volunteering in african orphanages

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Zoe asked 5 years ago

I was hoping to volunteer for a few weeks in Kenya, and have read your article about orphanages (which concerns I had known about in Southeast Asia, but hadn’t known applied to Kenya). Would you recommend teaching opportunities (not a teacher, but have tutored some in English, and taught english conversation at a Myanmar school) as better than volunteering in an orphanage there? Thanks

Stephen replied 4 years ago

Greetings Zoe,

Good question, indeed volunteering in an orphanage is not recommended as mentioned in the previous comment. There are various opportunities in communities, however, I am not sure of your skill-set or knowledge base now that you’ve mentioned you are not a teacher; It would be good to look at that against the needs of the local community that you are intending to visit. Are you combining your visit with another activity or its a purely volunteer visit?


2 Answers
Sebastian Drobner Staff answered 4 years ago

Thank you for your interesting question, Zoe.

We won’t give you a direct answer to your question, but will throw in some facts that might make it easier for you to make the right decision.

Kenya suspended the registration of new orphanages
Kenya and its orphanages is a subject which is currently covered by international Media. The government has recognized the connection between orphanages and child abuse. Therefore the registration of new residential care institutions for children was suspended until the safety of the children can be guaranteed. By the way, the Kenyan government has had challenges by shifting from orphanages to home based care.

Corruption, poverty and a weak rule of law is often connected to the harm voluntourism can cause
Several factors hinder government’s of financially poor countries to tackle the orphanage problems: corruption, poverty and a weak rule of law. Countries with a robust rule of law are better in protecting children and have saver orphanages. Human trafficking and public corruption as well as a weak rule of law are closely connected. In countries without the rule of law, corrupt officials have free hands to do what they want. The legal system is often so weak, that the chances to be held accountable for corruption or crimes are very low. As a result, corruption is a force that is undermining the quality of many institutions. Transparency International has defined corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Orphanage directors and some global volunteer travel agents abuse their power over children, out of financial interests. In many corrupt countries, even state run orphanages are not free from abuse, forced labor and sexual exploitation.

Kenya and it’s child trafficking and orphanage problems
If you search the internet, you will find several reported cases of sexual exploitation and trafficking in Kenyan orphanages. Stahili, a great local organization working to tackle orphanage problems, says that Kenya has approximately 2.5 million orphaned and vulnerable children. The organization outlines, that the number of children living in institutions like children’s homes is unknown since many institutions operate unregistered. Orphanages are big business in Kenya and traffickers prey on vulnerable families to recruit children. This video shows an example, on how orphanages in Kenya recruit children to get donations. But its not only a Kenyan Problem. The government of Uganda recently cracked down on corrupt and unlicensed orphanages.

Alternative care Uganda, a facebook group full of resources
A facebook group that might be able to guide you, is the group Alternative care Uganda. Many Kenyans are in this group. If you search the group for the discussion on Kenyan orphanages, you will find plenty results.
Voluntourism and orphanages become more likely a problem, the weaker the rule of law is and the more corruption a country has. A look on corruption indexes might give a lead, on how good children are protected from trafficking and abuse.

Bad orphanages, unethical voluntourism and child trafficking are not only Asian problems
Whether it is, Cambodia, IndonesiaNepal, Haiti, Ghana, Kenya or Uganda, all this countries have some challenges in common. A weak rule of law, corruption and they all face problems with orphanages and voluntourism. The poorer the country and the weaker the legal system is, the more likely the country can become a playground for voluntourists. In such countries, Volunteers and companies can do things, they would never be allowed to do in their home countries. The tip of the iceberg was a volunteer project of Global Crossroad. A 15 years old boy was allowed to work as a medical assistant in a hospital in Ghana. He helped with the treatment of wounds and the delivery of babies.

Here is a link about a story in Uganda, one about Ghana and one facebook group that was set up to make future volunteers aware of bad orphanages in Kenya.

Children Homes are never the best solution and should be a short term alternative
Why do we support projects, that are in our home countries since ages under criticism? In Germany, in the fifties and sixties hundred thousands of children suffered from the upbringing in orphanages. The history and harm that was caused has been carefully documented and researched.  The research has shown, that children in residential care institutions were facing degradation, cruel punishments and abuse. The negative results were anxiety, depressions, low confidence, attachment disorders and the disturbance of the brain development. It has also been proven that development disorders can already occur after six months in a residential care institution.  In addition, a short look on the child rights conventions make it clearer, why in most countries residential homes have become the last resource to help children. So why do we support this institutions, and the growth, in the Global South?

Let’s make another important point: No country is safe from corruption, bad children homes nor does any country have the perfect legal system. Privatization has led recently to child abuse cases in German orphanages, the county also has a black history when it comes to residential care. But the better the government system and the lower the corruption is, the less likely is the chance that voluntourism can cause harm in children homes.

Also we have observed, that the more missionaries, volunteers and development organizations support orphanages, the more orphanages will pop up. Therefore it should always be questioned, if commercialised projects should ever be supported. Because volunteer travel companies have fueled a whole new industry. The orphanage business and the business with poverty.

I hope we were able to help you, let us know your thoughts and where you end up volunteering!


leah replied 4 years ago

Which are the areas if volunteering.give a wider perspective

Sebastian Drobner Staff replied 4 years ago

Hello Leah,

I am glad you ask this question. A look into our quality standards might be useful.

Not all residential care facilities are bad

First of all, I do believe that no all residential care institutions are bad. And with the necessary time and background it is possible to work in an overseas institution that offers residential care. There is also work in such institutions, which is not directly related to the work with children. But especially companies that send thousands of, often untrained volunteers, in such institutions usually do not work with them. In addition they are not able to identify the legit once.

So, in very rare cases volunteering in a residential care facility might be ok. It is important to keep in mind, that residential care should be the last option for children.  There are often better options for the children. Our basic rule: What you can’t do in your home country usually shouldn’t be done by you in another country.

Matching process and transparency

What are the right projects depends on the volunteer’s skills, the community, the placement as well as the country. Many factors, the sending organization needs to be well aware of the individual characteristics of each placement. In addition the volunteer needs to be matched, which means the volunteer has the necessary skills that have been vetted, the application approved by the placement and the volunteer is aware of the placement, community and the requirements of the placement. I am not aware of a bigger volunteer travel company offering such professional matching process and service. Are you?

In addition the volunteer program needs to be culturally sensitive imbedded into the community. The program should not spread prejudice and frustration. When 80 wealth volunteers live in a volunteer house, pay huge amounts of money and receive the volunteer placement as a commercialized service, this is exactly what is happening. Therefore I personally prefer agencies that do not work in too many countries or focus on one area. I applied directly to placements, skyped with them and worked on the work description. When I applied myself, I was more likely to ensure the placement fits to my needs and the other way around. Of course it took months and a lot of preparation. I never volunteered less than six months and used my past experiences to support the placement and get more knowledge and experience.


Do you or experts have the feeling, the placement is sustainable? Does the placement improve their work? What were the roles of past volunteers? There are so many questions to ask, before signing up or committing to a placement. For an example, if  a teaching placement and volunteer work is not being well monitored and evaluated, it can cause also harm to the local community but is less likely to cause as much as residential care centers. It can take jobs away, students do learn skills which aren’t a priority or have been developed because of financial profit only.

Therefore, looking on your own skills, checking out the needs of the placement, the matching process, the evaluation and being intensively prepared beforehand are some key factors for each volunteer experience.

What is your opinion on that? Have you volunteered?


joao pedro matondo answered 3 years ago

Hello my iam is to be one of you in order to contribuete for the good organization of volunteering

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