Voluntouring and Volunteering Scams in Nepal

Paid Voluntouring and Volunteering Scams in Nepal

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Paying to Volunteer - Scam or Legitimate Social Program?
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My life changed for the better when I deserted corporate America to pursue my true passions of travel, writing and photography but over the past few years I’ve often felt there was still a piece of the puzzle missing. There was something more I was meant to do; I just wasn’t sure what it was. And then I arrived in Nepal.

As my three week visit stretched to three months, I became acutely aware that behind the veneer of beauty lay excruciating poverty. Here was a place where I could do some good, I thought. I began researching NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) and learned it was quite simple to create and register one in Nepal. Combining an NGO with a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in the U.S., which would allow people to make tax deductible donations, seemed the perfect way to help Nepal and satisfy my desire to give back.

As I toured the country I broached the subject of NGO’s and volunteering with everyone I met. My first inkling that all was not as it seemed came from a guide in Chitwan National Park. Morally opposed to riding elephants, I instead opted for a walk through a nearby village to learn more about the local Tharu people. My guide, who lived in the village, warned, “Maybe 75% of orphanages are not real.”

He told me about a group of Polish tourists that had established an online relationship with an orphanage prior to traveling to Nepal. Upon arrival, they hired my guide to help purchase bulk food and supplies, in addition to a cash donation they planned to make. Although he warned of potential fraud, the Poles insisted that this particular orphanage was legitimate. Several weeks later, long after the donors had returned home, my guide stuffed his pockets with chocolates and returned to the orphanage. As the children clamored around him, fighting for candy, he quizzed them. What had they been given to eat over the past few weeks? Had they received new clothes? School supplies? None of the children had new clothes or supplies and they had been fed only dahl bhat (rice and lentil bean stew), as usual. He later learned that all the fresh foodstuffs and a good deal of the bulk non-perishables had been sold off, with the cash distributed among the orphanage owners.

My guide explained that many orphanages solicit funds through websites that feature photos of destitute children and inspiring stories of rescues made possible by donations. Yet in truth, many of these same orphanages are non-existent. In the rare instance that donors travel to Nepal to meet their sponsor children, the owners of the “orphanage” collect children and put them on display for a night or two in a local home.

At this point in our walking tour he pointed to a decrepit house next to a brand new three-story concrete building painted in a trio of turquoise hues. The sign on the chain link fence surrounding the two structures declared that a new orphanage would soon open.

“I assume that’s one of the good ones?” I asked.

“No, the owner built the orphanage with money from donations but now that it is finished, he is turning it into a hotel.”

Two days later I boarded a bus with a slew of Brits who had come to Nepal to volunteer. After a weekend tour of Chitwan, they were headed back to Pokhara, where they were helping out at local orphanages and teaching English in government schools. After extensive research on the Internet, each of them had booked their trip through Personal Overseas Development (POD), a UK firm that facilitates volunteering opportunities around the world. Valerie Jamiason of Newcastle paid 750 British Pounds ($1087 U.S. dollars at the time) for an eight-week stint. Her package included pick-up at the Kathmandu airport ( I was picked up for free by my hotel), one night’s stay at a Kathmandu budget hotel (~$10), her bus ticket to Pokhara (~$6), and eight weeks stay at the Castle Guest House in Pokhara at what Val was told was POD’s special rate of $6 per night, for a total of $352.

Reinforcing prepositions with the students

Val reinforcing prepositions with the students

Volunteer Michael Anfield reviews homework

Volunteer Michael Anfield reviews homework

POD does not require volunteers to have any prior teaching experience and they are given no orientation upon arrival. With no formal turnover process, fresh arrivals have no idea what the children have been taught previously and each new group is left to decide for themselves what to teach their classes. Tom, who had opted for a summer of volunteering prior to entering university as a pre-med student, focused on teaching his students how to tell time.

Kids study English manual at Annapurna School

Kids study English manual at Annapurna School

Can’t view the YouTube video of volunteers teaching English at the Annapurna Primary School in Pokhara, Nepal? Click here.

Annapurna Primary School in Pokhara

Annapurna Primary School in Pokhara

Two of my volunteer friends invited me to visit Annapurna Primary School with them one day. As I wedged into a miniature desk at the rear of the classroom, Val established a modicum of order among the raucous pack and began drilling the students. She placed a chalkboard eraser on the floor and in her thick Newcastle brogue instructed:

“Repeat after me. The duster (DOH stah) is next to the desk.”
“The duster is on the desk.”
“The duster is in the desk.”
“The duster is under the desk.”

Meanwhile, Michael reviewed homework assignments, explaining errors in his very proper Londoner accent.

Volunteer Val Jamiason drills English prepositions

Volunteer Val Jamiason drills English prepositions

Though the raggedly clad kids had level one English workbooks, the school administrator told me in broken English that they were lacking even the most essential supplies: pencils, erasers, and lined pads were all in short supply and since there were no funds for lunches, the students went hungry. As for assistance from POD, I was told that only the teachers were provided; not one cent of the fees they charge volunteers is donated to the schools and orphanages that welcome their volunteers. With no supplies, scant oversight, no training and rapid turnover in teachers who speak in varying accents and don’t even use the same words, it is questionable whether the children are receiving any true benefit from the program.

Erin Elliott of Alberta, Canada (left) and Rebeca Limmer of Tanzania, Australia (right)

Erin Elliott of Alberta, Canada (left) and Rebeca Limmer of Tanzania, Australia (right)

Yet POD may be the best of the bunch. Erin Elliott of Alberta, Canada and Rebeca Limmer of Tanzania, Australia both signed on with Global Visions International (GVI). The girls discovered GVI while searching the Internet for volunteering opportunities. Erin paid $3,200 in Canadian dollars (about $3,250 USD) for a six-week program billed as an “adventure/volunteering” program that guaranteed four weeks of volunteering activity. She searched the Internet for a tour company because, as an inexperienced solo female traveler, she felt incapable of making arrangements on her own. “My main goal was to volunteer, but when I saw that GVI combined volunteering with a visit to Everest Base Camp it was very attractive.”

To her dismay, she found the program focused more on adventure than philanthropic efforts. Worse, upon arrival in Kathmandu she learned that GVI had turned over the operation of her tour to Himalayan Encounters, a company previously unknown to her; they began by failing to pick her up at the airport as promised. Later in the trip, after trekking in Bandipur, she was dumped on the roadside by her jeep driver, who told her to wait while he transported other participants to Chitwan National Park. Knowing no one and not sure where she was, Erin spent the next three hours in the home of a villager kind enough to take her in.

Although Rebecca was picked up at the airport after only an hour’s wait, she also found the program to be incredibly disorganized. “I got here and really wanted to do volunteer work but the adventure part of the trip kept being extended. My contact was supposed to be a river rafting leader but I could never find him.” Rebecca was ultimately placed at the Trisuli Center in Bandare, a small village halfway between Kathmandu and Pokhara, where she taught in two schools. At one, the wall of a temporary structure collapsed when a student leaned against it. Ten feet away, piles of feces surrounded a “rank, revolting squat toilet that was filled to the brim.” She was given no teaching instructions or lesson plan and took her only cue from departing volunteers who shared what they had been teaching.

