Friday, June 1, 2012

Before You Volunteer

Al Jazeera posted an overview of the right way to volunteer in orphanages abroad. Always do your research too. 

Read their expose of the Cambodia orphan business where you will learn that:

. . .  inadvertently, well-intentioned volunteers have helped to create a surge in the number of residential care homes as impoverished parents are tempted into giving up their children in response to promises of a Western-style upbringing and education. Despite a period of prosperity in the country, the number of children in orphanages has more than doubled in the past decade, and over 70 per cent of the estimated 10,000 'orphans' have at least one living parent.

 And perhaps most disturbingly, stories have emerged that Cambodian children are being exploited by some of the companies organizing the volunteers or running the orphanages.

Is profiting from people's good intentions, even to the possible detriment of children they hope to help, another downside to capitalism?

As stated in this article, an estimated one-third of Cambodian children live below the poverty line, and few would doubt that help is much needed. Below are some guidelines for potential volunteers to consider:

Volunteer at a childcare facility in your own community before considering the option of participating in an orphanage voluntourism experience.

Your research. Ask local educators and NGOs about reputable organizations that are helping orphaned Cambodian children. Look for one that is legally registered and employs an active family reunification program.

Select programs that require a thorough background check on you, including fingerprinting, in order to participate and have a long-standing track record of working in a given community. Ask the organization if they have a child protection policy in place and a system for reporting suspected abuse.

Sign on for a long-term project. Choose a placement where you are supervised and working within a long-term curriculum. Consider helping community-based programs, which support families and enable the children to live at home.

Bring special skills. Medical specialists, teachers and human rights educators are often needed. Ask to speak to a volunteer who came before you.

Donate goods in kind. Ask the organization, rather than a tuk tuk or taxi driver, about their needs. A common scam involves exorbitant charges for rice on the advice of a profiteering driver.

Go to any orphanage that actively solicits tourists.

Work with the children directly. Instead, assist the permanent staff; this keeps the locals in charge and minimizes attachment issues.

Hand over large volunteer placement fees (which can top $1,000) without ensuring that a portion is passed directly to the organization.

Volunteer at any organization that does not ask for a CV, references and police reports in advance. The more that is demanded, the greater chance that the children are being protected.

Select programs that will put you in a position of playing a direct role, as opposed to a staff-supporting role, in working with children.

Volunteer in an orphanage without having made arrangements to do so prior to departure from your home destination. 'Spur-of-the-moment', in-destination, orphanage voluntourism should be strictly avoided.

For more information on volunteering:
Anti-Human Trafficking and Exploitation Organisation (SISHA) - A not-for-profit organization that aims to ensure justice for children, women and men who have been subjected to trafficking and exploitation in Southeast Asia.

ICC-Project Sky - A Phnom Penh-based project that seeks the safe reintegration and social inclusion of young adult orphans into communities in Cambodia.

International Organisation for Adolescents (IOFA) - Focuses on empowering orphaned youth and building effective response systems for child trafficking victims.

ChildSafe Travellers Tips - A list of seven better ways to help protect children around the world, who are at great risk of being abused.

Child Safe International - A proactive child protection network involving key members of society, protecting children from all forms of abuse and preventing child exploitation and trafficking.

Cambodian Children’s Fund - Provides life-changing education, nourishment and healing to vulnerable children from some of Cambodia's most destitute communities.

Friends International - Provides information on a wide range of myths and realities about orphanages in Cambodia in the hope of educating visitors and travelers.

UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) - One of the UN agencies mandated to make Cambodia a country fit for children.

Good Intentions are not enough - Provides donors with the knowledge and tools they need to make informed funding decision, such as the type of charities and projects.

International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) - A company that boasts 4,000 international volunteers each year who are sent to assist developing countries in a variety of jobs and for various periods of time.

STAR Kampuchea - Aims to promote democracy, poverty reduction, the respect for human rights and civil society, on the basis of the rule of law in Cambodia.

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