Volunteering abroad in orphanages can literally be one of the most humbling volunteer experiences offered. Though orphanage standards vary greatly across the world, one characteristic remains, the need for extra hands, an energetic spirit, and an understanding heart. Days spent volunteering in orphanages usually consist of playing with toddlers, helping with bathtime and feedings, and most frequently, sharing meaningful time with little ones thirsting for love and attention. Working with orphans will give volunteers the chance to make a tangible difference in the daily life of children, which makes it an extra rewarding experience.
Why Volunteer in Orphanages
Though there have been multiple debates recently over the ethicality of volunteering in orphanages abroad, certain facts remain the same, orphanages are notoriously understaffed and volunteers who participate in orphanage placements have high levels of satisfaction with their work. Individuals who have a unique love for children and desire to do what is needed to help those they are assisting in productive, important ways, will excel in orphanage placements.
Orphanage volunteers will have the chance to learn more about childcare and also help brighten the lives of children who reside in group settings without biological parents. By spending time with these children, volunteers will increase the child’s growth and ability to develop normally, even by simply consoling them when they fall down or challenging them to take their first steps.
Opportunities for volunteering abroad in orphanages are most frequently available in developing nations, where there is a high birthrate, high levels of disease, and a high number of families living below the poverty line. Orphanage volunteering abroad is prevalent in Africa, Asia, and Latin America more than any other regions of the world. Due to the tumultuous history in many nations of Eastern Europe, there are also opportunities to work with orphans, such as in Romania.
In Asia volunteers can easily find placements working with orphans in China, Thailand, India, and Nepal. Almost all orphanages in Nepal are located in Kathmandu and Pokhara, while the ever-increasing populations of China and India lead to a larger distribution of orphanages throughout these countries.
Volunteering at orphanages in Latin America provide volunteers with the chance to not only spend time working with children but also expand their Spanish language skills. Mexico, Costa Rica, and Peru are specifically popular countries for Latin American orphanage volunteer work. Although orphanage placements are offered across Mexico, placements are focused in the cities of San Jose in Costa Rica and Cusco in Peru.
The extreme level of poverty, periodic times of civil strife, and overwhelming number of deaths from HIV/AIDS in Africa has led to an almost incomparable population of orphans in Africa. The majority of African nations provide opportunities to volunteer with orphans, from Uganda and South Africa, to Ghana and Kenya.
Types of Orphanages
Orphanages are typically divided into two categories: public, government run orphanages and private, internationally funded orphanages. Private orphanages that are funded by international organizations tend to have multiple locations all over the world, such as the Missionaries of Charity which was created by Mother Teresa or S.O.S. Children’s Village which has 500 locations in over 100 countries. On the other hand, public orphanages funded by local government units tend to struggle with availability of resources and staff.
One thing all volunteers should realize before working in orphanages is that not all children residing in orphanages are legally “orphans”. Some children stay in orphanages because their parents are mentally, physically, or financially unable to take care of them for a period of time, and the children will return to their parents once they are able to meet their needs. Other children go to orphanages for certain hours during the day to receive developmental, nutritional, or social assistance, but still reside permanently with their biological parents.
Most often volunteers serve as an extra pair of hands, helping with regular day to day operations of the orphanage. From washing dishes and changing diapers, to planning activities and cuddling, working at an orphanage encompasses a range of childcare tasks.
Placement lengths are typically pretty flexible for volunteers, though some orphanages will require a minimum commitment of two weeks to a month, so the children can appropriately get to know volunteers before new ones are introduced. Volunteering at orphanages for longer periods can help create a more stable environment for the children, but it can also have a negative effect on the kids if they become too attached to volunteers who eventually leave permanently.
Most orphanages require no specific past experience in order to volunteer, however most require medical certificates or health exams and a commitment to confidentiality, as the children’s identity and personal information is of utmost importance to orphanage staff.
Individuals who volunteer abroad in orphanages will have their eyes opened to the struggles of children who have lost their parents or been left abandoned to fend of the themselves. Though the situation is sometimes grim and often disheartening, the fact that almost all children in orphanages have a more hopeful future in store, which likely includes adoption and parents to call their own, makes volunteer work at orphanages a more optimistic experience.
For volunteers interested in working with children in their careers, from teaching at elementary schools, to pediatrics, to working at day care centers or social work positions, orphanage experience can be extremely applicable and beneficial professionally. Many children in orphanages deal with unique situations, disorders, and problems, which means volunteers will be exposed to a wide range of stages in development, personalities, and temperaments.
Lastly, for volunteers earning their degree in child development, behavior modification, education, public health, and many other areas, volunteering at orphanages abroad can give them hands on experience in their fields and expose them to possible international careers they may not have thought of.
Orphanage work can help volunteers become more grateful for the life they were given and the opportunity to share part of the child’s life with them. Witnessing the growth of the children can also be inspiring for volunteers, showing them that no matter what challenges encountered, there is always a way to overcome the obstacles and live a happy, successful life.