Voluntourism . . . What’s the Deal?
Voluntourism = Volunteering + Tourism
“A form of tourism in which travelers work without pay, usually for a charity, in countries they are visiting” ~ Oxford Learners Dictionary
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 passionate about.
However, when it comes to at-risk children, directly volunteering at an orphanage is not usually a mutually beneficial situation, however well-intentioned it may be. While you may feel personally fulfilled by such an ‘experience’, you have to ask if it is more self-serving to you, rather than actually providing any meaningful impact.
A simple and primary explanation is that having short-term overseas volunteers can be unhealthy for the children’s psychological well-being. For optimum psychological well-being, all children need stability and continuity. Due to past experiences and traumas, children in residential homes have an even greater need and potential risk of harm by having many people come and go in their lives. Therefore, as the children’s best interest is our primary concern, we do not have an overseas volunteer program and we do not work with partners who do.
Lack of Stability
There are many negative effects of traveling to another country to volunteer at an orphanage, an act widely categorized as “voluntourism.” Perhaps most damaging of the consequences of international volunteers at an orphanage is the way in which children’s safety and well-being are constantly compromised by a revolving door of strangers coming in and out of their lives. Many volunteer programs lack proper vetting procedures and regulations, including lack of background checks, which can expose children to individuals with predatory and dangerous behavior. There have been many documented cases of strangers “volunteering” at children’s homes and abusing children.
Children who are in these orphanages have already experienced broken relationships and personal hardships. Subjecting them to a parade of strangers can add to their trauma. From small idiosyncrasies such as volunteers who don’t speak their language, to bigger issues including predatory behavior, there are many reasons why volunteer programs cause more harm than good.
Another issue involved is that most children living in orphanages are not actual orphans, in the traditional sense, as they have at least one living parent. These children have families who lack the financial ability to properly support their children.
No child should grow up in an institution, as there is no substitute for a loving family. When children are placed in orphanages, it should be a temporary solution. Unfortunately, the voluntourism industry can keep orphanages operating for the wrong reasons, including fraud, human and sex trafficking, exploitation, and more.
The centers we work with are functional because they are located in places where the government does not offer any alternatives to families that cannot support their families. We work with these communities, who are doing the best they can under the circumstances and we also require our partner homes to have a social worker, to help reintegrate the children back into their communities.
The truth is, many volunteers simply don’t have the skillset required for the projects they are intending to help with. Traveling to another country to ‘install’ solar panels or dig wells does not make sense when there are skilled laborers in each country who are perfectly capable of doing the work. In fact, volunteers take away jobs that can be done by local citizens in need of work, especially when the jobs are manual labor.
That said, there are many ways you can get involved and become a member of our team helping improve the lives of children. Please consider Sharing Our Story, Hosting a Fundraiser, or Donating Your Skills.