Erin taught English to grades three and five at a government school in Bandipur. Initially, she was put up at the Old Inn, which she learned was owned by Himalayan Encounters, for $55 per night. Later she moved to a home stay and paid a more modest 300 Nepali Rupees per night (slightly more than $3 USD). On her first day of school the principal handed her a piece of chalk and commanded, “OK, now teach.” He also issued her a cane for corporal punishment. “One day a man came into my class and gave the most violent pop quiz I’ve ever seen. If a student answered wrong, or too slowly, he got a chop on the head.” Himalayan Encounter’s website states: “We can also truthfully speak of real commitment to carbon-neutral policies within Nepal, to real evidence of ‘responsible tourism,’ sustainable practices and what we describe as ‘Tourism in the Community and the Community in Tourism;’” however if Erin and Rebecca’s experiences are representative, the agencies with which they arrange volunteer opportunities are neither ethical nor responsible, and it might not bee to harsh to call them volunteering scams.

Neither of the girls saw evidence that any of the money they paid GVI had been funneled back into the schools. Textbooks were so old that the currency of France was still shown as Francs and the grammar throughout the books was consistently incorrect. Students did not even have pencils and volunteers were regularly asked to pay for supplies out of their own pockets. Other Himalayan Encounters volunteers told Rebecca they had been encouraged to contact their families and press them to make donations. Yet, Erin pointed out that a good deal of construction was underway at the Old Inn, including installation of a new fireplace.

When Erin pressed Himalayan Encounters to divulge the extent of their charitable donations, she was told that a portion of all fees were donated to Prisoner Assistance Nepal, an organization that helps children whose parents are in jail, but when she contacted PAN they denied having received any such support. Rebecca was told that Himalayan Encounters supports ten disabled people at a time, each for nine months, by providing housing and food while they are taught English and trained in computer skills at their in-house training center in Pokhara.

I popped into Himalayan Encounters’ offices unannounced one afternoon, ostensibly to inquire about volunteering opportunities. I was offered placement as an English teacher at several schools or the opportunity to help out at an orphanage, and for much less money that the typical volunteer was charged, since I would be dealing with them directly rather than booking through GVI. I explained that I had no formal training as a teacher and wasn’t particularly good with children, but had extensive computer skills; could I perhaps teach at their computer training center? The half-dozen PC’s near the entrance were dark and had been so for some time; the program was shut down due to lack of teachers who were willing to make long-term commitments.

Two weeks later I met Anton and Johnny at a Pokhara coffee shop. The two young Frenchmen had volunteered through Service Volunteer International (SVI) and paid a fee to help build facilities for an orphanage in Sarangkot, near Pokhara, but found no organized program when they arrived. Rather than deserting the orphanage, which was desperately in need of assistance, they slept on the floor by night and dug an organic garden by day; they were also convinced that none of the money they paid ever reached the orphanage. (Service Volunteer International should not be confused with Service Volontaire International, which also goes by the acronym SVI and is a non-profit volunteer organization based in Belgium that is working to educate travelers about the scams so prevalent in the burgeoning “voluntouring” industry).

Insisting that charity had become “big business” in Nepal, my Nepali friends repeatedly told me that the majority of orphanages and NGO’s were scams designed to line the pockets of greedy businessmen, however some do seem to be supporting a large number of orphans, including three orphanages in Pokhara: SOS Bahini, Rainbow House, and Namaste Children’s House. In the case of Namaste, which is owned and operated by a local restaurateur, I was told by a trustworthy Nepali that 150 orphans are bussed each day to a private school where they are receiving a quality education. I was also told that the owner has grown rich through donations and drives a brand new SUV, something that is rare in Pokhara.

To some degree, expenditures are necessary. Buses are needed to transport the children back and forth to school, to pick up and deliver supplies; and the end result, helping orphans, is laudable. Having never lived in abject poverty, I am hesitant to judge but it does seem that volunteering, voluntouring, NGO’s and charity organizations are the fast track to wealth for any Nepali who has the resources to set one up. As a result, my initial plan to start an NGO is on hold. I will undoubtedly do something to help in Nepal, but not until I can identify truly worthwhile causes.

Underground Guide to International Volunteering

Underground Guide to International Volunteering

Note: The Internet is rife with companies offering volunteering and voluntouring packages, priced from hundreds to thousands of dollars per week. While it is difficult to know which firms are trustworthy, those that disclose specifics about the funds they donate and provide contact information to confirm their charitable works are more likely to be legitimate. Additionally, Kirsty Henderson, who writes the travel blog Nerdy Nomad, another travel blogger who has been volunteering for many years, offers an eBook, The Underground Guide to International Volunteering that includes lists and rankings for various firms, as well as links to websites devoted to oversight of the industry. It is well worth the purchase price of $ 14; I have read and highly recommend it to anyone considering booking a paid volunteering or voluntouring holiday (I do receive a small commission if you click on the above link and purchase this book, but please be assured that I would not recommend it unless I thought it was of very high quality).

To be continued…next, one man who created his own volunteer opportunity without paying a penny:

Series NavigationStreet Kids in Nepal Drum Their Way to Self Esteem

95 Comments on “Paid Voluntouring and Volunteering Scams in Nepal

  1. Hi Barbara,

    My name is Gemma and I am the Placement Manager at PoD Volunteer (www.podvolunteer.org). It is a very interesting blog which highlights many of the issues surrounding volunteering overseas. As a not for profit organisation, PoD Volunteer is aware of the potential negative impacts of volunteering and actively promotes responsible volunteering overseas. I just wanted to get in touch to let you know that there are a few inaccuracies about PoD in the blog post.

    We require all our volunteers in Nepal to have a criminal record check and have teaching experience or qualifications before joining the team in Nepal. On arrival in Pokhara PoD volunteers receive induction training from our Volunteer Manager (who lives in Pokhara), placement introduction and a tour of the local area. There are volunteer placement handover notes in the volunteer resource room in the guesthouse which volunteers can access and are encouraged to contribute to at the end of their placements.

    The PoD Charity funds schools lunches and resources at Annapurna Primary school as well as supporting a street children’s centre and other local projects.

    PoD Volunteer has over 11 years’ experience arranging volunteer placements overseas and we have supported the placements in Pokhara since 2007. We only work with a selection of hand-picked projects and offer thorough details to volunteers before they sign up for a specific project so that volunteers can prepare appropriately before starting their volunteer placement.

    It is very important that volunteers thoroughly research before selecting a volunteer placement and it is great that you making travellers aware of the aspects to question before signing up to a volunteer project.

    Please do get in touch with us at info@podvolunteer.org if you or any readers have any questions.

    Kind regards,

    Gemma

    • Hi Gemma: You may not remember, but we met a few years ago when I was researching my stories about volunteering/voluntouring. At the time, I had made friends with a group who were working with PoD. As I say in my article, PoD is probably one of the better options, however at the time you indicated that PoD was not making enough money to provide financial assistance to the organizations where it placed volunteers. Many of the volunteers who had participated in your program did not feel that the students had benefited much from their presence, and at the time they told me that there was no organized structure for lesson plans, no turnover, and little to no oversight. Yet your comment seems to indicate otherwise. Has the situation changed substantially since I wrote the story?

