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Leading a volunteering team, I've been to an orphanage where the sister (who did a psychology course) running the orphanage was strict that volunteers should spend a minimum of 3 months teaching the kids on the weekends if they wanted to, because kids develop an attachment to the visitors. Another NGO insists that volunteers pledge a minimum of one year if they wish to mentor a child.

At another orphanage which is frequented by volunteers of many companies, a worker there said that the kids were accustomed to seeing strangers everyday.

As a volunteering leader, I encourage people to contribute to society meaningfully. I want to know what the best psychological/emotional effect we can have on the children. Would it be bad for the children in the long-run, to see strangers come to conduct events for them where they sing and dance, distribute snacks and gifts and then the kids never get to see these people again. People from various companies visit these kids. Is it better to not conduct such events, and instead ensure that volunteers visit these kids weekly/monthly, find out what their needs are, become familiar with the kids and help them in whatever way possible?

The problem here, is that a lot of volunteers see what other companies are doing, and are more interested in conducting a grand event at orphanages/old-age-homes, donate money or gifts and then walk away. They say they don't have the time for multiple visits.

  1. Should I discourage people to do this? (a friend described it as being similar to visiting a zoo)
  2. Shouldn't they spend more time with the children/senior-citizens? Empathy and understanding.
  3. Won't it just reinforce the kids/senior-citizen's belief that nobody really cares about them?
  4. Is there any research done on the psychological/emotional effect this has?
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I think evaluating whether this is "good or bad" is going to be tricky. It's an interesting question, though. Perhaps making it a bit more objective would get a better answer. –  Chuck Sherrington Jan 4 '13 at 1:18
    
Thanks. Removed the "good/bad" part and put the questions in points. The right way according to me would be to go to orphanages/old-age-homes and spend time with the people and get to know them better, and then conduct celebrations with them. Many people see only the celebration part, and decide "hey let our company also do celebrations". Then they just end up doing celebrations and don't bother showing any empathy or care toward the disadvantaged people. –  Nav Jan 4 '13 at 2:40

1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted

There is indeed research done on the topic. Some links:
http://www.thinkchildsafe.org/thinkbeforevisiting/
http://www.hsrc.ac.za/HSRC_Review_Article-195.phtml
http://www.thinkchildsafe.org/thinkbeforevisiting/resources/Misguided_Kindness.pdf
http://www.thinkchildsafe.org/thinkbeforevisiting/resources/UN%20Guidelines%20Alternative%20Care.pdf
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volunteer_travel

Extracts:

A child's right to privacy Under international law, children in orphanages have the same rights as children across the globe to have a safe and private home setting. Short-term orphanage visits from tourists and travelers lowers a child's privacy inside their own home. Additionally, reports show that short-term visits can cause harm to a child's development and emotional wellbeing. We think everyone agrees that children need safety, privacy and stability.

and

How do I harm children by visiting an orphanage?
Many orphanages rely almost entirely on donations from visitors to survive. Thus directors may purposefully maintain poor living conditions for children to secure funds from tourists. Children who appear underserved may come across as a cry for help more than children who appear well fed and cared for. This of course places guilt on tourists if they do not help immediately. By visiting orphanages and making a donation you may be fuelling a system that exploits children.

and

Institutionalised children will thus tend to manifest the same indiscriminate affection towards volunteers. After a few days or weeks, this attachment is broken when the volunteer leaves and a new attachment forms when the next volunteer arrives. Although there is little empirical evidence on children's reactions to very short-term, repeat attachments over time, evidence from the study of children in temporary or unstable foster care indicates that repeated disruptions in attachment are extremely disturbing for children, especially very young children.

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bravo, these are great links –  New Alexandria Jan 4 '13 at 22:24

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