ReThink Orphanages – a coalition of child rights agencies, including Save the Children – last night won the silver award at the World Responsible Travel Awards in London.
The Rethink Orphanages network works to reduce the negative impacts of voluntourism on children and communities and won its award for in the category for the "Best for Communicating Responsible Tourism".
In 2016, 14 per cent of Australian schools had an association with an orphanage overseas, and more than 50 per cent of all Australian universities advertised orphanage placements as part of their international volunteering opportunities.
More than eight million children live in institutions globally, even though about 80 per cent of these children have family who could care for them given the right support.
It is estimated the ‘voluntourism’ industry has grown in recent years to an estimated value of US$2.6 billion, involving 1.6 million people each year.
ReThink Orphanages co-founder and coordinator Leigh Mathews was in London to accept the award.
“What we want is to shift the way Australians engage with overseas aid and development to prevent voluntourism from hurting children,” Ms Mathews said.
“ReThink Orphanages is about getting the message to young people and schools about the terrible incentive this creates and better ways to make a difference for children.”
School adventure travel provider World Challenge has been working with Ms Mathews for more than 18 months to ensure its student trips create a positive impact for both the local communities and the young people it works with.
Save the Children child protection advocate Karen Flanagan AM said tourism was creating a demand for ‘orphans’ and ‘orphanages’.
“Children around the world are being exploited and removed from their families to fuel the rising demand for orphanage tourism,” Ms Flanagan said.
“We need to do everything we can to protect these children, and one of the best ways to do this is by raising awareness and reducing the demand.
“Most of the students and schools involved with orphanage tourism are well-meaning, and that is why we needed a comprehensive approach to our awareness raising on this issue.”
The World Responsible Travel Awards, held on World Responsible Tourism Day, celebrates initiatives that improve tourism practices around the globe.
ReThink Orphanages recently partnered with World Challenge, Save the Children, Monash University, Alto Consulting and Forget Me Not for an Australian conference roadshow to help schools, universities, and the general community, understand the complexities of this emerging issue.
World Challenge, Save the Children and Alto also created and launched an education module on orphanage tourism and volunteering, along with a self-assessment tool, that has been accepted by the Victorian Education Department as part of its curriculum.
For details contact Alex Sampson on 0429 943 027