Are We Really Doing Good?

November 13th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

I ran across several websites lately that say a lot worth knowing. The overall message is that “good intentions are not enough” when giving aid and supporting charities. I agree that in many cases, many more than most realize, your donation money can actively do harm, from suppressing local businesses all the way to getting innocent people killed. I’m aware of how the latter is happening right now in Myanmar with the unwitting support of US donors.

Sue, myself and some of my sons have been in donation or volunteer situations where we finally realized we were not doing any good. Fortunately we have not been in involved in anything that caused harm, unless wasting money and time can be called that.

I’m working on posts to address this in relation to the good work for which we all have the best of intentions: Opportunity Foundation Thailand. Are we really doing more good than harm? Can we minimize the harm? Maximize the good? Our girls who have any family left were indeed pulled out of that family. Was that the best choice? Isn’t there a way they could have stayed?

I’ll list the questions and answers I find on some of these sites and then add answers specific to us in red. The ThinkChildSafe site is one of the more blatant, saying you should never visit an overseas orphanage. The result will always be bad. They list, in gory detail, the reasons for this. I will answer their list in the same gory detail, so it will take this and another post. Stop reading if you get bored. I just did not want to leave anything out!

Before visiting or volunteering in an orphanage consider the following questions:

How do I harm children by visiting an orphanage?

Many orphanages rely almost entirely on donations from visitors to survive. Thus directors may purposefully maintain poor living conditions for children to secure funds from tourists. Children who appear under served may come across as a cry for help more than children who appear well fed and cared for. This of course places guilt on tourists if they do not help immediately. By visiting orphanages and making a donation you may be fueling a system that exploits children.

Donations from visitors is a very small fraction of our budget. Our living conditions are good. I would not hesitate to have my own grandchildren living in our child homes, which are larger, more open, have more natural light and are better quality than the home I rent for Sue and myself here. Full disclosure: One difference is that I have air con. Our child homes do not. Our girls don’t like it. Our elderly would not live with us if we had it. However incoming power and breaker boxes are adequate if conditions and lifestyles in Thailand change enough.

Back Porch Kitchen in one of our child homes. Our girls live in a good environment. Our oldest resident far left. Next to right is our HIV mother. Next is our youngest resident and finally our part time cook.

In my own country would I consider visiting a shelter for children during the course of my day?

Most people would never consider going to an orphanage, shelter or residential home in their own countries. Why? An orphanage is a child’s home and they have the right to privacy in this space. Orphanages are not zoos and tourists should not be allowed to move through their home. In most developed countries this would be a clear violation of children’s rights and there are laws to protect them from such exploitation. Children in developing countries are no different from those in the developed world. They should be afforded the same basic rights.

I have visited an orphanage in the U.S. They are glad to have visitors. Sue and I have always been glad to have visitors from many countries in our own home. Our kids learned a lot from them. Could that be why one son married a girl in central India (a relative of one of our visitors) and another married a girl who grew up on a rice farm in Thailand? (After about ten years both young families are still doing great.) Visitors are great in moderation and if handled properly. So far ours have been few. If that changes we may start refusing requests.

Is my contribution sustainable?

Investing in the future of Cambodian children is a valuable contribution. Investing in Cambodian families is also a valuable pursuit. Projects that aim towards strengthening community-based work provides the conditions under which alternative options may be offered to children and their families. A sustainable contribution should be aimed at breaking inter generational cycles of poverty and exploitation.

Projects with results lasting for generations are great. There is much in our local society that should be changed, and we do have community based projects to do just that. At the end of the day we still have this generation, our girls. Caring for them may not be a “community based project”, but it does need to be done.

Orphanages do not offer a long-term sustainable response to the situation of vulnerable children. By investing in families and communities we are laying the foundation for better conditions for children.

Now this is not making sense. We need no “orphanages” in Thailand? Just fix the local society? Why do we have the foster home situation, which I think is much worse than our homes, in the US? Can’t we “invest in families and communities” and eliminate the problem there? Some people just abuse their kids. You can’t leave them in their family and community.

The children that do come to us to live are taken care of for the long term, through higher education as applicable. We also work with families and our community. We do agree that the child’s own family, if not abusive, is best. Unfortunately for most of our girls, reuniting with their original family will not happen. Even if we would allow it the Thai government would not.

Understand that I essentially agree with these sites. What they say is good information for anyone wanting to help people to know. You should read them. They show that there are few ways to do good things right and many to do them wrong. Don’t ever think giving money or effort away is easier than making money. It isn’t.

My next post will handle the rest of Thinkchildsafe’s issues.

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