How To Start An Orphanage Home – Volunteers visiting orphanages are discouraged by several countries, including the US: Goats and soda A number of governments, including Britain and the US, have taken public stances against what critics call “orphanage tourism.” But some charities defend the practice.
Last year, the UK government updated its travel advice to discourage tourists from visiting or volunteering at orphanages, saying it could have “serious unintended consequences”. In April, the Dutch parliament held a debate on the practice and its connection to human trafficking.
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And at an October conference for global leaders sponsored by the One Young World group, author J.K. Rowling spoke about the issue: “Despite the best intentions, the sad truth is that visiting and volunteering at orphanages drives an industry that separates children from their families and exposes them to neglect and abuse.”
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There are at least 2.7 million children in orphanages and institutional care around the world, according to UNICEF’s latest estimate from 2017. The actual number is likely much higher, the agency says, because many countries do not include children living in privately owned facilities in their compilations.
For decades, spending time in orphanages has been a popular volunteer activity. Critics call it “orphanage tourism”. Sometimes it is a pre-planned trip with a whole week at the institution, arranged by an organization, church or travel agency. Other times, a vacationer can only spare a couple of hours to visit an orphanage and play with the children.
Although the unregulated nature of orphanage tourism means there are no reliable figures on how many volunteers participate each year, the practice is widespread enough that the UK and Australia as well as the US have taken public stances.
These trips can bring a lot of money to orphanages in the form of fees and donations on the spot. In addition, visitors often convince family and friends back home to make significant donations as well. For example, the Orphanage Support Services Organization (OSSO) has volunteer opportunities in Ecuador and Thailand with an application fee of $190, a requested donation of $100, and a fee of $695 for a week to cover living expenses, transportation to the orphanage, and other expenses.
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According to their founder, Rex Head, most of these fees cover the cost of a volunteer’s stay as well as living expenses and overhead costs for an on-site volunteer manager. Any remaining fees go to the orphanage. Head, who is a physician, says the staff at his practice handles OSSO’s other administrative duties, and the organization donates an additional $300,000 to $400,000 in goods and cash from other funding streams each year to orphanages.
Critics say there is a problem with this kind of community service and generosity. All this money has prompted unscrupulous institutions to promise food, education or a better life to recruit children from families into the orphanages, according to the US State Department’s 2018 Trafficking in Persons report. “Childfinders”, as the report calls the recruiters, take advantage of parents’ concerns about poverty, conflict, natural disasters and lack of resources for a child with disabilities to convince parents to hand over their children, who are then used to attract lucrative international donations and volunteers.
A Save the Children report published in 2009 estimated that at least four out of five children in institutional care globally have at least one living parent. (The estimate is based on surveys and studies conducted by government agencies and non-governmental organizations in seven countries plus Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to determine whether children in institutions have one or both parents alive.)
The Trafficking in Persons report says some institutions force children to perform traditional dances or interact with visitors to encourage more donations. In addition, the report notes, they are sometimes malnourished or do not receive adequate medical care to garner more sympathy — and money from visitors and donors. Between the recruitment and the forced labor, critics call these practices modern slavery. In 2018, Australia became the first country to criminalize the recruitment of children into orphanages as a form of slavery.
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The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child declares that every child has the right to grow up in a family environment, and its guidelines on alternative care for children state that institutional care should be a temporary “last resort” for the “shortest possible duration.”
Andrea Freidus, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, says that in her extensive research on orphans and orphanages in southern Africa, she found that extended families and social networks are “very resilient” as an alternative to institutionalization.
“[Orphans] are just not abandoned in the way people in the West think,” says Freidus. “If there are family networks that these kids are willing to go to, why institutionalize them? We don’t do that in the U.S. anymore, and most [Western European] countries don’t do that anymore, because we know it’s bad for kids.” “
Many studies, going back decades, conclude that children who grow up in institutions have worse outcomes. For example, a 2006 UNICEF report cited a study in Russia that suggested that “one in three young people leaving care institutions becomes homeless, one in five ends up on a criminal record, and one in ten commits suicide.” Other studies point to increased frequencies of mental illness, physical and intellectual underdevelopment and a higher risk of being exposed to human trafficking.
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“If you really want to help them, help their extended families take care of them,” said James Kassaga Arinaitwe, CEO and co-founder of Teach for Uganda and an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow. Arinaitwe was raised by his grandmother after his mother died of cancer and his father of AIDS.
Although children in an institution have a positive experience with a short-term volunteer, there is a potential downside. When the volunteer travels, a child’s feelings of abandonment and emotional stress can be amplified, warns the US State Department’s report on human trafficking.
But some researchers still believe that the right kind of group setting can be beneficial. Kathryn Whetten, a Duke professor of public policy and director of the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research, is one of them. She has studied a group of 3,000 orphaned and separated children in Cambodia, India, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania since 2005.
“We see the same continuum of poor and good care in the group homes that we see in the family settings,” Whetten said last year. “What the kids really seem to need is a home-like environment.”
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Bud Philbrook, CEO and co-founder of Global Volunteers, an organization that assigns short-term volunteers to various development projects overseas, including an orphanage in Peru, says it’s “irresponsible” to judge all orphanages.
“To use a broad brush and say that all orphanages in some way negatively affect children is problematic,” says Philbrook. “Ideally, we want children to be with their parents at home, but that requires parents to be able to
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OSSO’s founder, Head, says that in his 24 years working in orphanages, he has certainly encountered unscrupulous institutions, but he worries that the backlash against orphanages will send children into abusive families, either their own or into foster care without adequate supervision.
“Good foster care is better than a good orphanage, but bad foster care is not,” says Head. “The most important thing for children is that they are loved, and that can happen in many kinds of environments.”
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Nevertheless, more groups choose to put an end to visits to orphanages. In September, the Association of British Travel Agents teamed up with the UK charity Hope and Homes for Children to set up a task force aimed at discouraging tourists, governments and travel agencies from supporting orphanage tourism. VSO – which in 2016 committed to no longer sending volunteers to orphanages – also helped launch a “Global Standard for Volunteering in Development” in October. Organizations can use these guidelines to design responsible volunteering opportunities, such as those led by local communities, promote cultural exchange and bring in individuals with skills not available locally.
“Just because it’s been happening for decades doesn’t mean it’s right,” says Chloe Setter, senior adviser on trafficking, modern slavery and volunteer tourism at Lumos, the children’s rights organization founded by Rowling in 2005. The idea is not to shame the orphanage volunteers, she says, but to start “questioning and challenging our own beliefs.” Three orphans are transported to safer areas in Ukraine. Chad and Mary Martz, who live in B.C. and serve with the nonprofit Hungry For Life, also have a home in Ukraine that now houses their family and people fleeing the country’s conflict zones.
The night before Russian forces launched missile and artillery strikes in eastern Ukraine, staff at an orphanage in the region filled their 14 vehicles with gas and other supplies. The next morning, 52 orphans and dozens of staff and their families rushed to the cars and headed west.
About 450 kilometers away, Chad and Mary Martz, who have lived in the Carpathians