Why we don’t teach in schools, work in orphanages, or hug orangutans

Why we don’t teach in schools, work in orphanages, or hug orangutans: The pitfalls of some ‘voluntourism’ and how we ensure our impact is positive.

Since Camps International was established in 2002, we have strived to make the world a better place for those living in poverty around the world. Our community projects have supported more than 100,000 people, helping them to improve their living standards and become more self-sufficient.

On the face of it, heading out to developing countries to ‘do good’ sounds like a no brainer, but before we applaud ourselves too much, we have learnt over the years that we can cause as much harm as good if we don’t get it right. Often, projects that appear to provide benefits can in fact result in harm, so it is essential to first understand the many complex layers, consisting of multiple stakeholders before you dive in with great intentions.


It all begins by identifying communities where there is a need and where we think we can have a positive impact. This is done by our permanent in country teams staffed exclusively by local people and lead by seasoned British Directors who have lived and worked in our respective locations for many years.

We then work very closely with individual villages within the area, to draw up a sustainable development action plan that we can work on together as a partnership, based on mutual respect and equality. We don’t offer freebies or handouts, but instead provide support and cooperation to help people work themselves out of poverty and empower communities to improve their own prospects. Our agreements can be anything from a small number of short-term projects, such as providing a house for a family or repairing a wall, to larger scale long term initiatives (10 years or more) aimed at improving school infrastructure and capacity to give children a better start in life. By working closely together in this unique way, the community has ownership over each project and is empowered to ensure that the improvements we’ve made will remain successful long after we leave.

We go to great lengths to review and evidence the positive impact we have made, but we also need to be clear about projects that we don’t engage with.  Here are some examples.

So, why don’t we offer teaching?

Quite simply, most of our volunteers are between the ages of 12-24 years old and are not qualified to teach the subjects that are needed. Although many other volunteering organisations offer unofficial teaching programmes, many of these are not recognized and actually have little or no benefit to pupils. Instead, we offer informal conversational English exchange sessions, which give our volunteers a chance to interact with local children in a relaxed and fun environment, and where the children can pick up useful phrases and get a chance to practice their English. In those instances where teaching is needed, we pay for a locally qualified teacher to regularly offer lessons within school.

‘What about orphanages? Surely those children need our help?’

Although the vast majority of people who support orphanages have good intentions, we believe that helping out in an orphanage can cause untold harm to the children and supports a system that encourages the breakup of families. Some voluntourism is even fueling demand for orphanages, as a way of generating funds. Parents are encouraged to send their children away in the hopes of a better education or care, which is rarely the case. In fact, several studies have shown that many children in care are not orphans at all.


Working to support children is a delicate balancing act and our projects are designed to support children within their family homes. Whether we are providing housing, food or water to a family, expanding and renovating a local school, building a Day Care Centre to enable parents to remain working locally, or promoting eco-tourism activities to boost local employment and prevent labour migration away from rural areas, we believe that a strong family unit is a powerful tool in the fight to alleviate future poverty.

And what about the orangutans?

Well, although giving an orangutan a hug may be fun for you, it’s not fun for them and certainly doesn’t help to protect them. Although planting trees may not seem all that glamorous, you are making more of a difference to their future than you could possibly imagine.


Every year, thousands of amazing volunteers place their trust in us, not only to deliver life-changing adventure experiences, but also the opportunity to truly make a meaningful and lasting difference to the communities where we work, and it’s a responsibility we take very seriously.

Every one of our projects has been carefully designed to ensure that you, as a Camps volunteer, can make the most meaningful impact during your expedition, without compromising safety or having a negative impact on the communities we’re trying to help. Specialist labour is paid for and carried out by local tradesmen and experts to provide essential employment, which enables our project activities to be carried out by every volunteer, regardless of age, skill set or physical ability. This ensures that the work you do, rather than taking employment away from local people, actually boosts the local economy. We are also very mindful of cultural sensitivities unique to each region and ensure that our volunteers dress, behave and interact appropriately so as to not cause offense or have a negative influence when they arrive.

If you’re passionate about making a positive impact through travel and contributing to valuable projects that make a real difference, click here to find out more about how you can get involved.

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