More young Australians are volunteering at orphanages overseas than ever before. But these ‘guilt trips’ are doing a disservice to those in need, often causing psychological damage and breeding an economy that draws children out of their homes and families. Tobias Shine reports.
Some people would come for literally a week or two weeks. They would come, take a couple of great photos, and that would be it. – Freya De Wilde Barr
Tobias Shine: An increasing number of young Australians are volunteering at orphanages in global south locations, but they could be doing more harm than good. Institutionalisation creates an uncomfortable economy around orphanages whereby aid is often intercepted before it gets to the children. The constant coming and going of caregivers can also cause psychological damage to kids who consequently struggle to form strong bonds with other people. Doctor Karleen Gribble is a researcher at the University of Western Sydney who has been outspoken about orphanage voluntourism in Australia.
Karleen Gribble: We know from sixty five plus years of research that institutionalisation is bad for children.
Tobias Shine: In Australia the volunteer industry is booming, especially for young people. In 2009, Australians aged between 15 and 24 were the least likely to volunteer, in 2012 they were the second most likely. Freya De Wilde Barr spent 8 months working in an orphanage in Ghana, and returned home with a very different view of the process from what she left with.
Freya De Wilde Barr: Some people would come for literally a week or two weeks. They would come, take a couple of great photos, and that would be it.
Tobias Shine: This is, unfortunately, a familiar story for kids all across the world who are being short-changed by a broken system. Whether or not small companies like Projects Abroad and IVHQ listen to an increasingly loud cry for change remains to be seen.