Children are not a tourist attraction!

The term “orphan tourism” comes to mind here, which is exploitative. United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) agrees, orphanages and slums aren’t a tourist attraction, so they should not be treated like one. They are not a destination to be checked off one’s do-good/feel-good bucket list. They house real people with often devastating backgrounds who are in need of care longer than you can provide, more food and medical treatment than you’re equipped to give, and a more sustainable community that is less susceptible to things like war and disease. They do not need your pity, temporary attention, or to be featured in your Facebook profile photo for a month, as The Onion mockingly points out.

Worse, the growth of voluntourism has even made things worse in certain places, where “orphanages” are erected by traffickers who take in non-orphans for profit, as The Guardian shares:  

“[I]n Cambodia, as in other parts of the globe, orphanages are a booming business trading on guilt. Some are even said to be kept deliberately squalid. Westerners take pity on the children and end up creating a grotesque market that capitalizes on their concerns. This is the dark side of our desire to help the developing world.”


Invest long-term into helping a population or region. This can include volunteering with or financially supporting legitimate organizations who are committed to a situation. Also, considering studying international development and then working in that sector professionally. You could become a Foreign Service Officer with the Department of State, a human rights attorney, work at the United Nations, work for a non-profit or NGO, etc. Although fair warning, trying to solve complicated, chronic problems is not as fun as #InstagrammingAfrica makes it appear. It takes dedicated work, little by little, and I highly respect and admire those who devote their careers to this type of work. 

Written by Michelle Kay Stayton