NGN: Part of the Global Fight Against Child Trafficking
The Volunteer’s Story- In Their Own Words
“I was looking for a way to give back while I was traveling. I have always loved being around children so volunteering in an orphanage made sense to me. I found a place very close to the tourist district where I was staying and the cost of staying there seemed quite reasonable, especially since I was happy to give money to help kids anyway. I also bought fruits and vegetables for the children while I was there, but their diet never seemed to change.
From the moment I arrived something didn’t feel right. Since I had already given my donation, the owner didn’t want to talk to me much. He only paid attention to one visitor who appeared to be very wealthy, and who had an odd interest in some of the children but not others. He was even allowed to take some children back to his hotel so that they could shower. This felt incredibly inappropriate.
The children wouldn’t look me in the eye when they spoke to me and would not answer any of my questions. They seemed to look nervously toward the owner when I asked them even the most basic things. They were also clearly undernourished and the clothes they wore were constantly dirty. They were allowed one bath a week due to the drought (I was told). The kids seemed hungry all the time, and although there was a vegetable and herb garden that had been planted by former volunteers, only the owner’s family had access to the vegetables growing there.
I noticed that the dahl they were eating was mostly water with very few lentils. The rice was often a bit old and hard, and they never seemed to have enough. I never once saw them eat even one piece of fruit. Many of them had health issues that seemed to be caused directly from their lack of good nutrition. Scabies, lice and other skin issues were very common. They were all remarkably and dangerously thin. Whenever I asked the owner about such issues, she rudely brushed me off saying she didn’t want to “spoil” them.
Many of the children’s mouths were covered in sores from not having any kind of dental care. Although a Canadian volunteer had brought 40 toothbrushes the children still used their fingers to brush their teeth as the owner took the toothbrushes to sell. There was also a “doctor” who the children were able to see, but after checking about him, it turned out the man in question was not even a doctor, just someone that the owner could point to as overseeing the children’s health.
Later I learned that former volunteers continued to send donations to the orphanage to keep it running. Little did they know that all of the money goes to the owner’s family with no help given to the children living there.
I finally got one of the children to trust me enough to talk to me about what was going on in the home. It turns out the kids were not even orphans, and if they ever mentioned their parents, they were beaten. They were all from a very remote part of the country, and their parents thought they were getting a good education, but they had not seen their families since being dumped at the orphanage by the trafficker. At this point most of them had given up on the idea of seeing their parents at all. They and their parents thought they would be in a good boarding school in the big city and paid the trafficker handsomely for this opportunity. Sadly, the reality could not be further from this.
Our departure was quite sad. The children were not allowed to say goodbye to us as they peered through one of the windows from the top floor. When I made eye contact with one of them she just turned away from my gaze. After I returned home I began to receive countless emails from the owner saying that the orphanage was out of money and the kids would be in danger without more funds. This was from the same person who would barely speak to me when I was volunteering there!
This entire experience has made me wonder about all the other “orphanages” in the country. Are they all based on false realities and being supported unknowingly by well-meaning foreigners like myself? It was truly a house built on lies and deceit where the children were left to suffer, and to probably never see their families again. These children will almost certainly never go home and will be pushed out into the street once they aren’t young enough to attract more funds for the owner. Truly a tragic situation.”