Working with children

Working with children

Photo showing children in a glass cage with people taking photos

Image credit: Think ChildSafe

Imagine you are in school, and every week you have new volunteers passing through to teach you. They don’t know what you have already learnt, so you learn the English alphabet over and over again. They take selfies with you and the other children and post them to their Facebook with ‘#savingtheworld’. You develop close friendships with the volunteers who promise to stay in touch with you, only to have them leave the next week. How does this make you feel?

In many countries this is the daily reality for children. We have a responsibility to choose a volunteer placement that prioritises the protection of children, and that contributes positively to children’s mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.

Top tips for volunteering with children

  • Attend any relevant GLP Colloquia or Think Tanks that might help you make a more informed decision in choosing a volunteer placement.
  • Choose an organisation, like PACE International, that prioritises the rights of children and works in line a Child Protection Policy.
  • Ask yourself, am I the best person to do the job here? Are you being asked to care for or teach children? Would it be better if this role was taken by a qualified local person who spoke the children’s language and understood their culture?
  • Read these 7 tips for being a ChildSafe traveller

Find a better alternative

I WANT TO VOLUNTEER IN AN ORPHANAGE

At GLP we believe when you volunteer you should be a catalyst for positive social change, and part of the solution - not the problem. This is why volunteering in orphanages is not eligible for Experiential Credit, or towards your Cross-Cultural Practicum.

A better alternative: Volunteer with an organisation that keeps families together, reunites children with their families or provides family-based care. If you are teaching, providing care or working directly with children, make sure you are the best person to do the job. Ask yourself: If I’m not qualified to do the role in Australia should I really be doing it overseas?

An estimated 8 million children live in institutions globally. 80% of those children have one or more living parent (Lumos). Institutions should be the very last resort for a child. Orphanages, children’s homes or residential care facilities don’t provide the stability or consistency children need to thrive.

Some orphanages unnecessarily institutionalise children to get money from volunteers and tourists. Volunteering in an orphanage, as a teacher or a caregiver, can disrupt children’s ability to form healthy attachments and receive an education that values their local knowledge and culture.

Watch this short video to learn more:

Video Credit: How volunteering abroad in orphanages is harmful to children from Kindea Labs on Vimeo.

I ONLY HAVE A WEEK TO VOLUNTEER

A better alternative: If you only have a short time, just be an ethical traveller – learn about the country and culture you are in, spend your money with local providers and support initiatives that preserve the culture and environment. Commit to a longer volunteer placement at home or look for online opportunities with international organisations.

A rotation of short-term volunteers can mean local people don’t develop the skills or experience to drive development in their own communities

I WANT TO BRING SCHOOL SUPPLIES AND CLOTHING TO HAND OUT

A better alternative: Consult with your volunteer placement to make sure what you’re bringing is really needed. If it is, buy it in the country you are volunteering in to support local business.

Handouts can create dependency, encourage begging and while something might be useful in Australia, it might not be needed overseas. How useful is a school book if it isn’t in your language?

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