      • Hi Barbara,

        Thanks for your reply. At PoD Volunteer we are continuously monitoring and assessing our volunteer projects to make positive developments. PoD is a non-profit organisation but we financially support the schools and centres that we work with via PoD Charity grants. For many years there has been detailed placement documents and volunteer handover notes in our volunteer resource room however we now we ensure that all volunteers are made of aware of these during their volunteer induction.

        Kind regards,

        Gemma

  2. This is one example of how a single article can mislead hundreds of people.

    How you can generalize all organizations in Nepal are bad by talking and meeting with just about 10 local people? You can not say if one is wrong, all are wrong. There are hundreds of honest people and social workers has been doing great works in local level but their stories are never being covered.

    You mentioned that you want to do philanthropic works in Nepal. Have you donated a single text book to school? Have you tipped your any single rupees to your guide? It is easy to criticize others. Is not it?

    ‘The underground guide to volunteering’ (by NerdyNomad ) has claimed that they will donate some revenue collected fom selling of pdf book. Why they do not publish any information on how much copy they sold and how much money donated to charity yet? It is very clear to understand the purpose this article.

    After reading your Nepal related all articles, I feel like there are also some people who loves poor countries becoming more poorer. If they want poor countries being developed, why they are not constructive to promote development in developing countries? Spreading negative thoughts among supporters and social workers makes poor country more poorer.

    Since 5 decades, Nepali were surrounded by negative and frustrating thoughts. This is decade for nation building. Everyone need to be positive and open minded. Negative articles or blog posts like this may get better comments and social networks sharing but never uplift living standard of local people. There are people who do nothing but criticize others who want to do something. You have rights to look negative side but my suggestion here – please look and analyze positive side also.

    Every governments, every organizations, every people are not 100% perfect, there can be some weakness. Everyone have to accept this reality. The best way to improve weakness is to provide constructive guidance and positive inspiration which your article lacks.

    • Dear Sewak: I did not say that all organizations are bad. I wrote about the ones I know that are corrupt to inform others of the abuses, and to alert travelers that they need to investigate thoroughly before they decide which organization to work with. As for whether I do philanthropic work in Nepal, the answer is yes. I help others to set goals and then to accomplish those goals, in a way that allows them to become self-sustaining, rather that just handing out money, which trains people to keep their hands out, rather than taking charge of their own destiny.

    • Susan, you might look into things like Help Exchange or WOOFING, where you can get free room and board in exchange for work on an organic farm.

      • Hello Barbara,
        Thank you for such a mind opening post. After reading all the comments, I started making inquiries to the organization which I was interested to go under- physiotherapy internship with Internship Nepal. There is an ‘application fees’ of USD 200 to be paid as stated on the website. On inquiry of what is this application fee is for, this is the reply I received- ‘Internship Nepal have to pay 200 dollar to the hospital where you are going to work. It is a part of the donation to the hospital which is compulsory to pay’. Now, this leaves me with more confusion as donation is voluntary. Fees to the hospital is usually done separately with a minimal amount from where I come from- Malaysia. Would appreciate any feedback from anyone who is from the medical line and has been through this. Dear Barbara, I would appreciate if you can provide me with any information (if you have any) of any place where I can volunteer for physiotherapy. Thanks loads!

  3. This is exactly why I started http://www.worldwideorphanages.com in 2007 after searching for an orphanage to “volunteer” at in Tibet or China, and only finding agencies with fees, fees and fees that could have fed an entire orphanage for a year since they mainly eat rice!

    Barbara, it is so odd how our lives have parelled. I had several businesses, kids all grew up, and I needed to begin a second life so I started traveling 6 months out of the year in 2007!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t believe we didn’t cross paths! Anyway, also interesting is that I started blogging in Tibet, which was my first big three month trip but then I didn’t stick to it as you did. As a writer, however, I have picked up some seriously crazy stories, with interviews, and photos, of course along the way, which SOMEDAY I intend to write. The problem is I found I was having too much FUN to be dedicated to writing. Unlike my previous life that was all work and little play, I found myself engaged in cultures, with local people, and with travelers and just couldn’t find the time to spare for blogging. I’m sort of sorry now, but then again, no regrets. I am so excited about running across your blog while planning my next big three month trip to Peru and Ecuador, and your border crossing blog really is super helpful. I’ll be a reader of yours, I signed up. Thanks a million for being faithful to the task of blogging your experiences because it is so so helpful for independent travelers to get this wonderful information. Thanks again, Marilyn http://www.marilynmorningstar.com

    • Hi Marilyn: Thanks so much for your comment, and for signing up to receive emails with my new posts. You certainly hit the nail on the head when you talked about the time it takes to write a blog. People have no idea what’s involved. Just sorting through my 200-300 photos per day takes a couple of hours. Then there’s the 100 emails I get each day, and doing all my social media work; all that before I do one bit of research and write a single word. Many times, I exist on two or three hours of sleep a night. But, I love what I do, and that’s what keeps me going.

  4. Dear Barbara

    I am searching for volunteering in Nepal , non-profit organisation, and I came across your article. I must say thank you God for leading me to your article. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    I had heard story of the scam in Nepal but never know the true stories till I read from your article. It’s sad and shocking to know these are happening. Many people give their time & experience wanting to help out but had fell into the scam trap. What on earth is going on? I’m so lost now and don’t know which organisation to trust.

    I’m looking for short-term volunteering in an orphanage. Would you be able to give me a list of recommended organisation which I can link up with.

    Thank you

    Tiffany (Singapore)

    • Hi Tiffany: Unfortunately, I can make no recommendations for you. I will only recommend places I have personally vetted, and so far, I haven’t found any that I feel comfortable recommending.

  5. Here’s my 2 cents:

    NGO are using Voluntourism to achieve two goals: Raise money and get free employees. The problem is that they mix those two goals and the average volunteer is being forced to pay exorbitant sums of money in order to help local communities, which in turn, restricts the number of volunteers and only serves to increase the wealth of the owners, who, more often than not, exploits the orphans.

    In my opinion, the ethical thing to do for NGO is to ask volunteers ONLY to pay for their own costs and then, at the end of their stay, to make a voluntary tax-deductible donation. If they want.

    Paying money to be allowed to work for free? Absurd.

  6. Pingback: Orphanage tourism and volunteeringTravel with Kat

  7. Thanks for putting the link to this on Facebook (Travel Bloggers Give Back). Very interesting reading although its left me wanting to through my laptop out the window or possibly scream the house down! I’m about to write an article about a brilliant volunteer organisation who I recently met. I’ll link to / quote from this article if I may please.

    • Hi Kat: I really applaud you for delving into this issue.I firmly believe that more will be revealed in the next few years, and that we will be appalled by what we discover. Thanks so much for sharing the link to my story, as I hope it will help people to be more aware of the issues and do better due diligence before choosing a volunteering opportunity or taking a “vouluntour.”

  8. Thank you for this Barbara. I am 55 and wanted to some volunteer work abroad and there was always an age limit. This PoD organization welcomes retirees as well as younger people. How exciting!

