Orphanage: how to detect when it’s a Scam

Volunteer in Tanzania, volunteering in Tanzania, orphanage, orphanage scam

Which organization should I choose when volunteering abroad?

Here you can get some pieces of advice.

Voluntourism – is not a bad thing!

First of all, it is undeniable: volunteering can change people lives!

It changes the life of the volunteers, sure, but alsoย the life of the local people benefitting from their ‘free’ service. Volunteering can and will inspire a lot of children living in disadvantaged communities…

Unfortunately, voluntourism has been abused during these past years, so we need to do it correctly!

Like many of you know, many orphanages around the world turned out to be Scams (read an example here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1545289/Nepal-admits-half-its-orphanages-selling-children-for-adoption-by-couples-abroad.html)

The followings are pieces of advice that I hope will help you choose a legitimate charity/orphanage when volunteering abroad.

1) Look for testimonials & references

A good way to find honest volunteer programs is to look for testimonials: find past/previous volunteers to get their advice and learn about their experience at a place. Volunteer testimonials and References are probably the best way for us to choose an organization.

2) Organizations… hosting tourists?

If a Charity/NGO is welcoming responsibleย tourists it doesn’t mean that they are scams: they might just try to raise extra money by engaging in touristic activities (read more about Justice Tourism).

This is actually a good thing to do! It is better to have ‘paying guests’ than non-qualified volunteers staying for free for a short time without making any relevant contribution!

However, it’s always better to be careful. Trustworthy organizations usually ask responsible tourists for booking fees and all kinds of IDs before accepting their visit. If that’s not the case, you should consider this suspicious. Just think of it: charities should protect their children at all costs! If they’re true, they WILL at least ask you for a clean sheet and no prior criminal record. If they don’t, then something is wrong!

3) Volunteers should be supporters not experts!

Real NGOs rarely let volunteers alone work directly with children unless they are qualified or with proven experience. There should always be a volunteer coordinator or a professional figure that the volunteers will support & assist. If this is not happening, consider doing more research about the Charity.

Note: don’t judge or discriminate against Charities and Organizations for their Bad English, but always try to learn who you are working with.

4) If possible, don’t volunteer just for a few days

Orphanages accepting volunteers… only for a few days? This doesn’t sound too legit!

First of all, if you want to make an impact you should volunteer for more than 2 weeks (at least). Make sure that the organizations are asking you for a long commitment.

If they don’t, it doesn’t mean that they are a SCAM. Again, some organizations may use “responsible-solidarity tourism” to support their activities. Just make sure that your “touristic” stay is actually going to benefit the centre goals and the orphans.

5) High fees… for the food?

A request for a large contribution just to pay for your own food just doesn’t sound right.ย It is not bad to ask for a fee, even if it is an expensive one, but we always ask how the money is going to be used. If they won’t clarify that or the answer is not too clear, consider making more research.

6) Weird Donations request

Sometimes fake organizations actually ask for donations to buy certain necessary products (like food, computer, clothes). The problem is that -if it is an Orphanage Scam- they can resell those goods at the closest markets. Make sure that is not happening in the community you want to serve.

You may donate food and other goods, rather than money, it is a good idea actually! Just remember that the products you donate might be re-sold. So, again, be careful!

7) Look if they have programs to give the orphans a nice family

Respectable orphanages usually have family reunification programs. Fake organizations can profit from the lucrative business of volunteering with orphans, by paying families to give up their children to the orphanage. This is so wrong and needs to be stopped!


I hope this advice will help you choose a proper placement when travelling and volunteering abroad! All voluntourists and responsible travellers have surely good intentions but they need to make sure that their goodwill is going in the right direction! I am confident that most volunteers won’t be so naive to fall for an Orphanage Scam! ๐Ÿ™‚

Author: Rebecca

Volunteer, photographer, and a citizen of the world. :) The world is full of opportunities: my mission is to discover them and share!

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