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The Problems with Orphanage Volunteering and VWA's Response

The Problems with Orphanage Volunteering and VWA's Response

Date Posted: 07/12/2014

Continuing to follow best practice approaches to international volunteering, this item addresses the growing concerns regarding volunteering programmes based at orphanages and VWA's response to these important issues.

Two of the world's leading children's charities have recently published a report criticising the growing trend in international orphanage volunteering. 

UNICEF and Save the Children correctly point out that children are not tourist attractions; that disruption can be caused to children at those orphanages who allow volunteers to visit over short time frames; and that - in the very worst cases - orphanages are sometimes created specifically to attract income and revenue from international volunteers and tourists. 

These concerns, sadly, are not new. And the international media, organisations such as VWA, and the academic world has spoken out for some time about the potential harm being done by, sometimes well-meaning but sometimes unscrupulous, individuals and their respective international volunteering partner organisations.

As an organisation which remains at the ethical forefront of international volunteering, VWA Volunteer West Africa has designed its volunteer programmes, and the support it offers to local West African orphanages and children's homes, to protect against all of the concerns raised in the report. 

The VWA volunteering model strictly follows procedures that include:

  • VWA works only with children's homes and orphanages approved by the Ghanaian Department of Social Welfare. These are few in number as the Ghanaian government policy towards housing orphaned children follows the current international best-practice focus on placing children with families rather than institutions, whenever possible.
  • VWA does not allow short term volunteer placements at any of the orphanages or children's homes which we support. For children who have already suffered emotionally disruptive events or trauma, having volunteers introduced in to their lives, with whom emotional attachments are inevitably formed, only for those volunteers to leave those children's lives a few weeks later, increases unnecessary and harmful disruption to those children.
  • VWA does not place volunteers in to homes or orphanages to work on a day-to-day basis with the children i.e. VWA does not use international volunteers to take up the duties and responsibilities which should be the roles of full-time, local staff members who are able to build long-term and suitable relationships with the children under their care.
  • The vast majority of VWA programmes that involve orphanages or children's homes invite children to be hosted as guests at VWA premises or other suitable venues, for short periods of time, so as to provide the children with some time and experiences away from the institution they live in on a day-to-day basis. The children are invited to attend specific events, parties, social activities, or educational workshops and programmes which enrich their lives by allowing the children to experience different locations, social activities and structured events through a controlled and well planned approach. This approach compliments the re-integration of institutionalised children back in to society.
  • VWA strictly only funds and operates children's facilities - such as the VWA Daycare & Nursery Centre for Vulnerable Children - which offer services to vulnerable children who are able to live with direct or extended family members (whilst also attending the VWA facility during the daytime or during school/term times). In doing so, VWA promotes the focus on the child living in a family home environment. 
  • Through VWA programmes, VWA offers support to both children and their families, ensuring that knowledge and guidance on parenting, school work, home economics, family planning, and a number of other key family concerns reaches both the children and the family members who are responsible for caring for the children in the home environment.
If you are considering volunteering, and you would like to work with children, it is of course understandable that you might consider working with orphans or at an orphanage: offering your care and support to the most vulnerable of children is a worthy undertaking and is to be encouraged. But it is important that you work with ethical organisations who understand and take serious measures to protect those children from the very real and widespread concerns raised in the UNICEF and Save the Children report.

For more information regarding the UNICEF and Save the Children report, please visit:

"Why UNICEF and Save the Children are Against Your Short-Term Service in Orphanages"



And if you would like more information on how you can volunteer to support orphans or vulnerable children in an ethical and responsible manner, please get in contact with a member of our team.

Author: Volunteer West Africa

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