  9. My advice after 4 trips to Nepal since 2006, living and teaching for 3 months. AUS$20k given in donations is to not go there and to help an animal charity. At least the animals can’t deliberately rip you off. Anything that I thought to be good, or above board has eventually proven to be part of the overall manipulation for benefit. The Nepalese are now a nation dependant on handouts. This has a terrible long term effect and corruption is in their blood.

    • Hi Steve: In general, I agree with you. I never give to any locally owned voluntour or volunteer agency unless they were completely vetted, and that takes months or even years of investigation. Better just not to do it. However, what I have done is grow relationships with individual people and families, whom I have helped to create legitimate businesses that then allow them to take care of themselves, long term. It’s the old “give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime” scenario. Philanthropic work that makes us feel good but does not break the cycle of handouts is making the problem worse every day.

  10. Hi

    Thank you so much for this article. It was very insightful.

    I’m planning on taking the fall semester off from college to do some volunteering abroad and after much research I finally settled on PoD. However, you’re article confused me a bit on your stance of this organization. Would you recommend it and what are the problems with it?

    I could really use the help. Thank you.

    • Hi Gerry: This is a difficult issue. While it is true that PoD is the least objectionable of any of the agencies I have looked into, they are still charging way too much money and none of the proceeds go to the charities they purport to help. There are no minimum requirements for volunteers who are teaching children, no guidance as to what to teach and no organized lesson plan, and no turnover from one group of volunteers to the next, so no one ever knows what the kids have already been taught. I do believe that SOS Bahini in Pokhara is a decent organization, however I don’t know if they accept volunteers. There is also an NGO named Quality of Life Nepal (http://qolnsarangkot.org/en), which is in the village of Sarangkot, up on the mountain that looms over the north end of Pokhara. I know the people who run it and trust them. I believe they have accepted volunteer help in the past, but they have no accommodations, so you would have to arrange for your own stay in a local guest house. This can be done for very little money, less than $10 per day. I also believe they ask for a small donation from each volunteer – don’t remember how much, but certainly not the amount that PoD is charging. Sadly, these are the only honest agencies that I know of, although there may be others that I am not aware of. Hope that helps.

  11. I got here when doing a Googling NGO registration in Nepal. Though a Nepalese myself, I haven’t lived in the country for a long time. And like yourself, I have been traveling the world, and again like yourself, have just decided that I need to change my life. I am giving up my international teaching career to return home and do some education-related charity work.

    I have been hearing a lot about how charity organizations in Nepal don’t do what they say they do just as you described in this post. And what I heard is essentially what you wrote about.

    I would like to believe however that pursuing my dream of helping with the education of children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, I’ll be able to make a difference in their lives. That I would be able to do some good work, to do something worthwhile, to do something that gives meaning to my life after over two decades of nomadic life away from home!!

    If interested you can follow my own blog (www.dorjegurung.com) where I will be detailing this new chapter in my life.

    • Hi Dorje: I looked at your website and commend you for the work you are doing. It’s just a shame that so many NGO’s in Nepal are corrupt. Best of luck to you.

    • Hi there,

      I’m doing some background research on volunteering abroad and came across your incredibly helpful website. I was wondering if I could send you an email to tell you more about a project I am working on and to find out more about your first hand experience abroad.

      I’m a journalist looking into a story and would love any help I can get!

      All my best,
      Lisa Desai

  12. Isn’t there a Sir Edmund Hillary School there too? Did you enquire about that one?

    • Hi Red: I’ve never heard of the Sir Edmund Hillary School but my guess is that it would be closer to Mt. Everest, an area I’ve not yet explored.

  13. Dear Barbara,

    Thank you for careful research regarding the volunteering in Nepal. I just met a non-for-profit professional this afternoon. During the course of our talking, she stressed that “Non-for-profit sector is also a corrupted sector” that I am convinced.

    I am a Nepali citizen and residing in US. I would also love to do something for Nepal without cheating anybody in the world. Regarding the opportunities in Nepal, we have a lot since it is third world, underdeveloped and crisis ridden country. I agreed that there is easy to register NGO, it is the fact that we have more than 30,000 NGO registered in SWC whereas in action we hardly found 3o out of them. We have only 3915 village development committe (VDC), if we would have good 4000 NGO working each VDC the story would different.

    Anyway, I personally would like to thank you and the commentators who spent their precious time writing/thinking about Nepal. If you have any ideas regarding non-for-profit opportunities in NEpal, please feel free to write me at: su_kadariya@gmail.com

    If you would like to see my resume, please take a look on linkedin: SUDARSHAN KADARIYA

    • Thanks so much for passing on that information, Sudarshan. The more we expose this information, the more possibility for reform. The Nepali government is so corrupt itself that I have little hope that things will change anytime soon, but I do what I can. There are good non-profits and NGO’s but they are few and far between.

  14. Thanks for the article. I actually landed on it doing some research in GVI… which looks more like a travel agent than a legit volunteer organisation. Anyone promoting an “elephant trek” as a bonus in a programme should trigger alarm bells.

  15. i forgot somthing sorry…..i can even help the volenters for the home stay in nepal so that they can b tension free about all the mess in ktm….for freee with no cost at all……i think PEOPLE WHO HELPS OTHER R THE ONE WHO DESERVE THIS N I WILL B HAPPY TO HELP VOLENTERS AS WELL…….

  16. great post..
    im looking forward to help u by giving a shelter to the street children n even i can look for there further studies …..im not registered NGO nothing like that but personally im looking forward to help street childrends if any one who r running such kind of NGOS IN RENT OR SOMTHING THEN I CAN HELP IN THAT AS WELL AS FOODING WHAT EVER I CAN……I WILL B HAPPI DOING THAT

  17. Hi Barbara Weibel,
    Thanks for replying to my email. I was only querying that you said you had not mentioned the NCH in your article when in fact you had.
    As for the rest, yes, I believe you are right to expose what is going on with some of these self-described charities. Nepal seems to be a country where things are not thoroughly documented, leaving gaping holes into which the unscrupulous can step and make a lot of ill-gotten gains.
    Untrained people are able to work with vulnerable children. This cannot be right; as a teacher I believe absolutely in the necessity of training having worked with many teacher assistants in the UK. Some are naturally gifted, many are not. Guidelines and training must be put in place for the care of these children.
    Tourists see the surface picture of poverty, especially of the children, and open their purses; the more complex picture, eg of caste prejudice, nefarious financial shenanigans, and so on, is only visible to those like yourself who stay there long-term.
    It is good that you are shining light onto these unethical practices. While nepalese authorities may not act on this knowledge, tourists can choose to be be more rigorous in targeting their aid directly to the needy.

  18. Very interesting post! I am planning my gap year which I’d like to base around service – I am considering PoDs programs – would you recommend them or is PoD a scam too? I was a little unsure your stance.

    If PoD isn’t the best organization, what would you suggest? (animals/children) (Thailand/South Africa/Peru/ Australia)

    • Hi Ellen: I’ve emailed you directly with my comments/recommendations.

      • Hello,
        I’ve got pretty much the same question as the above poster, except I’ve only got 2 months to spare, not an entire year. I’m a little overwhelmed by the choices out there and don’t know where to start.

