Cambodia, Child Protection, Orphanages

Girls in developing countries don’t need dresses; they need education

A few months back, I received an email from a woman who runs her own charity that provides dresses to girls in developing countries. Heading to Cambodia later this year, she wanted me to suggest an orphanage in Cambodia where she could bring the handmade dresses.

I told her that I did not have suggestions for orphanages in Cambodia, and gave her a link to the Orphanages No website to understand why I advocate for children to stay in the community rather than be placed in residential care.
I suggested that this woman reconsider the ethos of her charity. When she gives direct aid it creates a reliance on the beneficiaries; it also can open up children to grooming, who start to see it as ‘normal’ to accept presents from strangers. Giving dresses is a ‘feel-good, band-aid’ approach that does nothing to better the lives of the community. What girls need is education.
1 in 4 Cambodian females over the age of 15 are illiterate. 36% of Cambodian children are involved in child labour. 40% of children in primary school do not progress beyond grade five.
A dress will not change these statistics. Quality education will.
I gave this woman an alternative option. Instead of giving dresses, how about she sold the gorgeous handmade dresses and donated the proceeds to education charities that are well-researched? Any reputable charity does not allow strangers to come in and give presents directly to children and take photos, and they understand that direct aid is not the right way to sustainably develop communities.
My response to her was clearly not what she was expecting, as I never received a reply email. Checking her blog recently, I read that she did find an orphanage (surprise, surprise) that she rocked up at with 25 dresses in tow.
Overcoming the preconceived notions of direct aid benefitting developing countries is something I struggle with daily. But for every 9 people who ignore my advice and experience, there is one person who ‘gets it’. So thank you, to the wonderful board, volunteers and supporters of Human and Hope Association Inc. who are committed to sustainable development in the right way. I appreciate each and every one of you.