responsible volunteering, orphanage tourism, projects abroad, volunteering in india, skilled volunteering

Projects Abroad announces discontinuation of their orphanage placements

“Projects Abroad has committed to a future without orphanages. From January 2018, we will no longer be placing volunteers within orphanages and other residential childcare institutions anywhere in the world.”

With these words, Projects Abroad, one of the biggest volunteer organisations in the industry, recently announced the discontinuation of its Orphanage Placements. The decision was based on an impact assessment the company made in regards to its child care volunteer opportunities. Projects Abroad found that their volunteers made a bigger impact in community-based care, compared to orphanages.

From Orphanage Voluntourism to Community-based Care Programmes

As a result, volunteers will now be placed in community-based care programmes to support vulnerable children. These types of projects provide more support to local organisations that focus on empowering families and communities to raise children in a stable environment. Instead of volunteering in orphanages, foreign visitors will work with daycare centres, kindergartens and schools.

But the findings of the impact assessment are not the only reason Projects Abroad has made the decision to stop orphanage tourism. The organisation’s decision also follows the discovery of connections between orphanage care and the trafficking and exploitation of children. Campaigns by children’s rights organisations have long pointed out the negative consequences of orphanage tourism: placing unskilled volunteers with orphanages for a short duration encourages donor-centric activities and the institutionalisation of children in developing countries.

The Negatives of Orphanage Tourism

In general, there are five major problems identified with orphanage-based volunteering placements:

Attachment Issues

Orphaned children often suffer from their traumatic experiences of losing or being abandoned by their families. As a result of the high turnover rates of volunteers, and stream of new people constantly coming and going, children are prone to suffer from even greater attachment issues.

Increased Abandonment

Orphanage care has replaced more traditional forms of kinship and community care, so that families and communities no longer are able to provide for lone children. In the worst case scenario, parents are incentivised or tempted to hand over their children to orphanages in the hope of a better and brighter future for them.

Disincentives to improve

Throughout the years, directors of orphanages have come to learn that foreign visitors are likely to donate a larger amount of funds to  institutions that are run down. This provides an incentive for orphanages to not upgrade their facilities.

Profit Making

Orphanage tourism has evolved into a business. It has been found that many institutions have been set up for the sole purpose of attracting foreign volunteers and making a profit out of their visits. These organisations are not sustainable, nor do they focus on the wellbeing of the children.

Organisational Sustainability

Even if an orphanage was set up for the benefit of the children it houses, getting involved with orphanage voluntourism is not a sustainable practice. On the one hand, orphanages should only be the last resort for caring for a child. On the other hand, an organisation dependent on overseas funds is not a sustainable organisation, and therefore will always suffer from having to prioritise the volunteer experience over the wellbeing of the children.

A step in the right direction

The discontinuation of Orphanage Tourism by Projects Abroad is a welcome step into the right direction. Following in the footsteps of other voluntourism companies and working together with the ReThink Orphanages Network, Projects Abroad is moving closer to what we call responsible volunteering. Responsible volunteering based on long term objectives and sustainability can be a great driver of social change, but only if done ethically.

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