        • Hi Lisa: I really wish I could help, but I’m so unsure at this point about the whole voluntourism model that I’m hesitant to recommend anyone.

  19. Nepal is a f***ed up country…sorry for the language but that’s the best way to put it.. I am a Nepalese too and i know about most of the scams that are running in this country right now and i am totally fed up with it. Come on people, it’s time to wake up now..DON’T spend ur money uselessly on these leeches..it’s not going benefit any poor people or children.DO Not trust any organization(especially if they are linked with the government)…The most corrupted cities in Nepal are Pokhara and Kathmandu,as they have the highest no. of tourist flow rates,so most of the major scams occur in these places..I’m not implying that other places in this country are not corrupted,as a matter of fact,every city in this country is corrupted…so be careful…AND PLEASE TAKE MY ADVICE DO NOT VOLUNTEER OR SPEND ANY MORE OF YOUR RESOURCES IN THIS COUNTRY…

  20. Apologies, I should have made the start of my email above clearer. I was confused about the Namaste Children’s House conversation.

    Barbara Weibel article: Article: In the case of Namaste, which is owned and operated by a local restaurateur, I was told by a trustworthy Nepali that 150 orphans are bussed each day to a private school where they are receiving a quality education. I was also told that the owner has grown rich through donations and drives a brand new SUV, something that is rare in Pokhara.

    Laurie Blanchard wrote:…but I wish you would have ( ) actually gone to Namaste Children’s House and spoken to the Director instead of someone in town. while the one person you spoke to seems to have had a good understanding of the situation,who ever told you the Director has gotten rich was way off base. I can tell you that Visma has not “gotten rich” running the orphanage. To anyone in Nepal, someone owning an SUV/land rover, would seem rich, but the SUV wasn’t bought with Visma’s salary, it was donated by volunteers like me who saw the need. He was going out into villages 5-10 hours away, to rescue children, how could he get them back to the home, on the back of his motorcycle? There are times we had to take 2-3 children to see the Dr. at the same time and we couldn’t get a cab. we knew visma needed a vehicle, and someone was kind enough to donate one.
    Namaste Children’s House is not owned by a local restaurant owner, it is a nonprofit.

    Barbara Weibel’s reply to Laurie: Laurie, I’m a bit confused. My article does not mention Namaste Children’s Home, nor did Vera Marie mention Namaste in her comment.

    Can you see my confusion?

    • Hi Barbara: I did indeed meet with Visma, the owner/operator of Namaste Children’s Home. I sat in the garden of his guest house, poolside, next to his new restaurant, the second one he has opened. We had an hour long discussion about his work and when I said I would visit the facility he insisted I make an appointment so they would expect me ahead of time. I did not do this for obvious reasons. I am well-connected in Pokhara, as I live there three months each year with a local Nepali family and as such, I have also had opportunity to meet with and speak to many of Visma’s acquaintances who have known him all his life.

      As with many of these agencies, I do not dispute that they are benefiting the children to some degree; what I question is how much of the resources are going to the children and how much to the owner and/or board of trustees are taking for their services. One of the red flags is that their website shows an “organizational chart” for NCH, however there are no names of trustees shown. Although it says their finances are transparent, there is no financial statement or budget available; rather they say that once you make arrangement to volunteer, this information will be made available to you if you so desire. If they have nothing to hide, why is this information not made available on their website? There are many good charity organizations in Nepal, but in these cases I find that there is always complete transparency of finances. Just some food for thought.

  21. Article: In the case of Namaste, which is owned and operated by a local restaurateur, I was told by a trustworthy Nepali that 150 orphans are bussed each day to a private school where they are receiving a quality education. I was also told that the owner has grown rich through donations and drives a brand new SUV, something that is rare in Pokhara.

    Laurie: I’m a bit confused. My article does not mention Namaste Children’s Home, nor did Vera Marie mention Namaste in her comment.

    I too am confused!

    Very interesting article.I was in Nepal recently and, along with a friend who has been giving literacy workshops there for several years, I ran an art workshop in an orphanage in Kathmandu. We are both highly experienced teachers. I can happily report that the children were hungry for knowledge, totally engaged and it was an absolute pleasure to see their eyes shining at the end of the workshops.

    This orphanage is managed by an Australian couple; they are dedicated, dynamic and strategic in their approach. We also met a nepali whose wife runs an orphanage in Pokhara; he described in great detail the work the orphanage does to ensure that these children have the best possible start they can give them.

    It is terrible to hear of idealistic young people saving their hard earned money and finding that there is in fact no structure in place when they arrive at the volunteering site. They have been relieved of their money by rapacious middlemen. There has to be a better way of doing this. In Nepal you might be better off to simply turn up and offer your services. Obviously that would not be viable or safe everywhere.

    As for the man ordering the volunteer to ‘Now teach’ and giving her a cane to punish the children: no reputable agency should be placing volunteers in places where such practices are employed and which we would not tolerate here.

    So much good will; it’s such a shame that some volunteers will be left disillusioned. Perhaps the department for education should establish its own volunteering agency. Meaningful work experience for many young people who cannot find employment here at home.

  22. If I were to volunteer in some developing country I would naturally expect to pay for my own airfare, but I would also expect board and lodging and probably also meals to be provided free in return for my services. That these Western volunteers are not only not subsidised in any way, but actually have to pay substantial amounts (often the equivalent of a year’s salary for many people in these countries) over and above their airfares for the “privilege” of volunteering in out of the way places among the poor should alert anyone with an ounce of common sense that the likes of POD and GVI are cynical scams that prey on silly, naive white people who have done little volunteer work in their own countries, but who want to do so overseas for reasons like “white man’s guilt” or CV enhancement – not decent reasons. The money that these voluntourists hand over really goes towards the office rent and the salaries and airfares of the staff at POD based in Cheltenham, UK and the dozen or so staff members of GVI based in Wellington, NZ and their ilk. The many many problems that afflict the least developed countries in the world, especially poverty, are often the result of corruption and incompetence and require political solutions, not well-meaning, gullible do-gooders from the West who have little idea of what they are doing and its consequences. If Western people are going to visit these parts of the world they can help these economies best by spending their money as tourists, not as pretend English teachers or tradesmen. Leave that to professionals please.

    • As someone who spent 9 months on a GVI project in Kenya I can report a very different experience. The project that I was on was staffed by people really trying to make a difference. The high turnover of shorter term staff was managed as well as could be expected and much effort was put into providing a consistent education across teachers. That is not to say the project did not have its problems, various ones came up over my stay such as organisation or trouble between the staff and the projects they were supporting, or between volunteers and staff on how the project was being run, but efforts were always being made to sort these problems out ( and we lived with the staff so I know that was true) which may have been more difficult to see for the shorter term volunteers. Having matured as a volunteer over my time I realized the difficulties the staff often had managing their often young and inexperienced volunteers and the expectations they brought with them, and even getting a surprising amount of them to do the work properly.

      I was never sure how much of our overall money went into the projects I was on but they were definitely supporting them, they did not have everything but for a slum school it was in pretty good nick with GVI funding the building of 4 new classrooms over 2 schools while I was there as well as school lunches for the kids.

