Travelers Need To #StopOrphanTrips Immediately And Here’s Why


Julie Kern / June 2016

Sustainable tourism is on the rise and those travelers who are passionate about making a difference in the world are highly commendable. At the same time though, we have to recognize that there is not a clear definition of what sustainable tourism actually means. There are often examples of initiatives that are based on good intentions, but are actually more detrimental than beneficial to the communities involved.

One such example of this is volunteering in orphanages, and an organization called Better Volunteering Better Care (BVBC) is working to show how volunteering abroad in orphanages is harmful to children. Their mission according to the website is, “to understand and share information regarding the impact of international volunteering in residential care centres (orphanages) and to raise awareness about the negative effects of volunteering in these settings.” AKA, orphanages may be cute, but attachment problems are not.

According to BVBC, the problem is that volunteering in orphanages is not in the best interest of the children. The vast research the organization has done is explained in this three minute video, that every traveler should watch in order to #StopOrphanTrips:

In case you don’t have three minutes to spare, we’ve summed it up quickly for you here:

  • 80% of children living in orphanages actually have one or more living parent (yeah, WTF)
  • Volunteers aren’t necessarily addressing the long term impact. Think about it: kids become attached easily, and then you leave to go back home. The revolving door of people teaches them not to trust or invest in relationships.
  • Volunteers bring enticing resources to developing countries, making orphanages an attractive option for families
  • The focus should be on supporting children in family environments, not an orphanage which should be a last resort

To learn more about this issue, you can visit here or here and use the hashtag #StopOrphanTrips to spread the word.

Tags: Cover, featured, sustainable travel, Travel, traveling, volunteer



Read 16 Previous Comments

  • Courtney // June 6, 2016

    Such a great post. This is true. The more I travel, the more I try to be mindful of my impact and to not do any long term damage. You definitely bring up some great points that I simply appreciate as an educator. Cheers.

  • Katie // June 6, 2016

    I generally agree. I lived in a small city in Korea that had a small orphanage. We would try to organize soccer games and hangouts regularly (partially because the exposure to English with us was likely all they had outside of school, and other kids growing up in Korea likely have access to “after-school” academic enrichment programs- hagwon). We would hold a Christmas charity gift drive, and it was difficult to explain to the other foreigners why we couldn’t put our names on the gifts– and the potential for attachment was the exact reason why (especially with the younger kids). I think the key is to really take the temperature of the situation before deciding to participate. Trips specifically dedicated to: showing up, playing, and leaving- leave the exact impact that you mentioned: attachment issues. I think that the attitude needs to shift from “This is what I want to do for you” to “What can I do to help you?”

    • Julie Kern // June 6, 2016

      Katie – wow thank you for such a thoughtful reply! I think you really explained this well, it’s not necessarily about removing yourself entirely, but rather making sure to have a full understanding of the situation before jumping in. People want to feel good by doing something to help others, but we have to ask ourselves if we’re really helping, or hurting in the long run. Travel on! XO Julie

  • Kristine Li // June 6, 2016

    Interesting alternative perspective! I’ve never done activities like these before, but with your post, I will think carefully about any future volunteering activities! Thanks for sharing!

  • LAUREN @ // June 22, 2016

    I’m actually against most volunteering opportunities except a rare few. Thanks for shedding light on a really important issue. GREAT POST! xx

  • Emily // June 22, 2016

    I agree with you in that certain volunteer trips can be very harmful. Whenever I go on trips to Haiti, the organization I go with is super mindful of this. They have an on site orphanage but it is kept separate and we aren’t allowed to go inside. However, if the kids want to play with us they can come over to the area where we are. We painted an orphanage once but most of the kids left while we did it. There are still great ways to help and make a difference without causing harm!

  • Shobha George // June 22, 2016

    This inspire me to do the same. I will remember this on my next trip. Thank you for sharing..

  • Rosi C. // June 22, 2016

    I love to give back and recently learned about this. it is hard to not become attached especially with beautiful kids and their kindness.

  • Ivana // June 22, 2016

    It seems like this is a topic that is being talked about quite frequently lately. I’m glad that you are bringing awareness to the issue, as it is a very important one. It never would have occurred to me that children in orphanages – some of the most vulnerable places in the world – would be exploited by their own families.

  • Sierra // June 22, 2016

    I’ve often been conflicted about such types of short term mission or volunteer trips – thank you for sharing!

  • Laura // June 22, 2016

    Very interesting. I’d never actually thought of it like this before. I can see the good and bad points in both arguments.

  • Stella the Travelerette // June 23, 2016

    Thank you for sharing this. I have done some voluntourism but it was all in New Orleans around rebuilding. Children get so attached to adults who are kind to them naturally, and I’m sure it’s that much harder for children in orphanages to say goodbye. However, most people who’ve been adopted that I know have at least one living birth parent, so it doesn’t surprise me that so many kids in orphanages have a living parent.

  • Lottie Reeves // June 23, 2016

    This is such an important topic that needs an increase in awareness.
    However, I do think it is inappropriate to use a blanket statement to say all orphan trips (or as some people say, all volunteering) should be stopped. It is about doing research and gaining a deeper understanding of a project you are going to volunteer at. As with any placement, you should know exactly what the organisation does, where their money goes, the impact they have on the community, whether the community requires (or even wants) their help and the background of the project.
    I work with a children’s home in South Africa and have been involved in one in Uganda in the past (as well as worked in one in London). Some of the children did have a living parent but the parent was not in a position to care for the child. Volunteers have been involved and had a positive impact because it was ‘done right’.
    I think a large issue comes with the nature of some orphanages, rather than them being seen as a children’s home / sanctuary / safe place for children that need home, they are seen as money pots for people who set them up and entice unknowing volunteers in to ‘do good’. These orphanages give others a bad name.
    It’s a controversial topic for sure!

    • Julie Kern // June 23, 2016

      Lottie – thanks for your thoughtful comment. I completely agree that it’s not about the blanket statement, but rather understanding the project that you will work on. We’re trying to call people’s attention to this, in order to more fully understand the complexities of volunteering!

  • Brianne Miers // June 23, 2016

    Thanks for sharing this important info.! I participated in the #StopOrphanTrips campaign as well and will continue to promote it. It’s surprising how many well-meaning travelers don’t know about this problem and are unintentionally contributing to it.

  • Naomi // June 23, 2016

    I think this applies to more volunteer work which is done more for the benifit of the volunteer than the people/group/community who needs help. Good for you for addressing this issue

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