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  • Why You Shouldn't Visit Orphanages: Rethinking Good Intentions And How To Best Help Children In Crisis

    It seem like a selfless activity, but many of our efforts may be causing more harm than the good we hope to create.
    by Camille Zaldarriaga . Published Oct 3, 2023
Why You Shouldn't Visit Orphanages: Rethinking Good Intentions And How To Best Help Children In Crisis
  • It’s rarely the case to find someone who is out to do damage or draw attention to him/herself when volunteering. Often, the heart to help or share is what fuels our actions. An orphanage visit, for example, for many years has been an activity thought to create a positive impact on the children because we assume that their challenging situations could use joy, fun, and a shower of blessings. And while this is true, some experts and resources advise to rethink the well-intentioned activity because you could run into potential risks or worse--cause harm than good.

    Find out why you might be doing more harm than good, and practical ways you can help children in orphanages. 

    4 reasons to rethink your orphanage visit

    1. Orphanage tourism 

    In case you didn’t know, yes, there is such a thing. In theory, orphanage tourism is a way for travelers to become volunteers for children in orphanages during their trip. Although there is nothing wrong with wanting to find a deeper level of fulfillment while on vacation, the problem lies in the organization promoting the cause. 

    'When we found out that the children [from ther orphanage] were booked for back-to-back events in one day, we realized the exhaustion the children must suffer from after having to entertain (volunteers) with performances and other programs.' —Chrina Cuna-Henson, adoption and foster care advocate

    According an Australian the charity Save the Children, the number of orphanages in some countries has increased, while the number of orphaned children has not. In many cases, what this means is that many children are not in fact orphans and have been instead taken away from parents who have been scammed into believing that their children will be given a better life waiting for them in the city.  

    UNICEF has also raised awareness about the increase of child exploitation in Southeast Asia. Instead of volunteering in orphanages, they recommend supporting institutions that help keep the family together and promote the reintegration of children with their parents in community-based care. 

    2. A child’s right to privacy 

    Another reason you might want to rethink visiting an orphanage is because an orphanage is a child’s home. Therefore, coming unannounced like an uninvited guest can also be a form of a violation of their privacy.


    Orphanages are safe shelters for underprivileged children and to visit them without any real reason or intention to help would be no different from visiting a zoo. Instead, call ahead and inquire about volunteering opportunities to arrange for a more permanent set-up instead of just dropping by out of curiosity. 

    Chrina Cuna-Henson, executive director of Generations—Home (formerly the ROHEI Foundation), a non-profit organization that facilitates adoption and foster care in the Philippines and member of the Smart Parenting Board of Experts cautions against visiting children’s homes. She says, “If the motivation is to do something charitable for the sake of doing something charitable, I would advise against it.”  

    Chrina then makes mention of a time when they tried booking a time slot to visit an orphanage only to find that were already fully booked by other different volunteer groups. “When we found out that the children were booked for back-to-back events in one day, we realized the exhaustion the children must suffer from after having to entertain (volunteers) with performances and other programs,” Chrina adds. 

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    To make an impact, a good way is to ask yourself this simple question: “Why do I want to visit an orphanage?” If the reason is to do something that the children can benefit from, there’s a good chance that visiting them at a time that’s convenient for you may not be the best idea. 

    3. Attachment disorders 

    Whether or not a child is an orphan, children need emotional stability. If you think making a trip to an orphanage this weekend will be a fun and enriching experience you can tick off your moral checklist, think again.

    While this may seem like an opportunity to help, the negative impact your momentary presence will have on the children will make you think twice. 

    The constant rotation of different groups coming in and out of the lives of vulnerable children may lead to long-term attachment disorders. Knowing that children in orphanges could already pre-disposed to attachment disorders is reason enough to reassess one-time visits.


    4. Who feels good after a birthday celebration at an orphanage?

    At first glance, it all seems so harmless. Sharing your blessings with underprivileged children without homes or parents on your special day sounds selfless. But one might ask, what are the real motives that lie beneath the decision to hold a birthday party at an orphanage? You might see things from a clearer perspective when viewing your celebration from the eyes of the children. 

    Celebrating your child’s party at an orphanage with children who don’t have parents to lavish them with the same kind of celebration may open wounds of jealousy or resentment. For young children, they may even wonder what they are celebrating or why they should even bother to sing for a stranger. 

    In addition, there’s the other issue of posting your celebration on social media. The act of volunteering should be done for the sole reason of the cause and without any recognition, so posting your charity bash may possibly be interpreted to be in bad taste by some. Even if there aren’t any photos posted online, there are better ways to get your friends and family involved without using your birthday (i.e. yourself) to drive their efforts. 


    How you can help orphans in the Philippines

    From donating goods or volunteering your time, there are other ways to get involved and make a real difference. The key is to assess the activity from the eyes of the child rather than our eyes. Or in other words, it is not be 'me-centric' with our efforts. When in doubt, ask those in charge what they really need. You may be surprised to find out it's something as basic as socks or underwear, rather than beautifully-wrapped big gifts and dancing mascots.

    A quick Google search can help you find an organization that will connect you with an orphanage and provide different ways to help. Don’t forget to do your homework to make sure the orphanage is legitimate. Look for testimonials or accreditations that can validate the integrity of their work. 

    1. Make a donation.

    From clothes, shoes, school supplies, books, toys, or food items, there is always something an orphanage will need. Before donating, ask the orphanage for the specifics of what they accept or need. You might find a list of supplies needed on their website. If you’re giving a cash donation, like other honest charities, the orphanage should be able to issue you a receipt. 


    Think of it this way: your hard-earned money would likely make a greater difference in the children's lives if we asked what they need rather than assuming we know their needs.

    2. Become a long-term volunteer or sponsor.

    Now that you know volunteering isn’t just a weekend activity or something you squeeze into your travel itinerary, remember that if you really want to make a difference, you need to be in it for the long run. Volunteerism is a commitment, and whether you choose to give your time or resources, come up with a plan that’s both sustainable and feasible for you. 

    Orphanages often offer different volunteer options. For visitors from different countries who want to volunteer for a period of two weeks to less than a year, it offers short-term volunteer programs. It also has openings for long-term volunteers for those interested in becoming more permanent members of the community. 


    Unless you’re a social worker or qualified professional, think your decision to volunteer at an orphanage thoroughly through. The skills required to communicate with and care for children don’t come easy for most and may even require proper training for a significant amount of time. You might want to opt for child sponsorship instead. 

    Although their target isn’t orphans per se, organizations like World Vision and UNICEF allow you to make monthly donations to a group of children over a given amount of time. It’s good to know however, that your cash donation doesn’t go directly to the child or his family. The organizations pool together support from other sponsors to fund development programs so that the assistance given is maximized and extended to the rest of the community. 

    Visiting orphanages is not something that’s openly frowned upon, but it can raise some eyebrows if done for the wrong reasons. More importantly, the desire to help and good may go a longer way once we think through our intentions and means.


    Find a buddy you can volunteer with or get the family in on it if your objective is to raise awareness. It’s impossible to let all the orphan children in the world into your home, but if your heart is in the right place, you’ll be lucky enough to make even just one child feel like he has one in you. 

    3. Consider foster care.

    Long-term care and help is what changes the life of a child. Foster care is a temporary living situation that can provide a child security and healthy attachment. Apart from being a long-term sponsor, opening up your home or family is another real solution to the Philippines' orphan crisis. If you want to learn more about what foster care means, visit this page to read and listen to helpful links. 

    To know more about adoption and foster care in the Philippines, visit Generations—Home and follow them on Instagram. You can also listen to the full podcast episode from Generations—Home here:


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