Experts are asking tourists not to volunteer in orphanages. Picture: The Love You Give
Experts are asking tourists not to volunteer in orphanages. Picture: The Love You Give

Dark truth behind tourists’ kind act

Heading overseas with a mission to help struggling communities has become a popular trend among tourists.

But a shocking new film is encouraging tourists not to volunteer at orphanages abroad, in countries such as Kenya, where the trend of "voluntourism" is actually doing more harm than good.

The film, The Love You Give, reveals orphans often still have a living parent who they are removed from, while the orphanage functions as a business, making money from those who come and volunteer at it, The Sun reports.

One volunteer, Neelam Keshwala, said in the film she started with the best of intentions.

"I was looking for volunteering experience. That self-satisfaction you get from it. I wanted to think, 'Yes I helped this person'," she said.

She said when she got to the orphanage, she thought, "Oh my god, this is so cool, it's like a playground and I want to be part of it. I was so excited."

But it wasn't until she got home and read about the orphanages, she was astonished to discover many of the children there weren't orphans at all and actually had a parent who was alive.

 

Neelam Keshwala volunteered at an orphanage but came to realise how harmful the industry is. Picture: The Love You Give
Neelam Keshwala volunteered at an orphanage but came to realise how harmful the industry is. Picture: The Love You Give

"It's a massive, wider industry," she said. "And this will always affect these children as they grow up - they've never had one consistent person."

Ruth Wacuka from the Kenya Society of Care Leavers, grew up in an orphanage after her mum walked out on her and her four siblings.

She had a grandmother, but she was to unwell to care for five children.

"You feel like an animal in a zoo," she said.

Ms Wacuka said kids were coached to tell the volunteers and visitors they didn't know where they came from, unwittingly feeding into the lie.

The film touches on the fact that children brought up in orphanages find it hard to integrate into society and a higher chance of having mental health problems.

 

Ruth Wacuka grew up in an orphanage in Kenya. Picture: The Love You Give
Ruth Wacuka grew up in an orphanage in Kenya. Picture: The Love You Give

Being removed from their families will therefore go on to affect these children for the rest of their lives in many different ways.

The volunteer tourism industry is valued at $236 billion per year.

In the film, Ms Wacuka goes back to visit the orphanage she grew up in.

"Close to 300 of us were here," she said, close to tears. "This is the first time I've come back to visit since I left this place in 2007. It's bringing back a lot of emotions."

 

In the film, Ms Wacuka goes back to the orphanage she grew up in, for the first time. Picture: The Love You Give
In the film, Ms Wacuka goes back to the orphanage she grew up in, for the first time. Picture: The Love You Give

Ms Wacuka said she was no longer angry about her past, but was using it as a "tool" to educate others.

The film urged people to "change how they volunteer" to stop the manipulation of children and families.

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission