Traveller Beware


Orphanage Scams

In most parts of the world where orphanages exists there are questions one must ask before handing over any material or monetary donations.  Especially when an orphanage presents as run down and the children appear malnourished.

Is the orphanage poor due to lack of of funding or is the orphanage poor as the funding is going sideways?  From my experience the second conclusion is often the sad truth.

Many orphanages are established as a ‘business’ in order to line the pockets of its Director and in some cases staff.  Often orphanages will use religion as a guise.  Western tourists are particularly taken in when the orphanage is Christian and the Director may even introduce themselves as a Minister of the Church.  In reality orphanages of any faith can be equally corrupt.

Orphanages know that most travellers will only visit their country once or on occassion.  Once the visitors leave the goods donated are taken away and sold on the outside.  Even if goods are given directly to a child the Director or staff will later force the child to hand over the goods.

Some orphanages do not send their children to school despite their claims.  The children are forced to work in slave labour.  Working on building sites, attending street stalls, cooking food for retail sale, making jewelry, dancing at hotels or begging in public areas.

Children are abused mentally and physically.  They are threatened by the corrupt Directors to be on their best behaviour when visitors present or accept the punishment when they depart.  Children in this situation will often try to please their captors by enchanting visitors with local songs or conversation.

Monetary donations can be a huge risk.  The orphanage may request funding for say a ‘new kitchen’ and say they need USD50,000.00.  They will reqest the funding from more than one source and pocket the extra funds.  The new kitchen may or may not eventuate.  If it does then most donors will not realise the kitchen was funded by five different donors from five different countries.

Paying school fees can be risky too.  Even if you ask for the receipt from the school.  Some orphanages manufacture their own ‘school stamp’ and receipt book copied from a local school in the area.  The only way to be sure is to go to the school yourself with a local you can trust and pay the child’s school fees.

As Governments often give small subsidies to local orphanages based on a per child basis the Directors will often fabricate the number of children they actually have.  To Social Welfare and others they may claim to have 120 children in full time care.  The reality could be they only have 30 children in full time care.  If they know in advance a representive from Social Welfare or guests are coming they will entice children from the local village into the centre to ‘fill it’ and justify their claims.  The children given small rewards for their help.

From my experience even the best of travellers and western tourists are easily fooled.  Having worked with orphanages and other projects for 20 years I have had to learn the hard way!  Now I want to help others to make the right choices.

A well run centre will at least ask for your name and address.  If they are serious about child protection they will also ask for a copy of your Passport.  You should not be offended if they request ID.  They are protecting their children.  A good centre will not allow individual sponsors to take their children out of the centre without being accompanied by at least 2 staff.  Better still they only allow sponsors to meet their child within the confines of the centre. This being in the child’s best interest and the sponsors.

If you request to see the centre’s accounts they should be happy and willing to allow you access.  You cannot expect orphanages to have audited accounts.  Audits cost money and even good orphanages cannot afford the expense of an annual audit.  If you intend to make a good monetary donation then it is your right to ask to see some accounts.  I would also investigate the centre BEFORE visiting.  Find out if it is locally based or has an International connection?  Who is on the Board?  Google the orphanages name to see if there is any negative feedback about the centre.  In other words “Do your homework before you hand over money.”  Orphanages with International umbrellas tend to be more accountable and on the level.  My general observation is that most locally run centres are corrupt or poorly managed in some way.  Their are a few exceptions but these are in the minority.

A more recent scam is aimed at Volunteers.  Beware of any volunteer scheme that asks you for money up front.  I met one young girl who had paid out over USD$3,000.00 to teach english in Cambodia to poor children.  All she got for her money was a room in a USD$12.00 per night guest house for 3 weeks and the introduction to the school.  Transport to and from the school was supposed to be in the deal but never surfaced.  A handsome profit for the Volunteer agency.  I met two other girls scammed by the same operator.  I also met a young couple who thought they were helping to construct an orphanage to later find out they were building someones future house!  They too had paid over the top for accommodation and food.  Best to go through reputable organisations such as Australian Volunteers International or Australian Business Volunteers.  There are good organisations you can volunteer through without any up front payment.  Ensure you are self supported, have a current Police clearance and up to date CV.  Do not go unprepared.  Again research the project and requirements well in advance.  You cannot expect to help out at an orphanage unless you have skills to offer and do not use the centres as a means to have a cheap holiday at the children’s expense.  If the centre accommodates you then you should be prepared to at least put your hand in your pocket for food and drink.

Please know their are good projects in the world.  Small and large.  Just take some time to research the project before you hand over your donations or time.  The projects on our website are doing great work and these are the types of projects worthy of your attention.

Do not be fooled by a shabbily dressed, malnourished child and a Director with a beaming smile pleading poverty!  You might just be helping put the Director’s son or daughter through University!

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