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Here’s Why JK Rowling Has Urged Travellers Not To Volunteer At Orphanages

While it may seem like a charitable and altruistic way to spend your holiday, or part of your gap year, volunteering at orphanages has a darker side – one which Harry Potter author JK Rowling recently called out.

Rowling launched a campaign on Friday 25 October called #HelpingNotHelping through her charitable foundation, Lumos and YouGov UK. She spoke at the young leader summit One Young World in London, and said, “Despite the best of intentions, the sad truth is that visiting and volunteering in orphanages drives an industry that separates children from their families and puts them at risk of neglect and abuse.”

“Institutionalism is one of the worst things you can do to children in the world,” she said. “It has huge effects on their normal development, it renders children vulnerable to abuse and trafficking, and it massively impacts their life chances. And these dire statistics apply even to what we would see as well-run orphanages … The effect on children is universally poor.”

The new campaign intends to change attitudes around volunteering at orphanages around the world, and make potential volunteers more wary of being involved in damaging programs. As the charitable foundation Lumos, founded and chaired by JK Rowling, puts it: “Don’t just think you’re helping, know you are.”

While some may wish she’d leave Harry Potter alone, JK Rowling isn’t alone in these opinions. The campaign launch comes after the UK Foreign Office recently altered its advice to travellers on such volunteering to offer advice against it. The Australian Government’s Smartraveller advice also warns travellers against blindly signing on to volunteer programs at orphanages. Gap years can be a great idea but those going abroad should seriously consider any volunteering posts that involve children.

“Working directly with children in communities and orphanages may not be the most effective way to provide sustainable assistance…

“Australians should thoroughly research any overseas organisation offering opportunities to volunteer with children, particularly in orphanages. In some circumstances, these organisations have removed children from adequate family care in order to profit from donations from abroad. There are also reports of unscrupulous organisations deliberately housing children in poor conditions to attract ongoing financial support from volunteers. Volunteers at these organisations may unknowingly contribute towards child exploitation.”

Lumos offers recommendations and resources to those who would like to get involved with helping disadvantaged children around the world.

(Lead image: One Young World / Twitter)