Think again about volunteering at institutions / homestays!
The care and protection of children whose care and protection cannot be provided with their biological family for various reasons is carried out under the supervision and control of the state. This care, which is provided under the supervision of the state, is carried out in the homestay with models such as foster family or in institutional care with models that differ from time to time, such as orphanages, love homes, nurseries and children’s homes.
There are many factors to consider when working in the field of protected children. The main motivation is to ensure that a child in need of protection receives the best care and protection they can get. For this reason, care models change according to needs, and the search for the best care model continues. Here, the main factor in the development of care models and the provision of care is often the public. Non-governmental organizations and volunteers support the process, sometimes taking on facilitator and sometimes advocacy roles. In this article, we will talk about “volunteers” and “volunteering with children in institutional care”, which are an important part of the system, which are often overlooked and whose support is not tied to an order, mostly working in good faith.
Volunteering is an invaluable process that can achieve great things with good motivation and the right method. In the field of children growing up under protection, it is also very important that people voluntarily spare their time and energy for children who do not have enough parental care. However, this very valuable motivation can also lead to very controversial results. There is an international sector known as “orphanage tourism” in the world, which harms children more than benefits them, uses them to attract more volunteers and collect donations, and causes even children who do not need them to be placed in dormitories. The aim of this sector is not to ensure that children receive better care, but to help those who want to ease their conscience find the most suitable “orphanage” for themselves. This sector is built on making children seem in need of attention and money, and tries to increase the profit share through unacceptable methods such as deliberately starving children, causing children to live in bad conditions, and being forced to look cute to every new volunteer. This sector, which targets white-collar volunteers in developed countries, works as an international tourism agency. In the world, strong voices have started to rise in the field of child protection against this sector, which has made undeveloped countries its market. These voices call out to the volunteers and give the message “stop orphanage volunteering”.
The situation in Turkey is not that dire. So why did we mention this very disturbing industry? Because the sector we call “orphanage tourism” shows us the last dire point where the end of the job can go when the purpose and method of volunteering is not clear. Yes, we do not have such a brutal structure in sight right now, but I wonder if our way of volunteering is pushing us towards this sector? At this point, we will present you some of the points we consider important.
The main motivation in volunteering is not the satisfaction of the volunteer, but the best support in line with the child’s needs. This seemingly simple principle actually forms the basis of all work. If we do not care about what the children want in our volunteering with children raised under protection, if we only follow the plan that we have drawn and we like, if we do not respect the private space of the child, the time he or she allocates for himself, we should reconsider who this volunteering is basically for. The child may not want to be a part of your activity every day and every hour.
Another important point is the bond established between the volunteers and the child. Children need the attention and love of an adult due to their development, and they want to receive this attention and love regularly. The main reason why we support family-based care models in the field of children brought up under protection, in terms of institutions, is that children cannot fully access the one-to-one and continuous attention they need in the institution. Even if caregivers are doing their best, there are ultimately many children to take care of and many responsibilities to fulfill. At this point, the volunteers who come and go to the institution for volunteering can be seen as an important resource in providing this needed individual attention and love. Here, too, the issue of form and duration of volunteering emerges as a problem. It seems very cute at first for children to bond with a volunteer, but considering the confusion that the child experiences when he/she never sees the adult with whom he/she has a love bond again, when he/she cannot find the attention he/she received the day before, the next day, and when he/she has to bond with a new volunteer every week. The situation seems to need to be taken much more seriously. In addition, one of the biggest mistakes made in volunteering is the view that giving gifts is a very good activity. A gift makes a child happy, but being constantly receiving gifts from people he/she does not know causes the gift to lose its meaning after a while and reduce the attention needed to an item. The extreme care and love given in one day unfortunately does not provide the support that the child needs for a month. The important thing is to ask the child what he needs, to listen to him, to spend quality time with him, to explain the volunteering process, to help him understand that this relationship will end one day, and to ensure that the child gets the best benefit from this process. Volunteering, which progresses in a certain order and includes the child, is a good step to provide these.
As Hayat Sende, we are not completely against volunteering in institutions, but we support it with reservations. In the light of the situations mentioned above, we support volunteering where the child is at the center, the beginning and end of the volunteering process is understandable for the child, and regular attention is provided over time, rather than showing full attention to children, and we support individuals and institutions who want to do this type of volunteering with trainings. We know that volunteering is very valuable, and we want this process to be productive for both the volunteer and the child. We struggle to evaluate the motivations of volunteers, who occupy an important place in the system, in the best way possible. You can also support this struggle and support children by doing conscious volunteering in the field of children under protection. Wishing for a world where every child reaches the attention and love they need…