      I had a chance to chat to people on other Kenyan GVI projects and they seemed to be overall happy, I think people can be quite shocked at the conditions out there, it seems they think the projects will be a more comfortable experience than it often is. One attitude I ran into more often than I expected was a feeling that since they had paid a lot for the experience it should conform to what they want their ‘volunteering experience’ to be like as if it was a holiday. Not to say that people should just suck it up but people had difficulty dealing with the reality of what they find out there.

      Obviously this was GVI Kenya, a completely different operation to GVI Nepal but I did want to say that overall my experience with them was positive. It seems the level of organisation on the ground with the even the more reputable ‘Volunteering Charities’ depends largely on the people they have on the ground at the time.

      • Hi Connie: Thanks so much for your very detailed comment. It is really heartwarmming to hear a good report about a volunteer organization. Though no organization is perfect, it sounds like GVI has worked hard to do all the right things.

  23. Hi there, this confirms what I’ve seen throughout the whole world. Young people want to help by volunteering and pay thousands of dollars that go in the pockets of human traffickers and thieves. I am going to Nepal this week for 2 months and will build a website for an orphanage in case you want to get in touch with me, could be interesting.

  24. Hi,

    Very interesting article and it details something that is rife in Nepal. It is good business to run a home and it is even better business to ensure that the children stay destitute, hungry, dirty and sick. A ‘foreigner’ is much more likely to reach into their pocket and get their wallet if this is the case.

    As this point, I should introduce us; The Umbrella Foundation Nepal. We are a small NGO that takes care of 340+ children in Nepal. We were founded in response to the growing number of corrupt homes and we have closed down 7 such homes over the past 7 years. We are NOT a volunteer agency, but a charity that accepts volunteers. There is a BIG difference in this. This is because we clearly state that the donation that volunteer contribute subsidises our work. It covers their living expenses while living with Umbrella; accommodation in the volunteer’s house for three months, two meals a day, programme running costs and expenses for the Saturday activities. It will also cover the cost of caring for one child for an entire year.

    Umbrella are proud about the good standard of care that we give to our children, but we are often having to be almost apologetic to visitors on this point as they expect our children to be completely destitute.

    While we are very happy to receive in kind donations of clothes, stationary and sports equipment, we also require volunteer’s contributions to ensure that we can pay for food, electricity, rent, school fees, salary for adequately trained staff (house parents, school tutors, counsellors) etc, something that I find volunteers sometimes forget.

    To expect to volunteer for ‘free’ is a very worthy aspiration, but unless you are e.g. a qualified English (as a second language) teacher and you can commit to volunteering for say 1/2 years, or a doctor who will stay in a community for a prolonged length of time, then NGO have to hire local based adequately qualified staff to ensure that the projects are sustainable for before, during and after the short period that volunteers visit. It would be extremely irresponsible to rely solely on volunteers to staff projects as it is an unsustainable model. Again, this is sometime that prospective volunteers fail to understand.

    Anyway, thanks again for putting this article out there, it touches on a nerve, close to my heart!
    Macartan

  25. Hey Barbara,

    I recently completed my volunteering experience in a children’s home, and I think I can give a clear explanation of what it was like for me. The whole discussion about how and where the money is spent included.
    The hard part is that most of the times it is never a black and white situation. Organisations who were previously dedicated to the kids’ wellbeing could get demotivated staff over time and ‘change’. For me the hardest part was deciding up to which point some organisations spend their money ‘well’.
    Even if money ends up in the owner’s pockets, if at the end of the day he is keeping kids out of the streets and treats them fairly well, then to me the money is not lost.
    Anyway, I made a post about it, for those who are interested:

    http://www.packedmybag.com/money-happy-home-volunteering/

    Greetings and happy travelling,

    Veronique

    • Hi Vero: Thanks so much for sharing your experience. It is much better for tourists who wish to volunteer to go into the experience with eyes wide open.

  26. Hi Barbara,

    You are absolutely right. People pay ludicrous fees to volunteer and companies are profiting out of it. I have always been shocked by people paying several thousand dollars to volunteer. Understandably people must pay for their board and lodgings and transport to get to the place they are going. The only people that should profit are the poor people in the community that the charity is set up to support. I have an adventure tour company and we have set up a charity but it is a non profit making side arm of the business. We just use our website as a platform to facilitate the charity and as a company we have experience with Nepal and the logistics and organisation involved. With our charity the Share the Load Foundation we take donations in the form of money but the money will only get spent on supplies for the school. We will not send money out to the school, only equipment. I explain what we do here http://www.lostearthadventures.co.uk/charity-work-volunteer-nepal/ Please have a look at what we are doing. I agree charities should declare how much money they have and what they are doing with it. We only set up the charity in April, we are going back out to the school in November and when we have a firm idea of the costs of the things we need we will put the accounting information of the charity on our website.

    There is a lot of corruption in 3rd world countries, it is something we detest and we are not going to let anywhere on our supply chain get abused.

    Richard Goodey

  27. HELLO IF YOU REALLY WANT TO HELP AND ARE SERIOUS I VOLUNTEERED LAST WINTER IN A REAL WONDERFUL ORPHANAGE FONDACION SALVACION HUEHUETENANGO IN GUATEMALA .GOOD LUCK FROM SOISE

  28. Absolutely brilliant article. I would never book a volunteering scheme online. I don’t know nearly enough about the business to know which ones are legit and which are scams. This just goes to show how few companies you can trust.

  29. We started our own NGO HANDS in Nepal after feeling that running our own not for profit was the only way we could be sure money was going where we wanted it to. Today we’ve built two schools and have provided scholarships for 9 homeless children to go to school. Not all NGOs are corrupt and not all volunteering is bad. Now we are building the first library in a village in Dhading district. Nepal is an endlessly complex country were the problems are many–but for my family and I, it has offered us tremendous rewards in life experiences and helping where we feel it is most needed–and wanted.

    • Dear Seadanze: I am ALWAYS looking for legitimate NGO’s in Nepal and elsewhere that I can visit, write about and promote so that people traveling to Nepal have a place where they know their money is going to a god cause. Please send me more details – if you have a website I would appreciate a link.

  30. Pingback: Volunteer Programs – scams or legit?

  31. Thank you for this article.  As someone who is seriously considering doing some volunteer travel early in 2012 this is an eye opener but not a surprise.  My destination will probably be either Mexico or Central America and am interested in learning more about volunteering without spending a lot of money unless it benefits the people  it is supposed to help.  I am really looking forward to reading the next piece on this subject.  

  32. Thank you for this article. We really have to filter these volunteer organizations well. May I just add that in the Philippines, there are many genuine volunteer activities that you can join. For starters, you can just book your own trip, and you can contact the different NGOs by yourself. if anyone’s interested, you may visit this site (http://uhappyevents.com) and ask them to refer you to the NGO of your choice. in their homepage at Multiply, you can select from a loooong list of beneficiaries. Their beneficiary institutions surely will have some volunteer opportunities for you. (http://ufoundation.multiply.com) Thank you and God bless you!

