The ‘Lion’ movie, and the reality

January 28, 2017
Beyond the Orphanage

How does it feel, when you hear someone say they’re heading overseas to teach English in an orphanage for a week? At Beyond The Orphanage, our hearts break a little. Here’s a few words from one of our staff, on the movie that sparked this blog post, and a plea to anyone thinking about volunteering overseas: do your research.

‘My mum, my best friend and I cried our way through the new release film Lion last night. Not just casual tears – I was wailing. I don’t think I’ve ever been so affected by a film.

The movie is about a five-year-old Indian boy who, after being adopted by a couple in Australia, sets out 25 years later to find his lost family.

Voluntourism | The movie and the reality | Beyond The Orphanage

Photo: Mark Rogers/Long Way Home Productions/The Weinstein Company

Most worldly Westerners are familiar with the harsh reality of Saroo’s existence. What many people don’t realise (and Lion shows just a glimpse of the horror) is how traumatic ‘orphanage’ institutions and voluntourism can be.

Watching Lion, I realised that this is the first mainstream acknowledgment I’ve seen of the plight of children living in ‘orphanages’ in the developing world. Saroo wasn’t technically an orphan, neither are many of the children living in such places.

I’m so proud to work with Beyond the Orphanage, because we support children in Nepal who have been trafficked into ‘orphanages’. This is an issue that until recently, I didn’t have any idea about.’

Child trafficking to orphanages: Here’s what happens

How can parents give up their children? Here’s what I’ve learned from our partner organisations in Nepal, and the experts who work there:

  1. Families in remote areas of Nepal often have little access of financial means to allow education for their children.
  2. So, brokers from cities visit these families. They offer the parents an opportunity for their children to gain an education, and talk about the job opportunities available in the city.
  3. The brokers then traffic the children who are forced to live in fake ‘orphanages’ that exploit them to drive donations or income from tourists. Most ‘orphanages’ are in the top five tourist districts: Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Kaski and Chitwan.

There are around 15,000 children living in more than 700 registered orphanages in Nepal, and many more unregistered.

Kanchan Jha, CEO of BTO’s partner organisation in Nepal, Sano Paila, told us more. ‘After doing some research’, he says, ‘we realised that up to 90% of the children living in the orphanages did actually have families back home. The orphanages would change their names, identities and religion, and put them on websites – displayed like products. This is a big organised business going on in Nepal.’

What’s driving child trafficking in Nepal?

Unfortunately, big-hearted foreigners are the major cause of this problem. ‘Volunteering’ in orphanages and donating without checking the background or credentials is only fuelling the industry. The fake orphanage industry has become so profitable that traffickers often tour the Western world with photo albums of the children, promoting volunteer tourism.

Unfortunately, big-hearted foreigners are the major cause of this problem.

In Australia and the USA, we have so much respect for volunteering, or voluntourism. Knowing the inside story, my heart breaks every time I hear someone say they’re heading to Nepal to teach English in an orphanage for a week.

Volunteering in Nepal? Think again.

To anyone thinking of ‘volunteering’ overseas, please consider how devastating voluntourism is for these children.

Orphanages have a constant flow of tourists arriving. They usually have no qualifications in child care or teaching English as a foreign language. Volunteers take photos, spread them around social media (with no permission), and then they leave. They have little or no awareness of the mental health impact on the children they’ve left behind.

Volunteering fees, often in the $1,000’s for a week, don’t benefit these children. They line the pockets of the traffickers and fund payoffs to officials to turn a blind eye.

How you can make a real difference to lives of children in Nepal?

There are organisations doing good work in Nepal. Not all orphanages are fake or exploiting children, so it can be hard for you to know who to support. You need to do research to understand who are the good guys.

As for Beyond the Orphanage partner organisations: they are thoroughly screened, report to us on a regular basis, and are chosen as the best support services for orphaned children in the areas they operate in.

You need to do research to be able to understand who are the good guys.

Sano Paila and Beyond the Orphanage in Nepal

Beyond the Orphanage CEO, Geoff Hucker, says, “We chose Sano Paila as a partner organisation because they work to transform communities into better places. Their work with trafficked children is of the highest standard and, as our primary goal is the wellbeing of the children we support, I believe Sano Paila is the best organisation to be supporting to deliver care.”

If Lion hit you as hard as it did for me, please do as much research as you can before you support organisations like these.”

If you believe in our holistic care model as much as we do – thank you! Consider donating today.

Here’s more about the work BTO does with partner organisation, Sano Paila, in Nepal. 

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