Britta Holmberg, Project Director

Two different versions of the truth

BLOG Childhood has earlier raised some of the problems related to orphanage tourism and voluntourism. I recently attended an inter-agency workshop with participants from many countries where more ethical alternatives for those who want to contribute to a better world through volunteering were discussed. One of the participant represented a Nepalese organization working to reunite families with children that the parents agreed to place in orphanages believing that it would give them a better future. In reality the children ended up being exploited and abused by the very same people that promised to help them. Unfortunately, the stories he shared are not unique. And it is not always easy to distinguish the good organizations from the bad.

Below are quotes from two volunteers that enthusiastically describe a Nepalese orphanage they support:

“I initially planned to visit the orphanage for half a day. I ended up staying for over a month. B and P and all of the children welcomed me like family and living at the orphanage with all of them has been an amazing experience.” …”B and P work tirelessly and selflessly in running the orphanage which is in addition to the other projects they are running and I am grateful I was able to help them out for a while”.

“I would thoroughly recommend the X Orphanage as a worthy charity to anyone who is interested in sponsorship or volunteer work as unlike larger charities, you can witness first-hand the result of your support and be confident that the children will see all your donations rather than it getting filtered down through administration fees.”

It is hard to believe that the very same orphanage director recently was arrested for charges of child abduction and fraud and that the contributions from families and volunteers were not at all spent to the benefit of the children but to enrich the director. (See article in the Guardian).

So who can you trust? How can you know when services are honestly organized in a way that is in the best interest of the child and when organizations claiming to “help to children in need” are actually exploiting and harming them?

Well, one sign that an organization is doing a good job is when they make real efforts to reintegrate children into the community where they belong instead of working with the child in isolation. Another good sign is when they treat the children with the same integrity and respect that you feel your own children would deserve in the same situation. If an orphanage is open for tourists and volunteers to visit and play with the children without any restrictions you can be quite sure that this is not made in the interest of the children and the best thing you can do is stay away.