"I Had Made It So Much Worse." Previous Volunteer Discloses Glaring Issues With Orphanage Tourism

Recently we asked several people who have previously volunteered in residential care institutions to share their stories. Renee grew up in Sydney with a passion for Missions. Whilst studying cross cultural ministry, she worked in Indonesia where she visited several orphanages. During this time she began to realise that the system she was supporting was hurting families. Since then she has done further work across South East Asia, Japan, and Uganda and is now a passionate advocate for seeing children in families. This is her story. 

“I remember clearly the first time I visited an orphanage. I had grown up my whole life in church and through this I had heard so many stories about amazing Children's Homes filled with kids who, we were told, had nowhere else to go and had been rescued from a horrible fate. So naturally as we entered the beautifully well kept gardens of this orphanage I was excited and ready to pour out my heart of compassion. We sat in a big room as the children sung, read bible verses and prayed for us. My heart was full! It was just so incredible to see these children living in this “oasis”. So when the orphanage director invited me to stay in her home on the orphanage grounds I jumped at the chance to “make a real difference" in these children’s lives. Little did I know how much would change in a few months.  

I remember the first time I got this sinking feeling that something just wasn’t right. Another group of potential supporters had arrived and the children had to quickly race to put away their homework, stop their chores and change into their best clothes to sing, read and pray for another group of foreigners. Suddenly that first night no longer seemed like a wonderful moment but a well-rehearsed show put on by a director who used a group of children to help make money. I tried to ignore that nagging feeling that something wasn’t right every time I noticed the children’s reluctance to put on their little performance week-in and week-out. But when I think of one little girl there, I can never again shake off that feeling. I’m not sure how old she was. Maybe 7 or 8. She was sweet, kind and clearly desperately searching for love. Love that I was happy to shower upon her. One day I asked the director what her story was and she simply said, “we found her with her mother begging on the street so we brought her here.” I sat shocked. What about the mother? You took her child and just left her on the street? A child taken and a woman left all alone with nothing. How was that love? This girl had a mother, but wasn’t she an orphan? Weren’t they all orphans? With each family visit and heartbreaking farewell I discovered not. They simply came from families who could not provide what was offered by the children's home like enough food and a good education. There had to be a better way! 

On my last day I remember the look on that little girl’s face as I said my last goodbye and got into the car. The look of abandonment. The look of desperate loneliness. The look of a child who just wanted to go home. I still can see that face so clearly ingrained in my mind. That nagging feeling returned. Something was definitely wrong. I hadn’t helped her. I had made it so much worse. "There has to be a better way? There has to be?" I thought. Thankfully the following month I found out about Kinnected and I felt a wave of relief. There was a better way! And I wanted to be a part of it.” 

If you would like to share your experience of volunteering in a children’s home or orphanage, please contact us through our website.