Children as products: the reality of orphanage voluntourism - By Lamorna Byford
Every marketer knows that competitions and prizes are a great way to pull in potential new customers. Playing on our desires for better clothing, better houses or better bodies, plus our love of getting something for nothing, is a clever way to promote products. Selling new and different experiences is even more profitable. Jumping out of a plane or off a bridge appeals to those with an adventurous side, while volunteering in exotic places attracts people who want to do something good while experiencing something novel. Using volunteer placements as competition prizes would arguably be a great way to draw in these potential customers.
There are several voluntourism companies who are doing just that, by running competitions in which the prizes on offer are placements in orphanages in Africa, South America and Eastern Europe. As a research fellow for the Better Volunteering, Better Care initiative, I am certainly not against volunteering. I am, however, very familiar with the arguments against volunteer tourism in orphanages and my reaction to learning about these competitions was one of dismay. When I researched the competitions further and found that most didn’t require volunteers to have any previous experience with children, or even any background checks, dismay turned to concern.
However, my discomfort didn’t seem to be shared. A quick canvas amongst my friends elicited quite a different response – “well someone needs to look after those poor kids”. After several attempts to argue that voluntourism isn’t the best way to support these children and their communities, I gave up. I won’t rehash the arguments for or against voluntourism here. What I want to explore instead, is why my intelligent, culturally aware friends are so willing to accept that allowing un-vetted individuals into institutions with vulnerable children is a good idea.