Read the full

Home #9 – Volunteers at the orphanage

Written by on December 23, 2015 in Home, a Cambodian story (series) with 2 Comments


When a group of volunteers visits an orphanage, the kids and volunteers usually have a great time. The volunteers form loving bonds; they relax their ego boundaries for the afternoon; and they see another side of life. Many will call this a life-changing experience. Good for them, but what about the children? Children in orphanages have already experienced heart-breaking separations from their families and communities. If the volunteers in fact bond with the children and then leave, then isn’t something is wrong with this picture? In fact, experts say that children in orphanages are damaged by repeatedly making and breaking relationships. They say many children in orphanages develop attachment disorders, making it hard to make and keep relationships later in life. The volunteers didn’t intend that, but good intentions really don’t matter to the children. Besides doing psychological damage, there are other negative consequences when volunteers are constantly coming and going: the children’s lives are disrupted, they’re distracted from school and other responsibilities, the intense fun is followed by letdowns (and for some kids the routines of school and chores aren’t stimulating enough anymore), and children put at risk of abuse (because volunteers are seldom screened or carefully monitored). Finally, since volunteers are feeling so good when they leave (and haven’t had time to see any of the problems they would notice if they stuck around a few months), they often donate money. This pattern makes it easy to fund orphanages AND simultaneously harder to move away from the orphanage model toward better ways of caring for vulnerable children. Simply put, if you want to volunteer at an orphanage, think twice, because you may be doing harm both to the children and the movement to provide the best care for vulnerable children. Why not at least do some serious and objective research first? If you’re looking for an activity for a volunteer group or a church mission trip, don’t prioritize “wonderful and life-changing us” over “what’s best for the children.” Choose to go as a learner first. Don’t give up on changing the world, but be advised that real world changers are learners who persevere through years of focused work, not volunteers who “give” a week or a weekend in exchange for an experience. Your “love bus” may not be all it’s cracked up to be.


Andy Gray

About the Author

About the Author: Andy Gray hosts and writes for Uniting for Children. He lives in Cambodia with his family where he works with Alongsiders International. He wrote Home, a Cambodian story and created the video “Why Not a Family?.
  • sallie grayson

    excellent – have shared where I can!

  • Juanito Fuentebaja Estrada

    your article really make sense… and it is true that people who will come to orphanage like me needs to consider first before going to the orphanage.