J.K Rowling and Orphanages: The True and False of Volunteering With Institutionalized Children

By Aviv Hochbaum on 25/01/2017

In August of 2016, J.K Rowling went out with a series of Tweets against the practice of volunteering with children in institutions:

Rowling, who co-founded the charity Lumos in 2005, has been working tirelessly to draw attention to the perils of child institutionalization and helped shed light on a gloomy reality: orphanages are turning into booming businesses that invite crowds of (often times) un-skilled and un-informed individuals to volunteer their time, and more specifically donate their money, to orphanages worldwide. Rowling’s statements were completely on-point, and backed by years of research on the effects of orphanages on children, leading up to recent findings specifically regarding orphanage volunteering.

Fast forward to Rowling’s most recent tweet regarding the negative psychological effects of children growing up in institutions (see below) that has reignited the need to speak out against this entirely negative practice.

To make things clear – volunteering in orphanages and J.K Rowling’s tweets against the institutionalization of children go hand-in-hand. The high demand to volunteer in orphanages is fueled by platforms that supply this demand and facilitate the connection between unaware volunteers worldwide and such institutions. Since GivingWay’s founders formed a strict policy against orphanage volunteering (read more here) we have been promoting this discussion, and working hard in an attempt to put an end to this negative form of volunteering abroad.

Following Rowling’s powerful tweets, a storm of blog posts and articles came out strengthening her position on this heated topic: The Independent published JK Rowling condemns ‘voluntourism’ and highlights dangers of volunteering in orphanages overseas, while Huffington Post wrote J.K. Rowling Breaks Down Why Volunteering At Orphanages Can Cause More Harm Than Good. These pieces focused on a specific kind of Voluntourism – specifically, volunteering that enables the exploitation of children in favor of a popular industry.  

One might think that such extensive attention would put a halt on the flow of volunteers seeking to work in these institutions, but as countless volunteer platforms and travel companies continue to promote volunteering opportunities abroad with children in orphanages, reality is such that this practice still goes on unhindered.

Rowling’s tweet also shed light on the specific phrasing the agencies use to grab the traveler’s attention and his or her amazing determination to make a difference – which made us want to revisit some of these “volunteer-in-orphanages” phrases and statements, and check them in reality.

We’ve collected some of the statements made across volunteer agencies, to see what really stands behind these popular claims.

Volunteering with Children in Orphanages – True or False:

Claim #1:

j.k rowling voluntourism child institutionalization

FALSE. Working with vulnerable children in orphanages requires a very specific and professional set of skills. The psychological background of these children means that they require care which cannot be successfully offered by individuals without proper training or background in the field. Much of the research on this subject focuses on the fact that children in institutions do not experience healthy psychological development, and that there is a strong need for trained professionals to work and care for them.

Claim #2:

j.k rowling voluntourism child institutionalization

FALSE # 1In many orphanages, as many as 80% of the children portrayed as “orphans” actually have at least one living biological parent

FALSE #2. Volunteering in orphanages is not the time to learn more about childcare, but rather the time to offer what professional skills you have. Since many orphanages have few and limited resources, the help which they may receive means a lot. Choosing to volunteer at an orphanage as a means of growing your personal set of skills is simply not understanding the needs of the institution.

Claim #3:

1 we partner with the communityCapture

FALSE. Since volunteering in an orphanage will only give hand to the continuance of this orphanage trend, this makes the above statement entirely false. Studies show that children who grow up in orphanages are seen to be highly disconnected from the rest of their community, and this strongly impacts their ability to form bonds and healthy relationships as they mature. This, of course, also ultimately negatively affects the community in which they live.

Claim #4:

j.k rowling voluntourism child institutionalization

FALSE. Short-term orphanage volunteering is terribly harmful to the children at the institution. The biggest need of orphaned and institutionalized children is stability and long-term relationships with care-givers in their surroundings. Having a string of volunteers that are constantly coming in and outr of their lives will prove highly detrimental to the well-being of the children. As written in a previous post on the subject: “It is also said that in such institutions the children are so focused on obtaining the short term affection of passing-by strangers that meaningful and long-term bonding and relationships with their local, “regular” care-givers is neglected.”

Claim #5:

j.k rowling voluntourism child institutionalizationj.k rowling voluntourism child institutionalizationj.k rowling voluntourism child institutionalizationj.k rowling voluntourism child institutionalization

FALSE. Volunteers cannot compensate for lack of funds, staff, and other crucially imperative elements that orphaned children need. Their short stay at the institution cannot replace the need for skilled staff or safe infrastructure. It is unhelpful, to say the least, to assume that a volunteer’s stay at an orphanage can come in place of other such resources.

Though there are countless more statements that need be corrected, this is definitely a good start that can help put some misunderstandings in place.

To learn more about the negative practice of orphanage volunteering, and what you can do to help, check out these helpful links:

Save the Children

Better Care Network

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