I volunteered in Jamaica through an international volunteer organisation for three months. I had selected to be part of the ‘care programme’ and found out when I arrived that I would be placed in an orphanage. After the first week, I realised that the volunteers (around 5 at a time – all aged between 16-25) and incredibly vulnerable children were encouraged to bond and were becoming attached to each other. Volunteers stayed from between a week to a year and I felt uncomfortable about the potential trauma being inflicted on these children as they continuously built relationships with young adults who then repeatedly left them alone in the orphanage. In addition, I felt that the orphanage was poorly staffed and reliant on unskilled labour from young volunteers who could potentially be causing more damage. I found myself wishing that the money I had spent had gone towards a permanent, trained member of local staff.
After an uncomfortable week, I contacted the organisation, outlined my concerns and asked if I could be moved to a different placement. I spent the rest of my time in Jamaica working at the Child Development Agency (children’s services) where I supported a busy and overworked Social Worker. My time was spent transferring paper files onto a computer database, re-organising the paper filing system, supporting her to organise events (such as a future prospects day for young people in care) and I went ‘on the road’ with the social worker, assessing families for potential fostering and adoption, visiting vulnerable families and supporting children who were living in abusive families. Through this work, I felt that I had a real impact on the organisation (developing their database etc.) and I was helping support for the Social Worker. It also inspired my future career starting out at the NSPCC and now at Children on the Edge.
It was a much more positive volunteering experience with both myself and the organisation benefitting, and I was able to play a small part in having a positive rather than a negative impact on vulnerable children.
Children belong in families. Not orphanages. Find out how you can be part of the solution.