Should I Volunteer with an Anti-Human Trafficking Program?

Katie Bergman recently wrote an article in Verge Magazine discussing volunteering with survivors of human trafficking.

Her take is that untrained, unskilled volunteers should NOT be allowed to work with survivors of human trafficking. It’s bad for the volunteers and the survivors.

I totally agree. No one really wins — except the placement organizations — when well-meaning foreigners work in a situation clearly requiring professional expertise.

It’s the same reason I’ve been telling people for years that I won’t send them to a natural disaster area to volunteer. You’re just putting yourself and locals in even more potential danger and harm.

Bergman writes:

Volunteers may not have the coping mechanisms to appropriately handle the stories of abuse that survivors have lived. They’re also not immune to the crippling experiences of secondary trauma, burnout, or compassion fatigue, which are real and common threats to service providers at any level of experience—even short-term volunteers.

There may be harmful consequences for the clients, too. After enduring years or even a lifetime of abusive relationships, survivors might be hesitant to trust and connect with others. The instability of volunteer turnover can, in turn, be distressing for survivors.

“It’s not fair to our residents—who are already emotionally vulnerable—to build trust and attachment to short-term volunteers, only to have them leave,” says Annie Schomaker, program director of the Illinois-based restoration home, Eden’s Glory, which serves women who have been trafficked in the United States. “It’s exhausting for survivors to step in and out of relationships with people who never return.”

The opposite is also true. A survivor may not bother to emotionally reciprocate if she or he knows a volunteer is only around for a week or two. That’s why Eden’s Glory asks volunteers to commit to at least one year and to be consistent in showing up for meetings, counselling appointments, and outings with the residents.

Here is a video of Katie talking relatedly about “…the trials and triumphs of seeking justice” featuring her book When Justice Just Is.


Orphanages no place for infants, Cambodian government says

The Ministry of Social Affairs in Cambodia has just announced that children under the age of three will no longer be accommodated in residential care centres by the end of next year.

Cambodia also announced that the building of new orphanages will be banned.

That last announcement is especially hopeful.

But it’s not the first time a country has made such a promise but did not keep it:

In 2004 Romania government officials promised that by 2007 all its orphanages (which then housed about 35,000 children) would be closed down. But in 2010 there were still over 19,000 at orphanages in Romania.

We at Cosmic Volunteers no longer send volunteers to orphanages.


Over the years, many international organizations including UNICEF have uncovered the often horrible treatment of children in orphanages. Also they estimate that 80 to 90 percent of children in orphanages have at least one living parent.

The good news:

There are many organizations and individuals who are helping to reunite children with their biological families. And for true orphans, to find caring families who will adopt them.

One such organization is Hope and Homes for Children in the UK.

Hope and Homes for Children works alongside governments and civil society organisations in over 30 countries to dismantle orphanage-based care systems.

As Halya Postliuk, their Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, writes [emphasis mine]:

“[In Ukraine] orphans make up only 9% of all the children confined to orphanages…The remaining children are placed in institutions at their parents’ requests as a result of poverty…because this is the only way they can access education, health and rehabilitation services for their children. Our research also demonstrated that not a single family of a child placed in an institution because of poor living conditions received adequate social support.”

Another NGO, called Next Generation Nepal (NGN), works alongside the Nepali government to rescue children from abusive orphanages and bring them to a transit home. The transit homes provide shelter, protection, health care and education, until the team at Next Generation Nepal can find the child’s parents and reunite them with their family.

Founded in 2006 by Conor Grennan, NGN has linked hundreds of trafficked children in its care to their home communities in Nepal through a careful process of reconnection and reunification.

Conor wrote a best-selling book Little Princes that describes his work with NGN.

As always, we at Cosmic Volunteers will continue monitoring important aspects of voluntourism for you, especially as it relates to the people we try to help through our volunteer programs abroad.

Popularity Is Growing for Voluntourism

About 40 percent of Americans say they’re willing to spend several weeks on volunteer vacations, with another 13 percent desiring to spend an entire year. The statistics certainly show popularity is growing for voluntourism.

But where volunteers want to go and how long they want to stay is linked to which generation they belong.

A UC San Diego survey polled more than 1,400 U.S. adults about global volunteer service. The survey found major differences between seniors (65+), Baby Boomers (45-64 ), Generation X (age 25-44) and Generation Y (age 18-24).

The popularity is growing for voluntourism with Generation Y. The survey found that 26 percent of Generation Y want to do a volunteer vacation.

However older volunteers prefer to stay home to do their volunteer work. Many cite mobility and health issues as well as their deeper ties to their local communities.

The voluntourism research indicates people want to connect with other people, not to organizations or governments in giving service. More than 84 percent stated that helping school children, families and people in poverty were their top interest. About 45 percent of Americans have considered volunteer vacations for themselves and 72 percent said they know someone who has been a global volunteer.