Orphanage Visits are Doing More Harm than Good
A trip to an orphanage is what many Aussie schools or holiday volunteers look forward to. It is a chance to allow students and volunteers to exhibit love and care for children in desolate positions, as well as appreciating the privilege they have at hand. Perhaps this will change their attitude towards life making the world a better place. To them, it is a holiday or overseas volunteer experience, where they have a chance to show the world that they can be better people. Soon they will be taking photos carrying children at the orphanage, singing and dancing with them, helping with available chores, and sharing with the world on social media.
The children at the orphanage are used to these kinds of visitors because they receive them almost daily. They get goodies, dance and sing and play with them. It is all fun as long as the visitors are around, but their joy begins to fade as their visitors leave. Why can’t they have permanent caregivers? When will somebody get to stay with them, hold them when they cry, carry them on their laps and read them bedtime stories? How come there is no one to cuddle them when they feel afraid? These questions linger in their young minds but unfortunately there is no one to answer them.
Orphanage trips are doing more harm than good to these innocent children. It is agreeable with Friends International that children are not tourist attractions where they are visited for several hours, days or weeks, to have fun with and dumped until the next trip. In the course of visiting these children and spending time with them, they get to bond with some of the students or volunteers, and they would prefer to live with them for the rest of their lives. However, they are heartbroken when finally their visitor has to leave them just like the other visitors have always done. Children deserve to be cared for and they need permanent care givers whom they will get to know and relate to daily, and be able to understand their feelings.
Shenoa Gittins, Collective One’s Co-Founder, saw first-hand the negative impact that orphanage volunteering/visits can have during her own experience in 2013. While it was an eye opening time, and the catalyst for Shenoa to establish Collective One, Shenoa could see the harm that could be done. “Children need stable, long term relationships, not the constant disruption of well-meaning visitors who come and go out of their lives. The voluntourism concept has actually encouraged the increase of orphanages – in Cambodia the number of orphanages has doubled in recent years, despite the decrease in orphans. This is largely due to struggling families who think that putting their children into orphanages is better for them than the love and care found in a family. They believe it is a way out of poverty, when actually it does more harm than good, mentally and often physically. These kids can be put into dangerous situations of exploitation, as well as eventually leaving them numb to emotion after many years of disappointment and instability.”
Aussie schools and well-meaning volunteers should think, instead, about long term volunteer experiences or programs where they can truly make a difference in their field of expertise, or even making donations to legitimate orphanages where the operators can ensure enough permanent caregivers are available for good development of the children. An even better solution might be to consider that since most children have at least one parent or relative – they could be supported in their families and communities, empowering them to improve their lives. Partnerships could be set up with other charity organizations in identifying the family of those children and establishing a program to support them while under the care of their families. Everyone deserves a permanent family to belong to, and this sense of belonging and love is the best gift children in orphanages can be given.