The dark side of voluntourism…

Declan pic

Posted on: 6th May, 2014

Category: Health & Lifestyle

Contributor: West Cork People

By Declan Murphy Above: Further details of this thought-provoking campaign developed by a Cambodian organisation can be found online at www.thinkchildsafe.org/thinkbeforevisiting/

I realise this is a topic I’ve dealt with previously, but I’m convinced too that it contains an incredibly valuable message that desperately needs to become much more widely known and discussed than it is at present, so that the damage it often causes can, perhaps, be limited. With understandably popular foreign volunteering opportunities having long since developed into what is now a billion dollar industry, it’s not at all surprising that the most prevalent message one is likely to see regarding ever-popular orphanage volunteer placements is that they’re truly altruistic undertakings that are most certainly worth whatever fees may be involved. What you’re much less likely to read about though, is the fact that many of the ‘orphanages’ and children’s homes that facilitate such placements across the world, are little more than cleverly disguised businesses that exist almost solely to make money from well-intentioned western travellers looking to be more than mere tourists.

I’d like to think that the vast majority of those who choose to engage in such volunteer placements, wouldn’t dream of doing so if they only realised that many of the children in these institutions are actually victims of human trafficking, who’ve been taken from their families and are being cruelly exploited simply to supply the increasing demand for what’s being so wrongly sold as a meaningful travel experience that benefits all involved. Yes, it can be incredibly meaningful for the volunteer, and most probably profitable too for those facilitating the experience, but not a whole lot of benefit for the countless innocent children required for the scam.

Thankfully, the truth is slowly starting to filter through and more and more people are becoming aware of the insidious nature of this particular type of volunteer placement. Here in Nepal, in the last couple of months alone, there have been three high-profile raids on children’s homes popular amongst volunteers and children who’d been virtually imprisoned and denied access to their families for years were finally rescued and happily reunited with their parents. Sadly, many of those involved have the type of high-powered political connections that allow them to avoid any real threat of prosecution.

In the face of such corruption, the best solution by far comes in lessening the demand for these hugely exploitative placements which on the surface can so often appear both worthwhile and commendable. Whether it’s worried parents who want their intrepid offspring to have a more structured and supervised first solo foreign adventure, or the travelling individual themselves, opting to do more than ‘simply go on holiday’ while perhaps creating an attention-grabbing bullet-point for their CV, there needs to be an open and honest evaluation of the core motivations for wanting to engage in these type of volunteer placements, as well as a realisation of the truly horrific reality that’s actually behind many of them.

Aside from the fact that many volunteers (be they past, present or future) will often insist “that ‘their orphanage’ is different and, in fact, totally legitimate…”, I think it’s important that we look beyond the actual legitimacy of individual institutions and consider the fact that what has become such a popular pursuit for westerners visiting poor countries like Nepal, is actually something child-protection laws in our own developed countries certainly wouldn’t condone happening closer to home. I can’t imagine there are many organisations working with vulnerable children in Ireland who would happily accept the offer of voluntary help (be it well-intentioned or otherwise, and for a couple of days, weeks or months) from visiting foreigners. Why is it then that the exact same scenario in a poor country like Nepal is instead regarded as a worthy and commendable pursuit?

While there may be some truth in the argument that many organisations depend on the funding that volunteers often provide and without it the children wouldn’t receive proper care, it also shouldn’t be overlooked that if there weren’t volunteers in need of cute ‘orphans’ to volunteer with, many of these organisations wouldn’t have so many children to look after and therefore wouldn’t need so much funding in the first place. In a report published in 2008, UNICEF estimated that 85 per cent of the children in Nepali orphanages actually had at least one living parent, and expressed the view that for the psychological wellbeing of the children involved, even a bad family was, though far from ideal, better than no family at all.

An equally shocking statistic was shared by Nepal’s Central Child Welfare Board in 2012 when they publicised that almost 90 per cent of the 657 registered children’s homes in Nepal were, in fact, located in the country’s five main tourist districts. A bizarre coincidence? Or a clear indication that Nepal’s orphanage phenomenon has some clear and strong links with foreign tourists? I’ll leave you draw your own conclusions… I’d like to ask too, in finishing, that if you or someone you know may have been considering volunteering at an exotically-located orphanage this summer that you perhaps give it a second thought and carefully consider the potential consequences involved. I can only speak of my experience in Nepal, but I’ve little reason to suspect that the situation in other poor countries in hugely different. Some careful research and reading prior to making any firm plans will help ensure you find a placement that doesn’t jeopardise the safety and well-being of innocent children.

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Submarines, American Sailors, and the Underwater War in Irish Waters, 1917-1918
by Dr John Borgonovo in The Parish Centre, Clonakilty
on Thursday Oct 26 2017 at 8.30 pm

In 1917, unrestricted submarine warfare by German U-boats brought the United States into WWI and created a crisis in Britain. To defeat the submarine menace, an American naval fleet was dispatched to County Cork, bringing about 10,000 sailors with it. This talk will explain the circumstances of this extraordinary event, and how Cork residents dealt with their unexpected American guests.

Dr John Borgonovo is a lecturer in the School of History at UCC. His publications include Spies, Informers, and the 'Anti-Sinn Féin' Society: The Intelligence War in Cork City, 1920-1921; The Dynamics of War and Revolution: Cork City, 1916-1918; Exercising a close vigilance over their daughters: Cork women, American sailors, and Catholic vigilantes, 1917-18; Something in the Nature of a Massacre: The Bandon Valley Killings Revisited (with Andy Bielenberg). His latest publication (with co-authors John Crowley, Donal Ó Drisceoil and Mike Murphy) is the highly acclaimed and magnificient Atlas of the Irish Revolution. In July of this year, he organised a very successful conference on Winning the Western Approaches - Unrestricted Submarine Warfare and the US Navy in Ireland 1917-1918.
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11th October, 2017  ·  

Apple Juicing Day in Clonakilty next Sunday Sept 30th. All welcome to bring their apples from 2-6pm to the Clonakilty Community Garden (on entrance road to Clonakilty Lodge).

Building on the success of its inaugural 2016 event, local voluntary environmental organisation Sustainable Clonakilty invites people to bring along their apples and press them to extract their own juice to take home, using the group's Apple Press.

Volunteers will be at hand to assist in the procedure. Bring along your apples washed; clean containers to freeze your juice (milk/juice bottles or cartons, plastic bottles with caps); clean, sterilised glass bottles to pasteurise with swing caps or suitable for 26 mm diameter metal cap.

A limited number of new 3 litres juice bags that are suitable for freezing and pasteurising, can be purchased for a nominal fee on the day also.

This is a free community event and donations will be welcome to cover costs.

For further information, please contact Xavier at xavierdubuisson@gmail.com or text at 086/0476124.
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