As the holiday season approaches, it’s essential to address the concerning rise in voluntourism. While many organizations are already emphasizing this, I strongly urge individuals not to engage in volunteering activities at institutions such as children’s homes and orphanages. You might wonder, “Why not?” Well, let me explain it concisely: By participating in voluntourism, you risk destabilizing the lives of vulnerable individuals, creating false expectations, displaying a lack of commitment, and potentially causing lasting psychological damage.
Over the past year, I have frequently expressed my concerns about anti-institutionalization campaigns, primarily focusing on terminology and understanding. However, there are moments when I find myself in agreement with these campaigns. To fully comprehend my perspective, it’s important to know that I spent approximately 14 years in institutions due to complete parental abandonment—I am a true foundling in every sense of the word. During those years, I experienced significant damage, which is why I still require therapy today. Some of this damage was caused by voluntourists who arrived for brief periods and then disappeared, despite the trust that had been placed in them.
Yet, it doesn’t end there. Through my own experiences of genuine volunteering, not through voluntourism, I spent three-quarters of a year at children’s homes in Moscow. For those familiar with my blog, social media presence, or personal life, this may not come as news. However, for those who are unaware, I had to discontinue volunteering due to personal circumstances. Specifically, my adoptive family relocated to Ukraine, resulting in a situation that led me to adopt one of the boys whom I had supported dedicatedly during my time volunteering. He is now officially my son.
Please understand that I have no regrets regarding the adoption; it has undoubtedly been the best decision of my life. However, due to the specific circumstances (which I choose not to delve into), I was compelled to adopt him, even though I still had the option to decline. This situation is one that any volunteer or voluntourist could find themselves in, and I dare say that 99% of people would have chosen differently, thereby completely shattering a child’s hopes. I will refrain from providing further details, as I tend to write lengthy articles instead of simple ones.
Now, while I could present a comprehensive argument, highlighting all the reasons why voluntourism is problematic, I believe it’s best to leave that task to the organizations doing incredible work in this field. Instead, let me simplify it: As a voluntourist, not only do you expose yourself to potential psychological harm, but you also subject every child you come into contact with during your time at an institution to such risks.
If your goal is to genuinely help, consider dedicating your time to becoming an actual social worker or caregiver, working locally. Every country around the world needs more committed social workers. Alternatively, you can consider financially adopting a child and maintain contact through letters or even sending gifts. Numerous trustworthy organizations offer these options, ensuring that you are genuinely helping a child instead of intruding upon their life.
Remember, by participating in voluntourism, you are effectively encroaching upon a child’s circle of trust. While you may perceive it as a great experience, most children do not share the same sentiment. I speak from personal experience—I did not appreciate voluntourists then, and I still don’t.
I implore you, if you’re considering voluntourism, please reconsider and explore meaningful ways to contribute, as voluntourism only brings suffering in its wake.
Old version (Don’t Be A Voluntourist!)
As the holiday season is coming up again, so will probably there once again be a rise in voluntourism.
Like most organizations are already voicing, I call out to not go out to volunteer in institutions, like children’s homes and orphanages.
The question that probably will be asked is: “Why not?”
Well, to describe it in simple words:
You are shattering stability, giving expectations that you can’t live up to, you lack commitment, and you will cause psychological damage.
In the recent year, I often wrote against anti-institutionalization campaigns, mainly based on terminology and understanding.
However, this is one of those moments that I do agree with these campaigns.
To understand, I have lived about 14 years in institutions because my parents abandoned me completely, I am a true foundling as the word once was intended.
In those years living in institutions, a lot of damage has been done to me, which is the reason why I still am in therapy.
That damage includes parts that were caused by voluntourists who came for brief moments of time, and disappeared thereafter to never be seen again, even though trust was already put into him, her, or even them.
However, it doesn’t stop there actually, as I learned by doing actual volunteering, not through voluntourism, three quarters of a year at children’s homes in Moscow.
For those who read my blog on a regular basis, talk to me often on social media, or know me in real life, this shouldn’t actually need repeating.
Still, for those who are not aware:
As I had to stop volunteering based on my personal situation, which was that my adoptive family moved back to Ukraine, I ended up in a situation, which lead to the adoption of 1 of the boys who I supported on a dedicated basis throughout my time of volunteering, who is now officially my son…
Don’t get me wrong, I have no regrets of the adoption, it probably has been the best decision I made in my life, but the situation, that I do not wish to explain into detail, forced me to actually adopt him, even though I still had the ability to decline.
And this is a situation any volunteer and voluntourist could end up in, and I dare to say that 99% of the people would have done the opposite after, by this shattering the hopes of a child completely.
Which is all I will say, as I know I often end up writing lectures, instead of simple articles.
Now, of course, I could have made some amazing explanation with reasons and everything why voluntourists are bad, but I will keep that to the organizations who are doing incredible work.
Instead, let me just keep it simple:
As a voluntourist you open not only yourself up to psychological damage, but also every single child you will get into contact with during your time at an institution.
If you truly want to help, dedicate your time and become an actual social worker, for example a caregiver, and work locally, as at every country around the world there is a need for more dedicated social workers.
Or financially adopt a child with the ability to write letters to the child, and possibly even send a gift.
Eventually, there are enough trustworthy organizations who offers this, and you will end up factually helping a child, instead of intruding in his or her life.
As don’t forget, you are actually intruding into a child’s circle of trust, as while you see it as a great experience, most children do not. I know I did not like voluntourists, and still do not…
I urge you, if you even plan to be voluntourist, don’t, and look for a way to actually help, as voluntourism only causes suffering…