  33. Pingback: Paying to Volunteer – Scam or Legitimate Social Program? — TravelBark

  34. I really enjoyed reading this article, as well as the other comments. I’ve been researching voluntourism trips for a few months now, and this article has really encouraged me to stop researching and just offer help when I get there. I would much rather know my time, money, and effort are being given to the right people. Thank you for sharing!

    • You are so welcome, Kathleen. I’m now back in Nepal after a four month
      absence and I’m finding it even easier to arrange philanthropic activities,
      so I think you’re on the right track. Glad to be of some small help.

  35. Great post. I have heard of situations like this all throughout Central and South America. We have always found our own volunteer opportunities and never have had to pay for the honor. When it comes to volunteering it’s best to put yourself in the community you wish to help and seek it the opportunities. They are there, and one shouldn’t pay for that info. It’s a shame that people are preying on those who have the heart desire to help.

  36. Barbara,

    Firstly, thanks for taking the time to research a topic that more people should understand. Voluntourism is so often hugely exploitative, and I think this demonstrates how and why.

    I can relate to the teachers teaching whatever they felt like teaching, because I did that myself, coming up for twenty years ago, when we were welcomed onto campus as crowd control. I can also relate, however, to your sense that the money could have been better spent — and your concern that none of the fees went to the educational institution involved.

    We didn’t pay to volunteer. We were bodies, contributing free, educated, but young and unskilled labour. And, had I paid thousands of dollars, I’d have expected that money to contribute to the school. (With hindsight, a fraction of what I spent on flights, or beer, for that matter, would have made more difference to the school than I did — but that’s another point, altogether.)

    One rather cynical lesson, I guess, is that anywhere it’s easy to set up an NGO, the scammers will have beaten you to it…

    Theodora

  37. I have been very frustrated when searching for these opportunities. When I see the ridiculous prices some charge, I have often emailed them back and said how much would it cost if I took care of my own lodging, food, and transportation? If I even get an answer, it’s usually “Let me check into that and get back to you.” I never hear from them again, which makes me believe that no, it isn’t about helping children or anyone else. They’re looking to make a buck. I won’t judge them for wanting to make money, but I certainly am not going to pay exorbitant rates to volunteer my time, energies, and experience. It’s very frustrating when you’re really truly wanting a different kind of experience while doing good.

    • Hi 1dad: I feel your pain. However, take a look at my most recent post about
      Hugo Caminero, a man who created his own volunteer opportunity:
      http://www.holeinthedonut.com/2011/02/26/street-kids-drumming-pokhara-nepal-drum.
      All over Nepal, it is possible to walk into an orphanage or government
      school and offer to help. You don’t need to be a teacher; most primary
      schools have nurseries where you can simply offer to babysit. I even met one
      woman who donated her time to teach girls how to do their makeup. And I’ll
      just bet that is the same in other countries as well, especially if you have
      medical, teaching, or construction abilities.

      • I have resolved that that is exactly what I will do: Create my own opportunities.

  38. Wonderful article. I volunteered in Africa in a couple of locations and echo the experiences described through the article. Many are hopelessly disorganised but are trying to do the best they can. Sadly, the regular scams detract from those trying to do a good job and make many people wary. I discovered a wonderful one in Uganda (huge number of orphanages from the effects of Idi Amin killing so many adults) that I donate to (but only after seeing it for myself).

    • Hi Mark: Since you personally vetted this organization in Uganda and can
      vouch for them, would you be willing to provide a link to their website (if
      they have one) or contact info?

      • Yes, of course. The website is http://www.ugandahomestay.com/ and the organisation is run by an impressive young Ugandan man, Morence Mpora. His organisation supports over 100 orphans and is set in the beautiful Ruwenzori Mountains in the west of Uganda around 10 miles from Fort Portal.

  39. I can’t believe someone would build and orphanage and then turn it into a hotel.

    It’s an interesting trend you uncover. I knew that there is unfortunately a good amount of scamming going on when it comes to international charity work [in fact, I volunteered and worked for a year for an organization that provides an online marketplace of international volunteer opportunities that are all vetted before being listed on the site], but I did not realize that it was a trend in Nepal – that in your experience it appears “volunteering, voluntouring, NGO’s and charity organizations are the fast track to wealth for any Nepali who has the resources to set one up.”

    As if volunteering abroad weren’t challenging enough in terms of the research one has to do and the limitations, the fact that a lot of worthy charities don’t have the resources to maintain good websites and that good websites don’t necessarily indicate trustworthiness, there’s the added layer of questioning the quality of the actual volunteer experience. Sherry Ott’s comment about not setting your expectations to an unrealistic ideal is spot-on. And I definitely think that just because you might not do as much “good” as you’d like, in exactly the way that you would envision yourself in a perfect world doing it, that shouldn’t keep you from doing it at all.

    I think that when people pay for an experience, they certainly have built-in expectations, since we are trained to value just about everything based on its monetary value. There are two key factors for avoiding disappointment in addition to Sherry’s advice about adjusting your expectations to realistic standards and placing inherent value on your volunteer work: make sure you understand where the money is going and keep in mind then that you are facilitating your volunteer experience through your contribution and allowing the organization to continue to exist after you have contributed your time, not ‘paying to volunteer,’ as it is sometimes referred to.

    One trend that I just read about on the Voluntourism Gal blog is that it seems “the number of people going abroad to volunteer is always on the rise, but….[the author thinks] the number that are going direct versus going through a company has dramatically increased. You have an ethically minded traveler to begin with and if they can leave all of their money in Nepal versus 50% of it in a marketing office in New York, I think travelers are leaning towards that option. We have seen this trend in adventure travel for the last few years and now I think it is starting to happen to voluntourism.” [source: http://voluntourismgal.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/is-voluntourism-dead/

    Regardless of whether you are planning your volunteer experiences on your own or going through an intermediary, I, though certainly no expert, have a few resources for doing your own research to share:

    1) Travel blogs: you get the most up-to-date information on volunteer experiences abroad from travel bloggers. I am a huge fan of Dave and Deb’s blog, ThePlanetD (http://theplanetd.com), for example, as they consistently have excellent information about worthy charities they (and other travel writers they invite to contribute) encounter on their travels. And of course Sherry Ott’s blog (www.ottsworld.com) is another great resource.

    2) Charitable giving databases such as GuideStar (www2.guidestar.org/), which feature reviews and financial documents such as IRS forms (this site is I believe for U.S.-based charities only, but many of them have volunteer opportunities abroad….) and industry blogs like Voluntourism Gal, a “neutral outlet where topics important to voluntourism can be discussed” (http://voluntourismgal.wordpress.com).

    3) Third-party sites that gain nothing from donations or volunteer work discovered through their site. One specific example is the online marketplace UniversalGiving (www.universalgiving.org), which only lists international volunteer opportunities after vetting them. I used to volunteer and work for them. Another great resource is GreatNonprofits (http://greatnonprofits.org), where volunteers post reviews and stories about their volunteer experiences.

    • Wow Anis! Great information. Thank you so much for your very detailed reply.
      Every bit of information we can provide will help others who are headed out
      to volunteer ensure that the money they pay will get to the source. On your
      comments about many people choosing to create their own volunteer projects
      rather than paying, I concur that this is n the rise, In fact, my next post
      is about one man who did just that in Nepal and he is having an amazing
      effect on a group of street children.

