The dark side of volunteering overseas

The latest edition of the CSMA magazine reports on the ongoing scandal of of fake orphanages in Nepal. Nepalese children are being stolen or bought from parents and then marketed to tourists as orphans. The scruffier and more neglected the children appear, the more sympathy and money they elicit from gullible tourists. Some of these so-called orphans are sent to the West for adoption, even though they still have parents.

HELP was once taken in by one of these ‘orphanages’, so it is not surprising that casual tourists are taken in. The owners of these establishments can put on a good show for visitors they think can benefit from. It looked genuine enough. The children looked destitute and unhappy, which, in retrospect should have warned us that something was wrong. We naively thought that lack of funds was the problem. As a result of our visit, we sent a volunteer to work there. He found that he was being barred from speaking to or socialising with the local staff by the owner. He finally managed to get around this ban, and uncovered a cruel regime of beatings. He was staying with the owner’s family, who, displeased with his noseying around, started contaminating his food to give him diarrhoea. He felt threatened and left early.

As a result of this experience, and more evidence of widespread malpractice in these so-called ‘orphanages’, we restrict our activities to schools. Because it is so difficult to sort out the genuine ones from the fakes, we give all orphanages a wide berth. And so should you, unless you are absolutely sure that the children really are orphans, and that the people running your chosen orphanage have the children’s interests at heart.

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HELP is rare for an organisation offering volunteer teaching in that it puts the needs of the local people before the desires of the western person wanting ‘the experience’.
Alastair SkeffingtonSaraswatimata Yumahangma English School