinstitutionalisation, alternative care and orphanage visits.

  • Better Care Network is a global resource for people and organisations working to support children who lack adequate family care.
  • ReThink Orphanages is a global, cross-sector coalition of organisations working to prevent family separation and unnecessary child institutionalisation by shifting the way countries in the Global North engage with overseas aid and development, in particular through orphanage trips and volunteer placements.
  • Lumos and Hope and Homes for Children are global child protection organisations with missions to end the institutionalisation of children. Both are actively engaged with the orphanage tourism and volunteering issue.
  • Family for Every Child is a global alliance of local civil society organisations working together to improve the lives of vulnerable children around the world.
  • Friends International is social enterprise working to support marginalised children and youth, and their families, and has an active network across South East Asia. Friends International runs the ChildSafe
  • RELAF is a child protection organisation working to support children in orphanages and institutions to enjoy their right to a family life. It is active across South America.

Most countries will have local civil-society organisations with a mandate to support child protection, deinstitutionalisation and family and community-based care.  Travel and volunteering organisations are strongly advised to seek advice from these organisations in the countries where their partner orphanages are based.  This will be vital in understanding the local context so as to inform a safe and ethical divestment strategy.  It is also of course essential to seek advice and gain approval from relevant government authorities in all matters relating to the care of children.


Consultancy support

There are a number of consultants working in the areas of child protection, deinstitutionalisation and responsible tourism and volunteering. I have listed several whom I recommend below:

  • ALTO Global: ALTO works with the tourism sector to ensure its products do not inadvertently harm children, their families or communities. It helps clients understand the complexities of tourism’s impact on communities, with a special focus on how children are affected. It uses its global network of ethically and socially responsible businesses, NGOs and philanthropists to ensure communities benefit from tourism, and help its clients develop impactful and responsible tourism products and programs that meet consumer demand.  Its services include: policy, strategy and impact; monitoring and evaluation; risk management; and training.  Contact details: https://www.altoglobalconsulting.com/.
  • ChildSafe Movement: Powered by leading international social enterprise, Friends-International, ChildSafe offers specialised consultancy services for travel, tourism and volunteering organisations wanting to improve their responsible/ethical practices including:  certification of travel and tourism companies: child welfare assessment of products, services and practices, recommendations, training and support; ad-hoc consultation and training services tailor-made to company needs (ranging from child protection awareness-raising sessions for staff to product/marketing and communications reviews). Examples of specialised ChildSafe trainings include: ChildSafe volunteering, NGO/field project evaluations, communication/marketing and the rights of the child, ChildSafe community-based tourism, ChildSafe child protection training of the trainer.  Some of these trainings are available for groups of travellers as well as organisations.  Contact details: thinkchildsafe.org/; info@thinkchildsafe.org.
  • Learning Service: The Learning Service Team offer bespoke training and consultancy to travel companies, schools and non-profit organisations. Daniela Papi and Claire Bennett, co-founders of Learning Service, are both expert consultants who have over a decade of experience of working with partners to audit their current practice, support program design, facilitate strategic planning, and offer professional development. They offer customised services including: ethical voluntourism; volunteer education; bespoke travel planning for those interested in learning before helping; corporate social impact planning, philanthropic workshops, training and consultancy; and lessons learned exchanges. Contact details: https://learningservice.info/consulting/; contact@learningservice.info.


  • Martin Punaks: Martin has nearly two decades experience working in international development, child protection, deinstitutionalisation, family strengthening and responsible travel and volunteering. Having held senior positions in leading child protection agencies – including Lumos and Next Generation Nepal – he has worked closely with governments, NGOs, travel and volunteering organisations, across many countries, training and advising them in how to safely and responsibly transition away from institutional care and orphanage visits.  Martin offers services in: deinstitutionalisation, family strengthening and alternative care; child protection, volunteering and responsible tourism; programme, advocacy and people management; and training and facilitation.  Contact details: martinpunaks.com; martinpunaks@hotmail.com.
  • Rebecca Armstrong, Responsible Tourism Matters: Rebecca is a sustainable tourism consultant with experience of both the mainstream travel industry and working on tourism development at destination level. Combined with her previous career as a lawyer, this has given her a strong insight into the legal and other risks posed to the industry by orphanage volunteering, and by tourism experiences and excursion content based on interaction with children. This is matched by a practical interest in helping companies to tackle these issues and to develop responsible and market-ready alternatives. Contact details: responsibletourismmatters.com; responsibletourismmatters@gmail.com; +44 7779 102165.
  • Responsible Volunteering: Responsible Volunteering is an educational organisation that creates awareness about the challenges but also potentials of voluntourism. Additional to educating potential volunteers and journalistic work, its mission is to inspire the voluntourism industry to become a significant player for global development.  The team combines academic and practical experiences in voluntourism, tourism, sustainable development and social work as well as organisational development.  Its consultancy focus is on program design, selection and education of volunteers, sustainability management and business operations. Contact details: https://www.responsible-volunteering.com/.
  • Vicky Smith, Earth Changers: Vicky is a specialist in sustainable and responsible tourism with her start-up Earth Changers, a curated collection of positive impact tourism, plus consults on tourism development, strategy and marketing. Vicky's career started as a destination manager for Ski and Lakes and Mountains holidays in the mid 90s, followed by early involvement in internet technologies and marketing from the late 90s. In the early 00s on personal holiday to an All-Inclusive in Kenya, Vicky saw all the negative impacts of the mass tourism industry, so committed to responsible tourism, working for tour operators, sustainable tourism accreditation organisations, training as a ranger, and in managed volunteer tourism, through which she first came into contact with Martin's work at Next Generation Nepal. Her Masters thesis "Volunteer tourism, greenwashing and understanding responsible marketing" was published to great industry acclaim and international media attention, helping contribute to companies such as G Adventures, GVI and Projects Abroad later removing orphanage volunteering from their offerings. Vicky also wrote the popular Smarter Voluntourism responsible volunteer tourism guide blog and supported the #StopOrphanTrips industry campaign.
  • Ruth Taylor: Ruth has been working to strengthen the international volunteering and global learning sector in the UK for the past 10 years. She has expertise in youth engagement and learning experience design, and works with educators and volunteer travel providers to support them to develop and deliver volunteer programmes which effectively promote global citizenship. She holds an MSc in Human Rights from the London School of Economics. Contact details: ruth@ruthtaylor.org.

The information provided on these Beyond Orphanage Visits pages is copyrighted to Responsible Tourism Partnership / Martin Punaks 2019.  All rights reserved to Responsible Tourism Partnership and Martin Punaks.  Responsible Tourism Partnership and Martin Punaks welcome requests for permission to reproduce or translate text in part or in full – enquiries should be addressed to martinpunaks@hotmail.com.

Further information

For more information about the issues raised in this guidance please contact me at www.martinpunaks.com.

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