Imagine, as a young child, having an endless stream of strangers, volunteers, passing through your life.
Each week brings new faces, who want to sing the same songs, and play the same games, yet very few of them can even speak your language.
Most children in orphanages experience a deep sense of abandonment and most do not have a long-term care giver. When a caring volunteer comes in to look after them showing them affection, this plants seeds of hope, that they will be loved and cared for, possibly even adopted. When the volunteer leaves, the child feels the pain of abandonment all over again. Over time, many children learn to protect themselves from further pain and become unwilling and unable to form attachments with other people.
Today, there are millions of children living in orphanages worldwide, many of them with living parents. In the best cases, the children receive a roof over their heads, plenty of food and an education. However, in the worst cases they are isolated, starved and abused.
Tourists who travel to countries such as Thailand are often approached by children who ask them to visit their orphanage before they leave. A visit might include a short dance performance by the children, with a request for a small donation to assist with the costs of running the orphanage. Well-meaning tourists are unfortunately creating demand for these orphanages and this exchange has resulted in an entire industry, known as orphanage tourism.
Despite volunteers’ best intentions, their visits do more to harm a child than to help them. Especially in terms of their mental health, and ability to form healthy relationships.