Volunteering in Orphanages and Responsible Volunteering on German TV
To create more awareness on the difficult topic of voluntourism, the Bayrischer Rundfunk has produced a new documentary by sending an undercoverjournalist to volunteer in Nepal. Our Co-Founder was asked by Bayerischer Rundfunk (a German television channel) to analyze and comment on this volunteer program for their production, before they left to Nepal.
We would like to use this opportunity to share with you our thoughts and evaluation on this. At the same time, we outline some common issues you might face while volunteering in orphanages.
Volunteering and traveling, a booming industry
In past years in the global south more orphanages started operating due to the high demand for volunteering placements in orphanages. Also, many faith driven development programs and small associations preferred to support orphanages rather than community-based care.
This shows that volunteer programs follow often the logic of the free market and are profit rather than need driven. The volunteer travel industry focuses more on satisfying the demands of the voluntourists rather than focusing on the wellbeing of the children and communities. Volunteering overseas has become a multi billion dollar travel industry. Positive outputs are mostly a side effect and rarely planned. This was brought to light on the 25.07.2018 on Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) at Kontrovers and can bee seen in their mediacenter.
The Himalayan Foundation Nepal operates three websites to attract volunteers, www.hfn.org.np , www.volunteerorphanage.org and www.missioninchurch.org.The church is part of the Himalayan Hope Church congregation. The owner of the orphanage operates, as a priest, the orphanage and church at the same location. These connections alerted us.
How to spot an unethical organization:
- A volunteer program should be designed for the communities the volunteers are placed in, not for the volunteers
The Himalayan Foundation Nepal focuses mainly on the volunteers, rather than the people the volunteers work for.
The Himalayan Foundation started as an “orphanage” in Chitwan and has lost its focus. A common side effect when local organizations follow the logic of the market, such as demand and supply. Now, HFN has become a volunteer program that offers tons of products. The organization advertises that every volunteer can make  “a unique contribution and are able to work with HFN to “structure their volunteer experience to follow their interests and make the most of the skills and knowledge they have to offer”.
- Volunteers should have skills to contribute, especially when working with vulnerable groups
The Himalayan Foundation Nepal does not require any qualifications for highly complex and challenging jobs. For example, volunteers can work without having experiences in health programs. Programs that usually require a university degree.
Many volunteer travel companies worldwide outline that skills are not required to help vulnerable groups. This makes it possible to attract more volunteers and generate a higher profit.
- Volunteers should have some life and work experience
The Himalayan Foundation Nepal offers all of their projects to minors. The minimum age to care for children who have been taken away from their families or to work as a health professional is only 16!  Many companies allow minors to work alongside a guardian in development projects. This opens up the market to families and teenagers and once again more profit can be generated.
- Child care institutions should work with parents to reintegrate children into their home community:
The Himalayan Foundation Nepal has no exit strategy. The television crew found out, that the children only see their parents once a year. In addition, there is no support – psychological and skill based – that will help the kids to reintegrate into the community and into a life without an institution which provides 24 hour “care”. Furthermore, children are left alone after they leave the orphanage and go back to their parents.
- Children homes should be the last resort for children and a short time solution
The Himalayan Foundation Nepal, emphasis that their children, “experienced traumatic and tragic experiences as a result of the loss of their parents.” The television team, which went undercover, ascertained that many of the “orphans” still have living parents. They found out, that the kids were given away, as the parent’s lack financial resources. Not seeing them and being given away creates psychological damage.
- Creating “fake” problems for marketing purposes
The Himalayan Foundation Nepal explains to their potential volunteers on their website, that HIV is a immense problem in Nepal and that many children lose their families due to HIV. The World Bank and other major development organizations identified/determined the opposite to be true. Furthermore, the past conflict and “war” as well as poverty related wording are used to create a picture of a war torn and poor country. Creating “fake” problems for marketing purposes helps to create a picture of the weak, that need to be saved by tourists from the global north. This attracts good willing tourists to generate more profit.
- Respect for local laws
The Himalayan Foundation Nepal does recommend their volunteers to volunteer with a tourist visa. This is illegal in Nepal, but due to a weak control system of the law possible. Easy visa regulations make it possible to attract more volunteers.
In addition, it is prohibited to host tourists in orphanages. The Himalayan Foundation Nepal actively promotes the orphanage as an accommodation for their volunteers. Thus, the risk of exploitation and pdychological damage increases.
Furthermore, it is not legal, to receive donations through unknown channels and sources. The governmental evaluation and monitoring process requires an organization to list donors and donations as well as the strategy of their programs.
Many companies and local organizations ignore local regulations to open up the programs for a wider audience.
- For the safety and wellbeing of the children, day visits and tourist should not be allowed in ANY child institution
Groups are welcome to sleep in and to visit the orphanages of The Himalayan Foundation Nepal as part of their travel itinerary. Especially group visits can generate high profits with extremely good margins. Thus, many underfunded and unprofessional orphanages allow short-term visitors in their organizations. Group visits create psychological harm to children. Residental care institutions are not a “Zoo”.
