Volunteering abroad

Volunteering overseas sounds like a great way to do some good and have a holiday. But who really stands to profit?
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03.Volunteering in orphanages abroad

Volunteering in an orphanage abroad

Some orphanages in countries such as Nepal and Cambodia have turned to tourism to take advantage of the increased demand from paying volunteers. 

Between 2005 and 2010, the number of orphanages in Cambodia increased 75 per cent and the number of children in them increased 90 per cent. A UNICEF report found that these orphanages have little financial accountability and are run predominantly on overseas donations or volunteer funds, fuelling a market for orphanages that do more harm than good. 

There are also serious safety risks for children as many orphanages don’t have child protection policies or conduct background checks. Research also shows the detrimental consequences of constant short-term exposure of new caregivers on child development. Wherever possible, family and community-based care is a better alternative. 

If you are considering volunteering in an orphanage it is worth considering the guidelines laid out at thinkchildsafe.org. Well-run orphanages do exist, but should always been seen as a last resort and longer-term commitments such as nine to 12 months from volunteers are recommended. 

Volunteering gone wrong

In 2007 Kalia Forde signed up with for-profit company, Antipodeans Abroad, to teach at a rural school in India for three months. As she was only 18 at the time, she decided to pay $3750 for Antipodeans Abroad to set up the placement so that she knew she would be looked after in a foreign country.   

But on arrival in India she found her help was not needed. There was no school for her to teach at and no meaningful volunteer work for her to do. The local partner she’d been outsourced to, ISAC (India Study Abroad Centre), was instead searching for projects where she could volunteer. 

Forde was sent to a local school to arrange work, but was told the students had exams coming up and that their schedules should not be disrupted. In her search of another opportunity, she was sent to an ashram as a test-run. But when they arrived, even the centre’s director was confused as to why they were there and what they could do. 

“It was as haphazard as if I was organising it myself,” she says. “No one from the company had been to the project [in the local village Pen]”. 

Colin Carpenter, managing director at Antipodeans Abroad says he had met with the director of ISAC prior to Forde’s trip. While Antipodeans Abroad had been working with ISAC for three years, it had only started sending volunteers to Pen about six months earlier. 

“Clearly ISAC hadn’t done their work properly on the ground,” says Carpenter. “We don't always get it right but most times we do. We also do our best to rectify situations that don't turn out well”. 

Following a complaint about the trip, Antipodeans Abroad sent Forde on another trip free of charge and paid half the cost of the airfares, an experience she describes positively. Carpenter maintains that ISAC is a reputable organisation but doesn’t currently offer placements through it for a range of reasons.


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