In an upcoming episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta the cast members visit an orphanage. I have a lot to say on this issue and none of it is good. What could be wrong with visiting an orphanage, hugging some socio-economically deprived kids and maybe bringing them a candy or twelve? Well lots of things. This isn’t your average RHOA post and may not be for everyone. On the other hand, it could be enlightening for some of y’all. It provides a bit of background on South African orphan tourism and its effects. We will have to tune in tomorrow to see how Marlo responds to the orphanage. As someone who has struggled with the effects of foster care, I am sure we will see generous donations to the South African children and lots of personal interaction.
Celebrities like Madonna and Angelina Jolie who adopt children internationally have unintentionally spread the idea that dropping by an orphanage when in a country with residential care centers for poor and orphaned children is a noble act of kindness that benefits the children. This led to well- intentioned travelers seeking out orphanages while vacationing as a way of “giving back” on a global level. While these intentions are honorable, it tends to call to mind the old saying , “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.” Click through the jump to see why.
“The formation and dissolution of attachment bonds with successive volunteers is likely to be especially damaging to young children. Unstable attachments and losses experienced by young children with changing caregivers leaves them very vulnerable, and puts them at greatly increased risk for psychosocial problems that could affect their long-term well-being.”
Secondly, voluntourism often keeps local youth from having the opportunity to work long-term at many of these orphanages. According to Tshikululu, A South African group devoted to social causes,
“In such scenarios, voluntourists may unwittingly displace or disrupt local work opportunities because individuals are willing to pay for the privilege to volunteer. Given the level of unemployment and poverty among young people in many parts of sub Saharan Africa, such opportunities would arguably be better suited to local youth, many of whom who would be grateful for regular meals, basic training and a testimonial to their work experience.”
In South Africa, some orphanages, the ones who allow tourists to drop in free from any background check (which means violent felons could be allowed to interact with the children without question) to spend time with the children, are a booming business. The children are often asked to put on a show for for the guests who are then guilted into making donations. This results in parents who are struggling to feed their children sending them to live in orphanages to essentially “sing for their supper”. This was the situation when Madonna wanted to adopt a child from a Malawi orphanage despite the fact that the child did have parents who lived nearby. In short, orphanages who allow tourists to drop in and interact with the children expose them to both psychological and health risks. They clearly do not have the best interest of the children in mind.
Still when you watch the real housewives of Atlanta visit the orphanage on the outskirts of Cape Town, you probably don’t need to worry about the children forming attachments to the cast or vice versa. But you might want to wonder if all of the hoopla the women will surely bring is in the best interest of the kids. I wonder if these “very rich” tourists from Atlanta will take out their checkbooks, or if their contribution was simply to allow the children to see some Louboutins up close and personal. Do you suppose they dropped more change at the Louis Vuitton shop on the V & A waterfront, or the orphanage?