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For those looking to volunteer with children, the continent of Africa, much like other developing areas of the world, is home to millions of orphaned and vulnerable children requiring practical support. Its complex and difficult history, particularly that of Sub-Saharan Africa, has resulted in failing education systems, ineffective healthcare and almost 50% of the population living in extreme poverty.

While there are a great number of inspiring initiatives and success stories coming from Africa (including responsible opportunities to volunteer with children), children born on the continent today are at risk of becoming simply another statistic.

  • Africa is home to a quarter of the world’s orphans, with a third of those having lost one or both parents from the effects of HIV or AIDS
  • Only 2 out of 5 children in Sub-Saharan Africa will finish primary school, let alone secondary school
  • In South Africa, 150,000 children are living in a household whose oldest resident is under the age 18
  • Up to 20% of children in Sub-Saharan Africa are born with, or develop, a serious disability due to the inability to access clean water, sufficient food or basic sanitation

Orphan Statistics Worldwide

Year Total number of orphaned children worldwide

2015 140 million 2010 146 million 2005 153 million 2000 155 million 1995 151 million

Source: UNICEF Website, 2017

While the total number of orphaned children worldwide is declining year by year, one of the most important questions we should be asking ourselves is how governments, aid organizations, individuals and whole communities can do more to protect and care for these children.

We do not feel that orphanages are the answer.

UNICEF define an orphan as a child who has lost one or both parents. Of the 140 million orphaned children detailed above, only 10% have lost both parents, calling into question the reason why an extraordinary number of children are placed into orphanages and removed from family settings.

The reality is that with the right support from local governments and improved education and opportunities for disadvantaged communities across the world, a large number of these children could be re-integrated into family or community-based environments instead.

It is for this reason that African Impact do not support any orphanages across the continent.We do, however, continue to work with orphaned children in reputable facility’s whose main aim is to place children into a family setting.

Why Children Should Not be Placed in Orphanages

1. It can encourage bad practices

Funding an orphanage is no substitute for a family environment. It has been seen time and time again that children in this form of institution face a high risk of abuse and neglect. It’snot uncommon, particularly in East Asia, to see children treated as commodities; the more children in the home, the more money comes through the door. Orphanage volunteering has most definitely played a role in this; families who are too poor to provide for their children believe they will be better off placing them in the care of facilities who see a constant turnover of Western volunteers. While this may, in many cases, be the only option for aparent or guardian, it is perpetuating a system that is putting the world’s most vulnerablechildren at risk.

2. It’s detrimental to a child’s development

Across the globe, orphanages are often a place where disabled, or sickly, children end up, as it can be costly and challenging for families living in poverty to continue their care. Despite the limited options available, many orphanages are not equipped or appropriately supported enough to give the correct level of care to these children. Aside from that, even healthy children are at risk of developmental delay; for children under the age of three, every three months spent in an orphanage has been proven to stunt their physical and cognitive development by one month. Further to this, a child who has been institutionalized in an orphanage is 40 times more likely to get a criminal record.

3. It’s not sustainable

Hundreds of millions of dollars is invested every year by aid groups, churches and governments to fund institutions such as orphanages. This simply isn’t a sustainable solutionto meet the needs and requirements of 140 million orphaned children. Channeling funds into facilities looking to place and support children in a family environment, or those focused on community-led solutions, would be far more beneficial in the long-term, for donors, familiesand children.

How Volunteering With Children in Africa Can Help

While all of our opportunities to volunteer with children have a varying focus, volunteers at each destination will be fully immersed into the host community and provide vital support at rural and urban community care facilities, pre-schools and after-school support centers. At these facilities, volunteers will aid in the children’s basic development and support them insocial play, as well as language and numeracy skills development. Further to this, those volunteering with children will play a key role in facilitating after-school programs, includingreading, math’s and art clubs. These after-school clubs provide a safe space in the vulnerable hours after school when parents or guardians are at work and keep children away from the dangers of drug and gang culture.

Compared to an orphanage volunteer, those joining our programs will support community partners whose aim is to integrate the children in their care back into a family environment.

By supporting this initiate, volunteers will be contributing towards a positive, long term impact on children who otherwise would not get the chance access a quality, inclusive education. At the same, they’ll be avoiding the pitfalls of dangerous orphanage volunteeringand irresponsible opportunities to volunteer with children.

Personal highlights from our child and orphan care projects in Africa projects last year include:

  • Spending 8500 hours running after-school clubs across Africa, keeping children away from the dangers of drug and gang culture
  • 4577 hours were spent by childcare volunteers assisting nursery school teachers across the continent, offering vital pre-primary education
  • Hosting an average of 50 children each week at a voluntary reading club in Zululand, where local children are able to learn to read English
  • Training 20 rural teachers to better look after the 650 children in their care It is because of volunteer support that these achievements are possible.




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