"Volun-tourism" in children homes of Nepal : let's find a middle path

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Imagine to be in a so called rich country and it happen that one of your children, well grown up and recently graduated, decides to have a gap year and make the best out of it, travelling and getting involved in a good cause in the so called “South” world.


After all international volunteering is a fantastic way to give back to the vast chunks of less fortunate who still live in precarious conditions.


We all know that despite the rise of the “rest” there are still plenty of people out there lagging behind in everything.


Nepal is one of best destination for such kind of experiences: despite having achieved amazing results in the fight against poverty amid political chaos and instability, there are loads of work still waiting.


Because of its beauty and charm, Nepal is the paradise not only for expats working in the international aid but it is also the nirvana for international volunteers. After all the country is safe, culturally interesting and with exciting night life at least in Kathmandu.


This trend is so huge that it started to be called ‘voluntourism”, a name itself that says a lot about its dimensions.


We are not referring here to formal volunteering promoted by international agencies but rather to self made volunteering opportunities outside the official channels.


What if the good intentions of your child are actually manipulated and become source of fresh cash to unscrupulous persons managing children institutions in the country? Indeed many of these centers are a real magnet for voluntourists from all around the world.


With a child protection system still very basic and incapable to deal with huge pockets of inequality and poverty still prevailing in so many parts of the country, these institutions, at least on the paper, offer some sort of social safety nets to particularly vulnerable children, not necessarily all of them orphans but still in dire need of special care.


Many are doing a fantastic work, offering care and education to truly deserving kids, honestly providing them with special protection while ensuring that children maintain, wherever possible and always in their best interest, a strong bound with the families back in the villages.


The same kids, otherwise, might have been pushed, due to the extreme poverty of their families, into the hands of human traffickers or might have ended up as domestic workers in many houses of Kathmandu.


In short, some of these children homes are truly offering some sort of child protection mechanisms while others are simply and plainly bogus, full stop.


Their primarily scope is not to ensure and protect the best interest of the hosted children but rather making a profit by exploitation, either through international adoption, whose rules are often bent or by “monetarizing” the good faith of international self made volunteers.


The mushrooming of these institutions, either genuine or the bad ones, has been possible because of two interrelated phenomena: charity donations and international volunteers. The two are often interrelated because each feeds the other, making voluntourism an amazing fundraising vehicle.



The volunteers, once back home, often raise money for the children home they were involved with, offering a vital line of funding that keep these centers afloat. More often, the voluntourists have to pay a fee in order to be able to volunteer. While I am not very comfortable with this idea, if the charged fee is spent on the wellbeing of the children, I would consider the practice as acceptable.


While all the bogus institutions should be immediately shut down, what should be done with self made volunteers serving in the “good” ones? Should we discourage them from coming to Nepal? Should the children homes be prevented from hosting and receiving them?


Not necessarily drastic solutions should be sought, provided that some conditions are met. First of all, it is stupid to continue to deny the phenomenon the same way the government is doing by formally forbidding self made international volunteering in the country.


It is important to set some standards and ensure that only the ‘right ‘type of voluntourism is pursued. We need some sort of some practical solutions.


I particularly like the approach of Next Generation Nepal, NGN, an INGO working in the sector of child protection that recently prepared a briefing paper warning about the risks of unethical practices of voluntourism.


Martin Punaks, Country Director of NGN in Nepal clearly expresses a middle path, pragmatic approach, the right one to deal with these problems when he says” “At NGN our concern is with foreign volunteers with no relevant skills paying to volunteer in orphanages, and this actually fuelling the trafficking and abuse of children. However, we want to be pro-ethical voluntourism' because we believe that volunteerism is ultimately good, but it has to be managed in an ethical way”


The time has come for more self regulation among children homes and more awareness among international self made volunteers. We should all looking for a win win solution that put the children at the center while take the best out of the skills of the international self made volunteers.


Many of them are really amazing and well prepared and quite capable. Kids in the children homes can really benefit so much from them. In my experiences I met self made volunteers with top law degree coming to Nepal to help out and they all did a terrific job. Let’s give a try and fix something worthy to be regulated rather than totally rejecting the idea.


For more information about the amazing job of Next Generation Nepal, please http://www.nextgenerationnepal.org/


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

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