Posted on November 4, 2010 at 11:14 amIn light of the recently released report Inside the thriving industry of AIDS orphan tourism which discusses the commodification of orphans and the impact this has on the children, and the recent NPR story on the same topic, I’m reposting this article.
The growing popularity of short-term international volunteering (voluntourism) has led to the disturbing trend of hug-an-orphan vacations. While visiting a foreign country people take time to volunteer at an orphanage or else are persuaded to visit orphanages as part of their vacation. Volunteers and donors alike should immediately question the motivations and professionalism of any orphanage that allows or promotes this.
Orphanages may purposefully maintain substandard conditions to attract foreign donors
Orphanages can bring in a lot of foreign donations, and the best way to keep those donations rolling in is to keep the children at a substandard level so that any volunteer or donor showing up will see with their own eyes how “critical” it is to donate to the orphanage. This not only brings in immediate money, but may also lead to the donor/volunteer raising money or collecting donated goods from friends and family back home. A portion of these funds may be put into caring for the children while large percentages could easily be pocketed for personal profit with few the wiser. Because most volunteers do not speak the local language, they may be completely unaware of what is actually happening while they are there.
Any orphanage that allows a steady stream of strangers to interact with orphans are not looking out for the best interest of the child
Although foreign volunteers may feel that spending their time playing and interacting with orphans is a great way to give back, in the long run it may do more harm than good. One of the key principles laid out by the United Nations Guidelines for the alternative care of children is the need for reliable long term relationships.
“Decisions regarding children in alternative care, including those in informal care, should have due regard for the importance of ensuring children a stable home and of meeting their basic need for safe and continuous attachment to their caregivers, with permanency generally being a key goal.”
An orphanage that regularly allows strangers to interact with children is doing just the opposite. Generally volunteers will only stay at the orphanage for a few days, weeks, or at best months. While at the orphanage most volunteers seek to build emotional bonds with the children so they can feel they made a difference. Unfortunately, although well intended, this leads to a never ending round of abandonment for the orphans. For while some volunteers may continue to correspond with the orphanage after they leave, few are willing or able to maintain a stable emotional bond with the children throughout their childhoods.
Does the orphanage do background checks on volunteers
While many volunteers have the best intentions at heart, there may be some people that are attracted to vulnerable children for other reasons. By allowing a steady stream of volunteers access to the children an orphanage puts the children at risk of greater harm.
Hug-an-orphan vacations are never a good idea
While the appeal for volunteers to help at international orphanages may sound real, any orphanage that allows a steady stream of volunteers to interact with the children are not putting the needs of the child first and may in fact be praying on well-intentioned but ill informed foreigners.
Does funding orphanages create orphans?
Be cautious when funding orphanages
New Research on Orphanages
Placing children in orphanages or up for adoption can be a lucrative business
How to evaluate an orphanage
If this were your child – Haiti Orphans
A protest against orphanage tourism – Lessons I Learned blog
EthioTube Fly Away Children – The Commericialization of Children
IRIN article West Africa: Protecting children from orphan dealers
IRIN article Africa: Why family is best for orphans
United Nations Guidelines for the alternative care of children
UNICEF – Social Protection Strategy in Eastern and Southern Africa
United Nations working paper Reconstructing well-being after a disaster: Bringing public service to those who need it the most in China
United Nations report Human Rights in Liberia’s Orphanages