Updated: Mar 21, 2019
On August 21, 2016, J.K Rowling, author of the famed Harry Potter series, took to Twitter to share her disdain for voluntourism--especially when it involves children. As a well-known philanthropist and founder of her own charitable organization for children, Rowling was asked by a voluntourist organization to endorse its content.
After researching the program she found some alarming information:
A well-known facet of voluntourism organizations is the selling of volunteer-centric experiences, like playing with disenfranchised children. Yet, organizations continue to sell the voluntour experience regardless of the cost to the parties involved.
This is especially problematic when children are involved. Often referred to as orphan tourism, this style of voluntourism can be the most dangerous. This is because children are naturally impressionable, which leaves them vulnerable to voluntourist traps.
In Cambodia, voluntourism has led to an increase in care homes where poverty stricken parents give their children to orphanages. In fact, three of four Cambodian orphans are not actually orphans. In Guatemala, the number of orphanages has skyrocketed. Orphanages often use volunteers because of a lack of resources. One researcher states, “Some orphanages operate more like opportunistic businesses than charities, intentionally subjecting children to poor conditions in order to entice unsuspecting volunteers to donate more money.”
Rowling goes on to explain that most children in orphans are not actually abandoned.
When organizations have volunteers come to low-income communities to teach English or ‘play with the kids,’ families are encouraged to send their kids away. This allows them to obtain a free education and removes the burden of care from families who are already barely getting by.
With organizations needing the children to appear as sickly orphans, it can encourage the exploitation of these children. This is because organizations only make money if participants sign up for trips, and participants only sign up for trips if they think their help is needed. Therefore, organizations are encouraged to keep children in deplorable conditions to keep up the illusion that the area needs help. However, with large program costs, this merely allows the third-party to profit from the ill treatment of children.
Even if the treatment isn’t intentionally poor or worse, children are extremely vulnerable and should not be subjected to voluntourist trips. Voluntourists do not stay in an area for a long period of time, leaving children to experience a “revolving door of short-term volunteers.” Voluntourists form an emotional bond with the children they’re interacting with. When the travelers inevitably go home, this makes the children feel hurt and abandoned, and these feelings will only grow each time new voluntourists come into the area.
It is imperative that we take a stand against harmful voluntourist organizations--especially those that involve children. Say no to orphan tourism and agree to #VoluntourNoMore!