Presenting Wisdom Wednesday: when volunteering in children homes might not be the best idea

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Are we really sure that volunteering in a children homes is in the best interest of the hosted children?

Am  I a bit provocative here?  It sounds as a great idea after all. I did that in Brazil many years ago and it was an amazing experience. At least it was for me but what about the others? What about the kids there?

At that time, did I think what those children might have thought at seeing so many foreigners coming and going after a short spell there?

I am sure there was no harm, at least, apparently, in having these kids in one of the favalas of Belo Horizonte interacting with university students from Europe.

It was certainly fun for us and also for them. Let me say that ur volunteering was pretty much structured and each of us ended up doing a precise task according to our skills.

For example I was assigned to the kitchen not because I was good at cooking but because of my presumed skills at chopping off potatoes and other vegetables. At that time I wondered if there might have been something better I could do but after all I had never worked with children, nor as a teacher nor as educationalist so at the end, the kitchen was  a fair decision taken by the volunteers supervisor in charge of dealing with all international volunteers.

Yet it is worthy think a bit. Maybe there are some deeper implications. Maybe there are deeper consequences I and thousands of other international short term volunteers never really thought of.

Maybe those kids in Brazil would have been better off with some foster parents rather than in the institution where we spent our month of “volun-tourism”, no matter how good it was (and it was indeed the best in the entire state of Minas Gerais).

For this reason we would like to invite you to undertake a reflection on the real benefits of doing volunteerism in a children home. I am not saying you should not do it but you better know some trade-offs that you might incur or inadvertently create by getting involved in such experiences.

So you will have now the opportunity to hear a different story, a well proven argument that volunteering in children homes in Brazil or Nepal is, most of the times,  not that good at all for the hosted children.

It is for this reason that “Wisdom Wednesday” was organized as an informal gathering in a pub in Thamel where, turn by turn, social worker and experts in the field, expressed their own opinions and stories about why volunteering with kids in developing countries could be actually harmful or detrimental to kids living in these institutions.

Probably a basic idea behind the initiative is that we should work to abolish and eliminate any kind of children homes, not matter how good they are. They should be thought as temporary solutions rather than permanent and lasting family replacements.

The initiative organized by Next Generation Nepal and a group of other organizations, The Umbrella Foundation, Forget me not ,the participation of activist and writer Claire Bennet, an expert on the issue writing a book on the issue  in collaboration of the American Embassy to Nepal,  is trying to let tourists understand that volunteering with poor children is not a joke and it requires a lot of preparation and in many instances, it  can be very risky.

In most of the cases, there are real stories that show that volunteering in children homes  is not the best thing to do no matter the good intentions of the international volunteers visiting Nepal, Cambodia, Brazil or any other country with serious inequalities and serious child protection issues.

I admit it is a delicate issue where it is very difficult to find a balance. I am myself a bit torn about this.  As often happens, there are always “pros” and “cons” but I am sure that listening to the opinions of experts and practioners is the best thing to do in order to learn and make your own opinion on the issue.

So welcome to Wisdom Wednesday.

Last but not the least, a  big thank to Martin Punaks, the super active country director of Next Generation Nepal, not only a true development expert with passion and determination but also a real gentleman.

From now onwards, every Wednesday for the next month, you will hear some different stories about volunteering with children in developing countries.

Hopefully you will enjoy it and most importantly learn something.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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