Why We Don’t Visit Orphanages
At Unquote Travel we take Responsible Tourism seriously. This means a lot of different things to different people. To us, in short, it means: keeping the welfare of children, animals, and the environment in mind when we travel. It means putting our travel dollars into the local economy and being culturally sensitive, which encourages respect between tourists and hosts. One way we try to reduce the negative impact of tourism is by not visiting orphanages on our tours.
But isn’t visiting orphanages and spending time with children a good thing? It sounds good, doesn’t it? Especially when most tourists arrive with good intentions. Many service organizations, NGOs, travel companies, church groups, and schools make it a point to ‘give back’ by volunteering at an orphanage in one of several countries around the world. But recently, numerous children’s welfare groups are advocating against the practice. I’ll try to lay out why Unquote Travel doesn’t visit orphanages and perhaps show other well-meaning travelers that avoiding orphanages is a better choice.
Orphans may be not orphans at all
And orphanages may not be orphanages either. In the beginning, it wasn’t like this. But slowly more and more travelers and tourists started paying to volunteer at orphanages. When some opportunists realized these institutions could be profitable enterprises, they opened their own. These “orphanages” act as residential care centers. Instead of accepting real children without parents, they take or buy children, usually from poor families. It doesn’t take a social scientist to see how this destroys families, and an important part of the fabric of society. Studies have shown up to 80% of children in orphanages are not orphans at all. This phenomenon has occurred in an astounding 20+ countries worldwide.
Volunteers may be unqualified or worse
While it may seem at first that any volunteer working with children is better than none, this isn’t the case. Many orphanages don’t do the necessary background checks which can allow misguided volunteers, or child predators to easily access vulnerable children. Other volunteers simply might not have the skills to interact with children to properly develop their growth and may be stunting their development. Additionally, when volunteers continuously enter and exit from the life of children in orphanages, disrupted attachment occurs and children may learn to distrust or not invest in future relationships.
How You Can Help
Support families, not orphanages
To help children, support their families and communities. There are millions of vulnerable children in the world, at risk of disease, exploitation, abuse, and neglect. Consider learning about, working with, or donating to programs supporting children in families and at-risk communities. This could also be as simple as using travel companies which understand and implement responsible tourism practices, or if you travel independently, by putting money into the local economy.
If you have volunteered in an orphanage or residential care center, or have a connection to one and would like advice or support regarding your experience, please contact the Better Volunteering Better Care global working group. This working group consists of organizations and individuals from the development, education, Christian faith, and travel sectors across the globe. They will be happy to assist you and put you in touch with support organizations in the relevant region you have traveled in or would like to travel to.
For more information visit:
Additional resources for international volunteering with organizations working with children: