A recent report by People and Power, Al Jazeera, has revealed the dark side to the world of volunteering and tourism based on volunteering, with Cambodia as the place where it all unfolds. After facing two decades of civil War, Cambodia has had a considerable boom in its tourism industry with scores out of them working to help as volunteers in schools and orphanages, all in order to fill a gap left by the government, owing to a lack of funds for development. The report explains that instead of doing good, sadly, the onslaught of volunteers seems to have caused a steep rise in destitute children. Impoverished parents are tempted by the prevalence of western-style residential care homes, upbringing and education, and thus wind up sending them to these “orphanages”. The past decade itself, records a doubled number of children in orphanages, with nearly 70% of the estimated orphans having at least one living parent.
Among a plethora of things, the report brings to light that there is frugal awareness of the psychological damage being done to children by forcing them to form an endless series of relationship with strangers, that the donors themselves cannot see where their money actually goes, that unscrupulous practices are involved in exhorting donors to contribute more, and that volunteering ventures are in it for profits. Volunteer credentials are not taken into account, nor is there any effort to comply with minimum standards.
The report isn’t far from the truth in the global volunteering scenario. And the fault doesn’t lie in the hands of the perpetrators of wrongdoing alone, because, well, standards aren’t even existent in the first place. International Volunteering and Development has become a buzzword, a fabulous means of engaging labour in times of recession, in a hard labour market. Volunteering is easy on businesses because volunteering is not paid labour, and at the same time, having a policy encouraging volunteerism suggests the existence of a “big picture” worthy of coveting monetary assistance. The Banana Republic-like scenario welcomes unscrupulous practices in a fractured setting that functions as a thriving hotbed of malpractices. Even as there are standards to regulate corporate action and labour behaviour, there is malpractice in some form or the other. But what can be said when there is no standard to regulate volunteerism? What can be said when there is no legal instrument that governs the institution of volunteers, no organization to govern volunteers, no authority to size up any malpractices?