Online forums increasingly used to out dubious volunteer schemes

Online forums increasingly used to out dubious volunteer schemes

090723_07 lets tourists vent about various cons.

Scammed tourists are increasingly using Internet forums and blogs to voice their concerns over dodgy volunteer schemes in Siem Reap province and other Cambodian areas.

Some bloggers go as far as saying they write anonymously out of fear of intimidation or murder by the volunteer organisations concerned. is one site that allows tourists to vent their concerns over alleged volunteer scams.

In an entry in March, a business owner in Siem Reap accused a local orphanage of using their family's children as "orphans", siphoning volunteer fees to managers and the mistreatment of children. This was based on three separate complaints the business owner received from volunteers.

"I want to name names, but I am afraid of being murdered," the blogger wrote.

"It's not a joke. You can hire a hit man for US$100, or so I was told. When you are in the way of thousands of dollars, you can bet that it makes financial sense for a crook to pay a hundred bucks to get you out of the way."

The blogger writes of how one volunteer was made to move to more expensive guesthouses run by the manager's family, while another woman was kicked out of the volunteer programme for asking too many questions.

The blogger goes on to caution travellers: "There are too many entrepreneurs who set up NGOs, orphanages and the like in Cambodia, preying on the kindness and generosity of travellers who feel for this country and want to contribute."

Although many of the posts on forums like Travelfish, Thorn Tree and Khmer440 praise the work of NGOs, some entries raise concerns over absent NGO managers, lack of transparency in accounting and the use of orphanages as tourist attractions.

In a Thorn Tree forum, run by popular travel guide Lonely Planet, a blogger lists four orphanages run for "financial gain" and claims one orphanage director was imprisoned for child sexual abuse.

"One [director] brings in the local village kids each time the bus load of tourists arrive, they pretend they live there, then when the bus leaves they go back home," the blogger wrote.

"He saw his venture into running an orphanage as a way of generating an income, he was a former tour guide and saw a niche in the market."

The forums also serve as an avenue for debate on volunteering and for tourists to recommend genuine NGOs in need of assistance.

Ou Panha, director of Cambodian Child's Dream Organisation, works with schools and orphanages around Siem Reap, including the Little Angel City orphanage.

Ou Panha said the orphanage desperately needs tourist donations to cover 80 percent of its operating budget, and welcomes any volunteers who can help with teaching and caring for the children.

Little Angel City does not charge volunteers a fee, but travellers are asked to pay for their own food and a guesthouse of their choice.

Ou Panha said he relied on word-of-mouth advertising to attract tourists and volunteers.

In a posting on, a Web site that allows users to submit travel reviews and information, a blogger recommends the Little Angel City. "There are 70 children there at the moment, and they always need food and clothing. Purchasing some of their art is of great help as well," the blogger wrote in May.

Ou Panha said he had not come across orphanage scams in Siem Reap.

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