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Child Hunger in Africa - Copyright Sipa Press / REX
UK News

Christians urged to stop volunteering in orphanages as it does more harm than good

by Tola Mbakwe

Ahead of International Volunteer day on Thursday, Home for Good's the Homecoming project is releasing a short film to encourage Christians in the UK to rethink orphanage volunteering, arguing that it reinforces trauma and abandonment for institutionalised children.

Founding director of the charity, Dr Krish Kandiah, said "Children living in orphanages have suffered the trauma of having been separated from their parents. This often causes attachment difficulties or disorders, where children may be overly affectionate towards complete strangers, forming unnaturally quick and unhealthy bonds.

"Many orphanages rely on a steady stream of volunteers and the generosity of donors, who are usually well-meaning and genuinely want to help vulnerable children. But unfortunately, good intentions do not automatically result in best practice.

"Christians have long been supporters of pioneering and innovative projects and the Church has been at the forefront of caring for vulnerable children. It is time for a new wave of innovation to see children in institutions come home to family. The first step we can take is to ensure we do not exacerbate poor practice in our giving and our going."

A ComRes poll of over 6,000 British adults found that regular churchgoers are seven times more likely to visit or volunteer in an overseas orphanage than other British adults.

Dr Kandiah added: "Christians have long been supporters of pioneering and innovative projects and the Church has been at the forefront of caring for vulnerable children. It is time for a new wave of innovation to see children in institutions come home to family. The first step we can take is to ensure we do not exacerbate poor practice in our giving and our going.

The call comes shortly after the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office updated its official Travel Advice on volunteering, to advise volunteers against visiting orphanages stating that "a regular turnover of volunteers without relevant training and experience can be harmful to children's development and emotional wellbeing".

The guidance issued by the Government warns "by volunteering in or visiting such organisations, you may unknowingly contribute towards child exploitation and may put yourself at risk of accusations of improper behaviour."

According to UNICEF, between 40 and 90 per cent of the millions of children living in orphanages around the world have a living parent. It is most often due to poverty that children are relinquished into orphanages in order to receive food, education and healthcare.

Home for Good said orphanage volunteering and visiting has also been linked to orphanage trafficking, where children are trafficked into or out of orphanages, often for financial gain. The charity explained that children can be exploited and used as "tourist attractions" in order to keep funding coming into orphanages. Many of these orphanages are kept open by the support and demand of international volunteers.

Dr Kandiah said that the money and support that Westerners give may be "unwittingly fuelling the orphanage system" and that there needs to be "a shift in focus from engaging with children in orphanages to supporting programmes and organisations that strengthen families and communities, or that promote family-based care alternatives such as local fostering or adoption."

While Christians in the UK are more likely to volunteer in orphanages, they are also five times more likely than British adults overall to visit or volunteer with overseas charities that run family and/or community-based projects. This is what the Homecoming project wishes to encourage and champion.

In their short-term missions and volunteering guide, the Homecoming project suggests that a good volunteering model is one where there is no direct contact or interaction with children, but instead focuses on supporting parents, caregivers, staff, and the local community.

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