You probably found this page because you care about children and want to have a meaningful impact in the world by volunteering. Volunteering is a valuable and rewarding experience that allows you to give back to causes and communities you feel passionately about. However, when it comes to at-risk children, many of them living in an orphanage, directly volunteering at such an institution is not usually a beneficial act, even though it is well-intentioned. While you may have a fulfilling experience by helping children in another country, you have to ask if it is more self-serving to you, rather than actually helping the children long-term. As much as you might be inspired by the children you see on our website, or sites like ours, and may want to go and spend time with them in person, it’s actually not in the best interest of the children.
There are many unintended negative effects of traveling to another country to volunteer at an orphanage, a form of “voluntourism.” Perhaps most damaging of the consequences of international volunteers at a children’s home is that most people only go for a short period of time. The children living in these homes have already experienced broken relationships and personal hardships. So, to have people coming in and out of their lives causes short-term attachments that can be extremely hurtful to them.
Another pitfall involved in voluntourism is that most volunteers don’t speak the language of the children, so they can’t properly communicate with them. And most importantly, without proper vetting and regulations, children are at risk for abuse with the constant flow of volunteers, who often are not even given background checks.
Another important issue is that most children living in orphanages are not actual orphans, in the traditional sense, as they have at least one living parent. More often, they come from families living in extreme poverty who desperately place their children in orphanages so that they may receive food, shelter, and education. Or these children run away from abusive homes, and an orphanage becomes the safer alternative to the streets. Ideally, no child should grow up in an orphanage, as there is no substitute for a loving family. When children are put into orphanages for various reasons, it should be a temporary solution. Unfortunately, the voluntourism industry can keep orphanages running for the wrong reasons, instead of working to support the communities and families of the children. We carefully select our community partners, which include orphanages, because they are located in places where the government does not offer any alternatives to families that cannot support their children.
So how can you get involved? You can have a bigger impact on the lives of these children by supporting reputable organizations, such as Kitechild, which work to transform their quality of life. You can get involved by volunteering your time to help spread the word of our mission through social media. You can also host local events to raise funding or to get the message out there about at-risk children, the true realities behind their situation, and how we are working towards change. We’re currently working on a pilot program on university campuses nationwide, which will serve to provide volunteers like you with the opportunity to be a part of creating meaningful change and opportunities these children deserve.