One of the most popular forms of voluntourism is orphanage voluntourism. It is also the form of voluntourism that causes the most harm. Multiple studies have shown the damage done by orphanage voluntourism, particularly in places like Cambodia where parents actually “rent” their kids to orphanages, often creating de facto orphans along the way. Even the volunteers frequently feel that short-term orphanage voluntourism is doomed to failure, as this video by Al Jazeera shows. The other great harm of course is the psychological impact of kids who’ve lost their parents developing attachments to people who are around for a short period of time and then disappear. In addition, having unqualified, unknown volunteers spend long hours of time with children over time creates a potential for child abuse.
The other big problem is that most orphanages lack the administrative capacity to show how funds are being used. It's important to have that accountability in volunteer vacations. One kind-hearted BeachCorps friend in the travel industry stopped giving to an orphanage after she learned that someone else had given funding to purchase food for a certain period, and then met another person who’d made the exact same donation. Here's a nice list of "10 Reasons Why Orphanage Voluntourism Must Stop" by @MumsDoTravel.
Because of these problems, BeachCorps currently does not engage in orphanage voluntourism and supports the #StopOrphanTrips campaign. To sign an online petition urging that orphanage voluntourism end, click HERE.
At the same time, it would be wrong to just turn our backs on orphans and orphanages. In addition, Cambodia is not the Dominican Republic. Says one orphanage expert friend of BeachCorps: "the topic is a strawman in the Dominican Republic. Orphanage voluntourism does not exist in the Dominican Republic. An afternoon visit by a family, playing, with the children, is not a 'working visit'." According to this expert, the only orphanage voluntourism program that existed in the Dominican Republic ended more than five years ago, and that organization now does community outreach.
Orphanages are a sad and seemingly permanent reality in many countries that lack the resources or culture to develop foster care systems supported by the government, civil society, and the private sector. They deserve our effective support, especially in the Dominican Republic. If you want to know about good organizations that support orphanages in the Dominican Republic, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
One day we hope to work with some worthy orphanage organization, to fund scholarships for some of the kids. A small number of orphans in any orphanage could qualify for these scholarships by doing well in school and giving back to their communities and their orphanages, including by being mentors to younger orphans. These kids would be the ones that work on BeachCorps projects, learning skills about public speaking and doing outreach to their communities so their scholarship is given with the “pay it forward” concept. A scholarship program could help turn kids from objects of pity into empowered leaders, opening paths for improving conditions in orphanages without encouraging the creation of more orphans. Orphans in reputable orphanages who qualify for scholarships could be great helpers within the orphanages themselves, helping to encourage a culture of empowerment as model leaders. Tourists would never have the kind of exposure to kids that could be harmful to the kids psychological development. Moreover, the funding would be managed by a reputable local school or university to ensure transparency and accountability.
Short-term volunteering with kid orphan leaders who are earning scholarships could work. The short-term exposure would lend itself well to introducing volunteers to really great, empowered orphan kids earning scholarships, which could encourage the volunteers to then contribute more towards the education of those kid orphan leaders and the next generation of leaders. This could all be achieved without encouraging the creation of more orphans, and could even be linked to a public awareness campaign to move towards systems relying more on foster families.
It’s a long term dream of BeachCorps. We’ll first develop scholarship programs in less problematic areas, making our mistakes and learning and improving first before working in the problematic area of orphanages.
Wish us luck.
#Voluntourism #SustainableDevelopment #SustainableTourism #SustainableTravel #DominicanRepublic #VolunteerVacation
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