There are around 385 million children worldwide living in extreme poverty, according to UNICEF. Their situations range from living with parents in very poor circumstances to being completely orphaned. With so many kids and their communities in need, volunteering with children is an excellent way to make their lives easier and contribute to a better future.
But, before you begin booking your ticket to volunteer abroad with children, it is important to understand their current situation and to see what are the most ethical ways that you can volunteer in.
Children in the developing world
Life for children in the developing world isn’t easy. One in five of those children, under the age of five, are growing up in extremely poor households, lacking basic amenities that you and I often take for granted. In sub-Saharan Africa, this number is raised to a shocking half of all children.
Yet it is not only their lack of access to the basics that is concerning but rather the impact that it has on both them and future generations to come. When young children are deprived of necessities such as clean water, good sanitation, nutritious food, a roof over their head and education, the development of their mind and body is severely stunted. This consequently has a great impact on their communities as a whole, as generation after generation are left to live and die in the poverty cycle. Without access to a proper health system and quality education, there is little hope for change in many of these forgotten communities.
Volunteering at an orphanage
If the above tugged at your heartstrings then you may be tempted to Google ‘how to volunteer with children abroad’, and be led down a rabbit hole of options at orphanages. Hopefully, you will first see the many articles that tell you why this is a bad idea as well. The problem is that an orphanage is not an ideal place for a child to grow up. Just like you would surely prefer to stay with your family, no matter the dire circumstances, than live in an institution with potentially even fewer resources, and certainly a lower quality of love and care, so would the children abroad.
It is well documented that living in such places further diminishes a child’s future prospects, however, the sad thing is that the children are not always there out of necessity. The reality is that parents often see, who they perceive to be, wealthy foreigners, coming to volunteer abroad at orphanages and willingly give up their children to be institutionalized.
This, however, is not the answer to their problems as the volunteers are usually unskilled, don’t speak the local language, and are very young themselves. Most people are simply not prepared to work in an orphanage, leading to mental trauma for both the children and the volunteers themselves. Volunteering at an orphanage perpetuates the cycle of families losing their children to poorly run organizations that more often than not end up causing more damage to the child. It also suggests to families that an orphanage is a good long term solution rather than a last resort. Volunteering directly with an unscreened orphanage may also cause you to get in trouble with the law, if it is run illegally, leading you to potentially be deported, or worse, go to jail. Not exactly what you were looking to experience on your volunteer abroad trip!
Volunteering at a school
If you want to volunteer with children abroad, then your most fruitful option will be to help out at some sort of education giving center.
This can range from daycares and schools to extra-curricular programs and more specialized projects.
Because education is the ticket out for most of these children and it doesn’t involve being separated from their families. By volunteering with established organizations, you show parents the importance of both education, and being able to take care of their kids. You also benefit the whole community by supporting programs that teach children, hygiene, offer them English lessons and contribute to their nutritional needs.
Most importantly, you also leave their families and community members as their main role models, instead of placing yourself in such a position, which you know you will need to vacate in a very short time. Importantly, such programs ensure that you are given appropriate tasks to complete and are there to give the teachers a helping hand, rather than take over their jobs. This leads to better quality learning and a sustainable education system.
Best practices for volunteering abroad with children
Research: Do your research and make sure that the organization that you want to volunteer with is legitimate, has been screened and will also screen you for suitability (it’s a big red flag if they just take anyone).
Community: Find a program that focuses on improving the quality of life of the whole community, and not just the children.
Culture Week: You will be volunteering with children and working with their teachers, so it is important to learn about their culture first and try and be able to understand some basic phrases in their language.
Long Term Stay: The longer you stay, the better your teaching skills will become, you will be more comfortable and be able to provide better help to the teachers and children.
Qualifications: Play to your strengths and choose a program that will best suit your current skills and interests. Whether it be sport or art, you will do a better job if you already know about the subject that you will be volunteering in.
Best programs to volunteer with children
Volunteer with children in Cambodia – Community Health and Education: This project helps to teach children in Samraong, Cambodia about the importance of hygiene. You will have the opportunity to prepare lessons and assist local staff as they teach children to better take care of themselves and their living environment. You will also get to learn a few words in Khmer during your culture lesson!
Volunteer with children in Thailand – Learn, Volunteer and Travel: Have a blast teaching English in a creative way as you participate in cultural exchanges, help to organise workshops and join in on festivities during your time in Sing Buri. This project will also give you an introduction to Thai as well as a welcome party at the beginning of your placement.
Volunteer with children in Kenya – Village Kindergarten: This is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to volunteer with children in Africa. After learning some Swahili, you will spend your days enriching the lives of kindergarten children through fun games and activities. You will also assist teachers in handing out lunch and have your evenings free to enjoy the beautiful African sunsets.
Volunteer with children in South Africa – Teach, Surf and Skate in Cape Town: If you love to spend your time in the water or playing sport, then you will have an amazing time sharing your skills with the kids. Your days may include organizing hikes or teaching kids life-saving skills such as swimming, as well as doing fundraising activities and helping out at the schools.
Volunteer with children in Peru – Kindergarten Assistance: Brush up on your Spanish as you take care of Peru’s youngsters in the Inca rich historic town of Cajamarca. You will enjoy playing games with the kindergarteners, offer them hygiene skills as well as teach English to kids as young as 2!
Are you ready to take your volunteer experience to the next level? Take a look at our other projects for volunteering with children.