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Orphanage Voluntourism: Helping or Hurting?

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The debate over voluntourism is not a one-sided affair however. Ken Budd, author of the memoir The Voluntourist, which chronicles his turn to volunteer work around the world after the death of his father, cautions people about jumping on an uninformed bandwagon of criticism against voluntourism.

“Saying voluntourism doesn’t work because of a few bad programs is like saying democracy doesn’t work because certain politicians are crooks,” Budd said. “It’s too extreme.”

Budd has explored many sides of voluntourism, including helping scientists study climate change in the Andes Mountains, teaching English in Costa Rica and China and volunteering at a children’s home in Kenya.

In his experiences, Budd has found much to praise about the practice of voluntourism. “I’m not a fan of the term orphanage tourism because it implies that people just want to go get their picture taken with orphans. And maybe some people do, but it doesn’t match my experiences volunteering in six places around the world,” he said. “Without exception, I found that people genuinely wanted to help others and they were willing to work hard and to sweat and to sacrifice their time to do that.”

So where do we land? What do we do? There are studies, research, good and bad stories on both sides. The most important thing, it would seem, is to be aware.

  • Ask questions such as does the organizing program have its own staff on the ground?
  • How long have they had a presence in the country and in that particular program?
  • How long has the program director been in place?
  • Ask for the organization’s annual report and check out its profile on CharityNavigator.com.
  • Most important, consider the impact you may have – positive and negative – on these orphaned and abandoned children. What will serve them best? Your life may be changed or impacted in a positive way, but how are they being affected once you leave?

It seems the best answer may be to simply be aware of your place in the world and your effect on the people you choose to interact with, especially the little ones.

For a few vetted orphanage programs, check out:

By Ben Moroski for PeterGreenberg.com

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