Blog by David Coles, LSE Volunteer Centre Manager and member of ReThink Orphanages campaign.
Five years ago we were proud to launch a pledge explaining why the LSE Volunteer Centre wouldn’t be promoting orphanage volunteering opportunities and how other universities could join us. Since then universities across the UK and Europe have joined us to end this practice.
In partnership with Lumos, as part of their brilliant #HelpingNotHelping campaign, we are relaunching the pledge and asking universities and other educational institutions to sign up. We believe this is the perfect time with the potential for international travel increasing and organisations looking to recruit students as orphanage volunteers.
The new pledge is as follows:
We believe in the power of volunteerism. We support and encourage student learning experiences and overseas volunteering opportunities that strive for the highest standards of child protection and best practice for ethical engagement.
In recognition of the harm caused by institutional care for children (such as so-called ‘orphanages’), and the growing evidence of children being trafficked to and from such institutions, we commit to the following:
- Ensure that we do not promote or engage in volunteering and/or visits to institutions for children.
- If relevant, we commit to carefully plan and redirect existing support to institutions into alternatives that support families and communities.
We know that universities still run or promote orphanage volunteering trips. This campaign isn’t about shaming those that do but helping them understand the damage it can do to the children involved and how students can gain even greater experiences from partaking in different activities.
The reasons for why orphanage volunteering can be so detrimental to children hasn’t changed from when we launched the original pledge in 2016. It can lead to child trafficking, sexual exploitation and psychological disorders and along with the fact that many children in these residential centres have at least one living parent. Over 60 years of research shows the problems associated with growing up in a residential care home and we should all be striving to help keep families together not creating further demand for more orphans by continually sending volunteers to orphanages.
So what can universities do?
Every volunteer centre at a university has to duty to inspire, but it also has a duty to educate students on how to make an ethical and sustainable difference and to give due thought before committing. At LSE we do that through articles, blogs, panel events and 1-1 discussions talking about the issues above. We strongly believe in cross-cultural learning and volunteering around the world and we advertise and promote 20-30 overseas volunteering opportunities at any given time.
But we will not advertise orphanage volunteering and we are advocating that no university should promote such opportunities.
If you’d like to join us in taking the pledge then get in touch with Lumos.