Volunteering with children and youth has its criticisms – and those who are blowing the whistle on irresponsible or misleading “orphanage volunteering” projects are right to do so. However, some articles have left many wondering if any volunteer projects that work with orphans and vulnerable children are good – and the answer is yes. With adequate research and investigation into volunteer organizations and their projects, you can find a program through which you can volunteer with orphans in Africa in a responsible way. Here’s how to spot the volunteer organizations that are doing things right:
Any good volunteer organization has a Child Protection Policy which outlines how volunteers and staff interact with orphans and vulnerable children on their projects. African Impact provides volunteers with CPP training upon their arrival – outlining how volunteers must conduct themselves on projects with youth and sets guidelines and rules for when volunteers are on project.
It is imperative that an organization have some sort of policy in place to protect the children they work with – and this doesn’t simply mean a CPP. If an organization does not require you to complete a background or police check before you embark on your volunteer trip with them, that should send up some red flags regarding the importance they put on protecting youth in the communities in which they operate.
It may sound minor, but it’s very important that an organization insist volunteers respect and adhere to cultural norms in the communities where volunteers work. This may mean remaining silent during a morning prayer session or respecting customary dress codes.
Most African cultures are extremely community-centric, and thus the term ‘orphan’ carries a different meaning than most in North America or Europe would imagine. Most orphans in Africa do not live in orphanages (although this does happen), but are rather raised by extended family or community members. This means that often volunteering with orphans does not involve a traditional ‘orphanage’ but rather consists of programs such as after-school clubs that uplift and enhance the lives of orphans who live within communities.
If you choose the right organization, they will prepare you so well for working on their projects that you’ll have complete confidence going into your first day working with orphans and vulnerable children. This preparation will leave you feeling free to take on all your responsibilities and make the most out of your time as a volunteer.