Boy at Mosebo village

Why it is time to stop Orphanage Volunteering

Last July, when I was in Arusha, Tanzania I stayed at a Tanzanian-run hotel that is a popular launching off point for safaris and Kilimanjaro climbs. The hotel is owned and run by a Tanzanian woman who also does a fair amount of charity work within the community. One such project she worked on was supporting a local orphanage. As a social good blogger, I was very interested in visiting the orphanage to meet the children and spend a little time playing with them. I agreed to join a huge group of American volunteers who were heading over to the orphanage for the day to check it out. Little did I know, my visit is something that many international organizations that work to protect children are trying to stop.

A month ago, I was contacted by Anna McKeon, Co-Coordinator for Better Volunteering, Better Care, a global initiative facilitated by The Better Care Network and Save the Children UK aimed at discouraging orphanage volunteering and promoting ethical volunteering alternatives. Anna wanted to see if I would be interested in joining the upcoming blogging blitz to lobby the volunteer travel industry to stop orphanage trips, and to raise awareness about the issue.

Since the onset of the campaign in early May, I learned a lot about the negative consequences of volunteering and visiting orphanages. Although it often seems as a great way to give back and make a difference, orphan trips can be harmful for vulnerable children, and is also contributing to a growing orphanage industry and the separation of children from their families. Child protection specialists have expressed concern about this growing phenomenon in over 20 countries worldwide. Anna herself had once volunteered at a few international orphanages (See article:  I Volunteered at an Orphanage and Now I Campaign Against It”) and it was through her experiences that she became committed to end it.

Moshi Tanzania

These girls live right outside the orphanage and are school age. When girls in Tanzania go to school, it is customary to shave their heads.

So what have I learned since the beginning of this campaign? Quite a few things that I honestly was completely unaware of and even took me by surprise.