‘NGO’ Tourism… take it with care

How to let the coins on the right hand? Surely this would be regarded as a new concept, something like NGO Tourism. Maybe this will be the first article – and even it could be the last, to mention such a concept. However, there are many types of tourism: adventure, eco-tourism, geo-tourism, medical, rural, sex and even space tourism. I propose then to talk about NGO Tourism, its benefits and limits.

However, the term NGO can be controversial, because as there are several kinds of tourism, there are plenty of NGO’s types with thousand of proposals and goals, not all completely transparent. Therefore, NGO Tourism could work in a simple level, but it could be better to talk about a ‘social tourism‘.

After the wars, Cambodia became a recurrent place of international organizations in the aim to help the poor, children, women in troubles, marginalized young people, clearing land mines, preventing prostitution, child abuse and human trafficking, filling the lacks of education in rural areas, human rights, HIV patients and many other social emergencies. All those reasons have brought a big range of organizations, from small to big ones, from sincere to facades. They have at their time generated native organizations (national NGOs) and in many opportunities they have worked with the government, beside it and even against it.

While several NGOs can promote the image of a gloomy country to industrialized nations in order to get benefactors shocked by realities of poverty, epidemics, human abuse or environmental damage, tourist agencies work in other direction showing a tropical paradise where tourists from rich countries can come to enjoy and let their dollars to the national economy.

It creates a dual image of Cambodia: Many think Cambodia as a chaos of social problems and others remain in the nice view of a tropical paradise. Both positions see the other with anger, of course.

How can we promote the image of a country like Cambodia, while it is facing at the same time social emergencies? This is not a duality only for Cambodia, but also for many other countries of the Third World.

But any country has the right to promote itself as a tourist haven. Tourism, though it brings its own difficulties, is also a good income for the nation that could benefit it in its growing. Normally, a tourist looks for fun, relax and new experiences. They choose a country because it has many things to see, it’s normally safe and worthy to let some money in. The other kind of visitor is the volunteer travelers who dedicate a time in a country like Cambodia to support an organization or social program.

Showing results

For NGOs, showing results become a question of survival. Out of those organizations that stand in portraying problems, chaos and hopeless situations only, possible benefactors will trust more in those organizations that show processes in the aim to resolve a social evil.

This is what I mean as ‘NGO Tourism’: Getting to know those results. It is the offering to the visitors of the possibility to see that Cambodia is growing in a certain way, that something is being done, either by Non Governmental Organizations or by officials and not just remaining in the step of showing gloomy realities.

For example, visitors come to enjoy the sunny beaches of Sihanoukville. Among the spectacular sunsets, they will find also a permanent group of children selling or begging on the beach, along with handicap people and other beggars. The fact is not nice for tourism itself. Talking in commercial level, it gives a bad impression. Many tourists feel pity for them and other just disturb. At the end, they question what it is been done to give a solution to that problem. Why the children are not attending school, why the handicap people has not attention.

But there are many organizations and official programs doing something. At the same time, foreign visitors should be aware of realities like children abuse prevention or that giving money to children of the beach is not appropriate, because those children are not technically poor.

If a tourist agency arrange a tour over the beaches, pagodas, waterfalls, natural parks and islands of Sihanoukville – as an example, – why not include in the tour package organizations like the Don Bosco schools, orphanage, centers for disable people and many other programs? It will show to visitors that we are doing something and, at the same time, they will be potential benefactors who, instead to give money on the beach, will let those eventual coins on real programs for concrete problems.

Update July 11, 2013

Reading this article now once more, I can say that the proposal has many objections after seeing how many institutions, especially orphanages are using their children as a kind of exploitation, inviting tourists to see the children as a tourist attraction and offering odd possibilities of volunteering such as teaching English, while requesting money from this occasional volunteers. It became a great business and UNICEF denounced in 2012 that 12 thousand children in Cambodian orphanages were not by fact orphans… Aljazeera made a complete report on this issue in 2012 calling it voluntourism and I myself am following this situation that requires attention to prevent more children from becoming means of business for certain national and foreign subjects.  Still necessary to say that many other organizations are transparent and that it is easy to discover which one is using children and which one is really authentic.


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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X39xwdGtVXI) and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (http://www.colombia.co/en/culture/colombians-that-are-making-this-a-better-world.html).

6 responses to “‘NGO’ Tourism… take it with care”

  1. Laila says :

    I couldn’t have agreed more, Fr 🙂 Very insightful article that I (and probably many others as well) could relate with.

  2. pietro hublitz says :

    Kids have not to stay on the beach for any reasons in the daytime, they have to go to school. Giving them money or buying from them some of their trinkets is encouraging their families , it’s like to say to them: “hey, ain’t no need for education , the beach is where the easy money is”.
    And also sponsoring a scholarship i,as many schools propose, is wrong, as that money will for sure go directly on the principal’s pockets or shared amongst the teachers.
    Registered international NGOs , many of them manage schools and-or shelters and orphanages , are the best places to visit . Donations will not be surely wasted in karaoke bars or for new Lexus cars.

    • charles tauk says :

      I disagree. Western people have no idea what struggle cambodian families have to go through to make a living. In asia it’s sadly normal that everyone in the family helps to generate income. Unfortunately this leaves many kids at tourist hotspots begging rather than going to school where they also have to give money to the totally underpaid teacher (25-30$ Month salary). NGO, particulary western funded have their own agenda. The western male have become the scapegoat for everything bad. see:tpf-cambodia.com

  3. Bangkok Hotels Thailand says :

    Great post! I like this blog and good article also.

    • Charles Evans says :

      An excellent article.
      Why not submit it to the Phnom Penh Post and Cambodia Dailyand Sihanouk Ville Advertiser…Shiran? For re-print, giving credit to the Author.
      Another thought: Why not Print it out (inexpensively in a large quantity ) and have volunteers distribute daily all year round at the beaches, Samundara & Orange markets, tour companies, dive shops, bus station, markets, massage shops, restaurants, hotel, guesthouses, mobile phone shops & offices, Camitel, Don Bosco Ice cream shop & Evans Marketing on Ekareach Street.

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