This problem is being perpetuated by profit-seekers as well as good intentioned donors and aid workers alike. Anyone can open an orphanage in Cambodia and fill it with children from poor and vulnerable families. There are very few barriers to setting up an orphanage in Cambodia. But working with children and families to keep them together, or to support community-based care alternatives is relatively difficult and takes time. It is also less likely to appeal to individual donors.

Be wary of people asking you donate to “build an orphanage”. We have seen more and more well intentioned do-gooders start initiatives to “build an orphanage in Cambodia”, some with plans for “one in Uganda and Nepal next!” and who have done little to research the orphanage or alternative child care sector in Cambodia. One group the authors of this blog spoke with were “coming to Cambodia to identify orphans for their program.” Orphanages are an EASY choice to fund and to execute, but children should NOT be institutionalized as a first option. Be aware that supporting this approach only extenuates the problem.

Travelers and those looking to give their time or money to “help”, simply love orphanages. Visiting an orphanage, where you can interact with children and make a donation has become part of the Cambodian vacation experience. Similarly, opportunities to volunteer (after paying an agency) have become increasingly popular with gap-year students and mature career-break professionals alike. Hotels, guesthouses, tuk-tuk drivers and tour guides regularly promote orphanage visits (usually for commission paid by the orphanage on a per-visitor basis). Remember: when the guesthouse you are staying at, or the driver you have hired asks if you want to visit an orphanage today, they are being PAID to take you there. Is this how children should be treated? What if someone you loved was orphaned – would you want this for that child?