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Orphanage voluntourism in Nepal places children at risk

On the eve of National Volunteer Week (11-17 May 2015), Habitat for Humanity has warned that Australians volunteering overseas should be extremely careful not to contribute to ‘bogus’ charities that actually exploit the children they are trying to help.

There has been a surging growth of voluntourism that focuses on visiting or volunteering in orphanages is actually exploiting children and placing them at risk of abuse.

Late last year we issued a warning about the rise of bogus orphanages in Cambodia, despite a decrease in the number of vulnerable children and orphans throughout the country.

But now it has issued a new warning amid evidence that similar illegal practices are now flourishing in Nepal.

The growing number of tourists visiting and volunteering in orphanages is creating ‘a demand’ for orphans, particularly in Nepal’s main tourist districts. Some estimates reveal two out of three children living in “orphanages” in Nepal are not in fact orphans.

“There have been concerning reports of traffickers gathering children from villages and orphanage owners deliberately keeping children in destitute or unhealthy conditions to attract more financial donations,” said Martin Thomas, Habitat for Humanity Australia’s chief executive.

This has prompted Habitat for Humanity to publish a list of questions potential volunteers should consider before signing up to work with an organisation overseas.

“Voluntourism” is a massive business worldwide. With an estimated 1.6 million people opting to volunteer overseas it is a $2.6 billion industry, and thousands of Australian’s are joining the ranks of these volunteers.

“However, too many are being duped into paying thousands of dollars to volunteer in orphanages in countries such as Nepal and Cambodia in scams in which the children never receive the benefit of this money,” said Mr Thomas.

Despite this disturbing trend, there are many organisations that offer volunteer experiences that work within communities to achieve long term, sustainable development and build capacity, as opposed to dependency.

Habitat for Humanity Australia has been sending teams of volunteers to build homes for families in need through its Global Village program since 2001. In the last 13 years the Global Village program has supported over 4000 volunteers to travel and work across the Asia Pacific. They have built 350 homes for families in need.

Mr Thomas said if a person was contemplating volunteering overseas in a poorer country they should consider making a careful assessment of the organisation they are planning to work with. Habitat for Humanity has released a list of questions to ask before volunteering overseas. See the list here.

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