The dark side of rich kids volunteering abroad informer

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Lady: Volunteerism is a multi-billion-dollar industry. It sells wealthier people access to impoverished and struggling communities in exchange for a life-affirming experience. Kids would see vans of volunteers pulling towards them and they quickly rub dirt on their faces so that they they’d be more appealing ironically to the volunteers and look like they needed more help. Each of us paid of dollars to go on this trip. Of that trip fee, almost none of it went to the orphanage.

The primary goal we were told was to build a library. Our work was so bad that the local builders who were working alongside us would come back while we were sleeping and undo our work and redo it. They abused children in orphanages while under the guise of being a volunteer. What you’re being sold is the idea that you’ll help a community. What you’re really buying is an opportunity to help yourself.

I’ve been involved in volunteerism for over a decade. The language used by volunteerism tends to be along the lines of you can change the world and find yourself all at the same time. I wanted to physically go out to be that change. Make a difference, be a global citizen. I definitely was thinking about how it would look when I applied to college and how it look on my resume. I convinced my parents to pay a couple thousand dollars me to be able to go on this trip to Tanzania. It was about three weeks long. For $3,000, we would get to volunteer in an orphanage, teach some English lessons, play with some kids, go on a safari.

I was entirely unqualified and unprepared and should not have been allowed to do this. You are going to be working with young children who are extremely vulnerable. I came from an all-girl school where I had a walk-in closet and I was pulling up to this all-girls orphanage where they shared bunk rooms without running water. The primary goal of our time at the orphanage was to build a library. We believed that we’d be able to build the whole thing while we were there until you realized that none of us had ever done any construction work.

There was a general feeling that the local workmen were lazy at times because they were showing up late. One morning, I woke up and decided to go outside. I started walking up where we were building the library and I saw that there were men working at the construction site. I realized that they were taking apart what we’ve done and redoing it and then they’d let it set and by the time that we would show up to work in a few more hours, we’d be none the wiser. I told one of the chaperones from my school on the trip about what I’d seen and was advised to keep it to myself.

You have stories of people donating bags full of toys that the orphanage director then goes and gives to his own kids or sells or locks in the closet so that the next group of volunteers will donate bags of toys. Because if they see kids playing with tons of toys, they won’t bring toys. If they see kids sleeping on a good bed with a good mattress, they won’t donate money for better beds and better mattresses. We did not eat our meals with the children in the orphanage. We ate separately which was a rule at that orphanage. It was so we wouldn’t know what they were eating.

My typical breakfast at the orphanage would include fresh fruit juice, hard-boiled eggs, toast, jams, butter. The children were most often having beans and rice that they cooked themselves. We also would help them sort the pebbles out of the beans. A number of times the girls were expected to sing for us. The exchange for them having a really good meal was to sing and dance. We were predominantly white group, when I was in Tanzania young woman was questioning her sexuality and was being encouraged by this volunteer to live openly.

The reality of this young woman’s life was that she lived in a community where doing so would put her at very great physical danger. And so, this volunteer was so focused on her own moral compass and moral values that she couldn’t quite see how the advice she was giving this young woman could potentially kill her. The directors of the orphanage did not see the children’s health as a priority.

We were advised by other long-term volunteers at the orphanage that when residents did get malaria despite their being money to pay for them to get medical care, they were not provided with medical care. The leadership of the orphanage were unwilling to spend the money. 80% of children who live at orphanages have not lost one or both parents they are not orphans they don’t have birth certificate They don’t have IDs. No one knows who they are or where they are. These children are anonymous.

The thing that really haunts me is the connection between orphanages and child sex trafficking. There are Brits. There are Americans. There are Australians who’ve been arrested and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for exploiting children and abusing them sexually and physically while making money from people like me who wanted to do good. They abused children in orphanages while under the guise of being a volunteer.

Volunteerism is continuing to grow as an industry. During the pandemic, the trip providers who are the most successful were actively marketing trips to Tanzania as an opportunity to escape COVID and pretend like it didn’t exist. You can say that you are giving 100% of fees back to a community without doing that. You can say those things because no one’s checking up on you. No one’s verifying that this is happening.

The reason why it’s continues to increase is that many of the experiences that are similar to what I had as a volunteer of having children running towards me and wanting to sit on my lap and why me to carry them are still so emotionally compelling. They’re still so alluring. It feels so good that it’s really easy for someone to apply exceptionalism.

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