- Personal benefits and business interests should not be a reason to run or send volunteers to an orphanage
Many orphanages are set up for personal benefits. Many orphanage owners ask for donations to build or buy own property, so that fixed costs can be reduced. In the end, the properties are bought in the name of the orphanage funders themselves. A great way to get personal property. In some other cases, donations such as toys and laptops were later sold to buy goods that were not used for the orphanages.
There are many ways to generate capital through an orphanage or combine the orphanages with other businesses or interests. The founder of The Himalaya Foundation runs a church alongside the orphanage. Of course, the children converted to Christianity.
Foreign donors, mainly individuals, volunteer travel companies, churches and small associations keep such unsustainable institutions alive.
- The staff in child care institutions should be qualified to work with children
Founders, directors and local staff often have no work experience nor any educational background that enables them to work with vulnerable children. The people involved in The Himalayan Foundation Nepal have no related educational background, which qualifies them to work with vulnerable children. The orphanage is family run.
- A good organization should not entirely depend on day to day donations. If they do, alternative ways of generating income should be developed
The Himalayan Foundation Nepal does entirely depend on private donations, several past corporation’s ended. A sign that money has not been used wisely or that the staff is not qualified to run an orphanage. In addition, the donations are collected through private PayPal accounts.
Another concerning issue is volunteers are being used as fundraisers and are asked to generate donations. Donation that are connected to health-related issues, housing and salaries. The undercover journalist was asked to pay for healthcare and was told by the children, that they would not receive the neccessary health care otherwise.
Foreign volunteers are being used as ”coordinators” and fundraisers to keep the business alive. In addition, volunteers are collecting donations through their PayPal accounts so that the orphanage director can buy a house , which appear to be send later to private PayPal accounts in Nepal. This is absolutely intransparent and also illegal.
There are many orphanages, especially the ones that use volunteers as a source of income, that have not improved the living conditions and programs of children over the time of many years. There are different reasons. Sometimes orphanages are run by unqualified staff or staff that is only interested in personal benefits. Well respected and professional development organizations require certain standards, that makes it impossible to benefit personally from the orphans or require professional and qualified staff.
- Orphanages should not work with volunteer travel agents
Orphanages that work with profit and market driven companies, rarely receive support from professional development organizations. Volunteers can work for a short time, usually without any qualifications, which creates psychological harm to the children. In the past, the orphanage has cooperated with huge volunteer travel agencies,among them is the company International Volunteer HQ. However, the cooperation seems to have ended. Until now, The Himalayan Foundation Nepal works with commercial providers, among them is the Welt-Sicht GmbH, a German volunteer travel provider. A provider, that states on their website to have high quality volunteering programs. The company did not want to comment on the poor conditions and poor preperation.
- Orphanages should not use children to get donations
Often children are used to generate donations. They have to hold signs, dance or speak to donors. The Himalayan Foundation Nepal uses children throughout their fundraising strategy to receive donation. Such campaigns, especially when the full names and pictures of the children are used, can create long term harm for children and prejudices.
- Other issues
The organization did not require any certificates nor a certificate of good conduct. In addition, we have found several negative reviews and have seen copy and paste advertisements on TripAdvisor and Facebook. In addition, some reviews were written by the staff themself. 
This volunteer program and especially the orphanage program are good examples on how the volunteer travel industry got out of hands. An industry, highly unregulated, uses children to generate profit. The Himalaya Foundation has no child protection procedures in place. An absolute no go!
We have predicted, that the volunteers in this program will probably
- be asked for donations frequently
- be asked to fundraise
- not provide an orientation or preperation and volunteers start immediately to work
- experience group visits or can invite friends to the orphanage
- be able to observe noticeable abnormal behaviour among the children
- meet children, that rarely meet their parents and have been converted to christianity
- can contribute any skills they want, even if it does not fit into the schedule
- can take kids unaccompanied outside of the orphanage
Most of it happened. This shows that a careful look behind the program and into the website is very important when choosing a volunteer program. A good volunteer travel company will tell you where you will or could be placed (in advanced so that u can prepare), the names of their local partners (BEFORE paying), let you talk to past volunteers and prepeare you personally, at least via skype or phone. If there is no matching process, don’t use the provider
Be very careful, when volunteering in orphanages
Volunteering in residential care institutions is in most cases a very bad idea. We recommend volunteers only to work in child care institutions when they have the skills, an intensive preparation, enough time and know the workplace very well. Volunteering in orphanages through comercial providers is ALWAYS a bad idea. A matching process is essential, when working with vulnerable groups, to make sure the volunteer experience will have a sustainable impact!
Watch the documentary online in the BR Mediacenter or YouTube
Lets see put an end to this industry!
Here you can see what happened. To follow the German undercover television team on their alarming journey, watch the documentation here on in the BR Mediacenter or Youtube:
 vgl http://www.volunteerorphanage.org/
 http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2012/07/10/hiv-aids-nepal and http://povertydata.worldbank.org/poverty/country/NPL and http://www.unaids.org/en/regionscountries/countries/nepal
 Email with the social welfare office