Skip to page content


Don't think you are helping—know you are. There are some places you should never be a tourist. Orphanages are one of them.

Wanting to make a difference to the world is amazing. But orphanage tourism and volunteering is not helping. In fact, it is a $2 billion industry that fuels a system where children are used as tourist attractions and, in some cases, trafficked and exploited. 

Our campaign #HelpingNotHelping launched by J.K. Rowling aims to stop orphanage tourism by encouraging people to take action. 

Speaking at One Young World, the global forum for young leaders, J.K. Rowling, as Founder and President of Lumos said:

“Despite the best of intentions, the sad truth is that visiting and volunteering in orphanages drives an industry that separates children from their families and puts them at risk of neglect and abuse. Do not volunteer in orphanages. Instead, look at what drives children into institutions and dedicate your time to projects that tackle poverty or support communities with vital services.”


  • An estimated 5.4 million children are in orphanages across the world, however about 80% of them are not actually ‘orphans’ as they have at least one living parent.
  • Orphanages harm the health and development of children, exposing them to a greater risk of violence, neglect, abuse and trafficking.
  • Research shows that the regular turnover of volunteers without relevant training and experience can be harmful to children’s development and emotional wellbeing.
  • Evidence shows that some orphanages are even being set up to meet the demands of tourists, and to attract donations which go to the orphanage owners.
  • Children usually end up in orphanages because their parents can’t afford to give them a meal, send them to school or access healthcare.
  • Children belong with families. Families provide the attention, love and support a child needs as they grow up - a flow of well-meaning but unskilled volunteers does not.
  • Support registered charities that help strengthen families and communities.
  • When you travel, spend money in local shops and markets. This supports local workers, businesses and their families and communities.
  • Support or volunteer with charities and projects that aim to tackle poverty, the impact of natural disasters and/or inequalities in healthcare and education. These are the root causes of children being sent to orphanages.
  • Find a responsible volunteer-sending organisation and apply to volunteer with them.
  • Volunteer online, for example through UN Volunteers Online Volunteering or Cuso International’s E-volunteer programme.
  • Do I have the skills and experience needed to do this job?
  • Would I be allowed to do this job in my local community?
  • Could a local volunteer, or paid staff member, do this job rather than me?
  • Do I understand the local culture and language, and am I willing to learn before I go away?
  • Would you place unskilled volunteers like me in orphanages? (If the answer is yes – keep looking!)
  • Do you work with local partners to plan and implement your projects?
  • How do international volunteers contribute to the projects you support?
  • Do you have a long-term plan for the communities you support?
  • Will you provide training before I go?
  • Will you provide in-country support through experienced local staff?
  • Will I have to fundraise? If so – where does the money go?
  • Do you carry out safeguarding checks for volunteers who work with children?
  • Can I see your child protection policy, and can you tell me how it’s put into practice?
  • Can I talk to people who have volunteered with you in the past?

1. Are the needs of the local community prioritised?

Good projects put the needs of the local community before the volunteer. Think about what you’re good at and find a project that matches your skills and experience. For example, if you’re skilled in accounting, you might volunteer with a project that helps small businesses.

2. What happens when I leave?

How will the work you do help create real, sustainable change? If there is no long-term plan, communities can become dependent on international volunteers.

3. What is the ultimate goal of the organisation?

Look for organisations that can help to keep children out of orphanages, or ones that work to reunite children with their families. There are also groups to help people who grew up in orphanages get back on their feet and live better lives.

4. Volunteer with communities, not orphanages

Consider the bigger picture. If you can help strengthen a family or a community it will make it easier for children to live at home and therefore prevent family separation.

5. What do I want to get out of it?

Understanding what you want to get from an experience will help you to work out the type of volunteering you should do, or if volunteering is the right thing for you. You can still make a difference or gain work experience without working directly with children, visiting or volunteering in an orphanage.