    • Thank you so much for posting this information.

      I’m just beginning my research to find a legit animal conservation group to volunteer for (in Africa or Sri Lanka ideally) and, to be honest, everything I’ve read so far has been so confusing and contradictory that I was thinking I may as well give up and spend my $1500-2800 hard-earned dollars lying on a beach in Spain for 2 weeks instead!

      So far PoD was looking to me like the most trustworthy organisation but, having read all the comments here, now I’m not so sure.

      What a sad state of affairs. Anyway, the links you’ve posted here have boosted my enthusiasm to keep trying/researching. Hopefully I can report back here in the next 6-8 months with a positive story about successful volunteering and advice to help others in my situation.

      Carlee: Sydney, Australia

      • Hi Carlee: Yes, the whole volunteering/voluntouring industry is a sad state of affairs. I sincerely hope you’re able to identify a good organization to work with and if you do, please come back and report it to me, so others can have the benefit of your knowledge and experience!

  40. It’s a very interesting and controversial topic. I know some of the “volunteering projects” are completely unreliable, and it makes my blood boil to see how they exploit human suffering for personal profit, without caring a bit about actually helping those humans.
    Unfortunately, scams are what makes people afraid of even trying to find a trustworthy NGO.Very brave post, well done.

  41. You’ve obviously struck a chord here Barbara.
    The only foundation that I personally know about, is one run by an American – Olga Murray -and it’s called the Nepal Youth Foundation – http://www.nepalyouthfoundation.org/index.html. But I don’t know if they offer volunteer opportunities – I just know the funds get to the intended recipients.
    I think it’s incumbent on everyone to do the research ahead of time and try to get a word of mouth recommendation. Your ebook suggestion is great.
    As a board member of a Canadian charity operating in Uganda (KiBO Foundation) I am very aware of the difficulty of using every collected dollar for the recipients. Overhead exists – office expenses, staff salaries but no NGO out there needs to be driving a new car. That in itself should raise a few flags.

    • I agree Leigh. Expenses,yes. Pricey perks, no. Good to know about the Nepal
      Youth Foundation.I will definitely check it out.

  42. This is all very good information. I’ve heard a lot of conflicting opinions about paid volunteer opportunities and how to go about it if you want to undertake a sabbatical to go and work with people who need help somewhere in the world. I wouldn’t know where to start. Great post.

  43. I’ve heard similar things from Africa. It’s such a shame on so many levels, and leads people to shake their heads and declare that you just can’t trust foreigners! Apart from the things you highlight here, it puts people off volunteering, which is a great shame.

    On the other hand, volunteering isn’t something to be done on a whim, or without proper training and research first (I know you wouldn’t do that btw, just generalizing here!). Applying via a reputable NGO is one option, especially if you want to make a serious commitment, so you will be given training and thoroughly briefed before going wherever. Small NGOs have been known to do things like, build a school but not think about staffing it for instance, or whether the children would go even. First class motivation, but not thinking it through, when the money may have been more usefull spent, say, providing clean water, so that children would be freed from the burden of spending their days carrying water from a river, and actually have the time to go to school.

    It’s really good that you are stepping back to consider and weigh up the options…….I know you will figure it out! Outstanding post!

    • Hi Islandmomma: Well said! I have many eople tell me similar stories – volunteer organizations that go in will well-meaning plans that are not thought through, or that don’t take into consideration the social and cultural structure of the communities they are attempting to help. One organization that fascinates me for their successful program is Anadaman Discoveries, an offshoot of the non-profit NATR (North Andaman Tsunami Relief) in Thailand, which was set up by Bodhi, a non-Thai person, after the Tsunami (he was working on one of the islands that was devastated). From the beginning, he included the local people in all decision making and had an ultimate goal to gradually turn the program over to Thais a they became able to manage it. He has been successful on all fronts; the villagers are now managing their own destiny and the program has won all kinds of national and international awards. I am thinking along the same lines. I’m meeting with locals when I go back in April, so keep your fingers crossed.

    • I wanted to help women and children in Nepal. I searched dozens of organisations and settled on Volunteers Initiative Nepal (VIN). They looked good and trustworthy on their internet site. Once there it was nothing but disapointment.They put me up for 2 nights in a bug infested hostel room. The ‘training’ was barely 2 days and off to the Jitpur area. The early childhood placement they put me in was a disaster, extremely badly organized and extremely filthy conditions. The switch to the women’s empowerment program meant hours and hours of discussion in their office. No real work. No real help.

      Unique Suggestions: Discusssions with locals and a couple of people who tried volunteering for other NGOs led to believe that Nepal NGOs prefer to invite foreign volunteers who are required to pay fees instead of properly training locals who could stay permanently and truly help their community. They prefer to fill their greedy pockets. Never trust a Nepal NGO based on the internet site. Wait until you are in the area and check them out in person.
      As much as I wanted to start a yearly habit of volunteering overseas, I do no agree with paying fees. Giving our help, our time and our knowledge should be sufficient.

  44. Fascinating and unfortunately this happens in other parts of the world too. charitynavigator.org is one place to do some background research. Thanks for sharing your adventures and insight.
    http://bit.ly/Quintess

  45. This totally confirms my own fears and something which has prevented me from volunteering to date. I firmly believe that the majority of these ‘volunteering’ projects are entirely commercial and only fill the bank accounts of the companies involved and provide little tangible help to the communities and ‘projects’ involved.

    If anybody knows of a genuine non-profit enterprise that offers genuine benefits to the community please email me!

  46. Outstanding post! I never dreamed there was so much corruption in something as noble as volunteering… Every paragraph was a eye-opener indeed.

  47. It is unfortunate that there are so many people ready to take personal advantage of the drive that people have to help others. However, there are many legitimate companies–many with a worldwide reach. I wrote about volunteerism a couple of years ago and was most impressed by the work of Doug Cutchins and Anne Geissinger who publish an annually updated guide called Volunteer Vacations.Lonely Planet also has a guide called Volunteer: A Traveler’s Guide to Making a Difference Around the World.
    The message of both books is “Let the volunteer beware.”

    • I think it is great that you wrote this article, but I wish you would have done actually gone to Namaste Children’s House and spoken to the Director instead of someone in town. while the one person you spoke to seems to have had a good understanding of the situation,who ever told you the Director has gotten rich was way off base. I can tell you that Visma has not “gotten rich” running the orphanage. To anyone in Nepal, someone owning an SUV/land rover, would seem rich, but the SUV wasn’t bought with Visma’s salary, it was donated by volunteers like me who saw the need. He was going out into villages 5-10 hours away, to rescue children, how could he get them back to the home, on the back of his motorcycle? There are times we had to take 2-3 children to see the Dr. at the same time and we couldn’t get a cab. we knew visma needed a vehicle, and someone was kind enough to donate one.

      Namaste Children’s House is not owned by a local restaurant owner, it is a nonprofit. There is a board of directors who are all local, and there is a Board of people who are foreigners who have worked with the Nepali Board who help advise the growth of the organization and help plan for the future.
      Visma Paudel is a wonderful man. I spent a month with him and his family and they are amazing people who have sacrificed their time,money and life to take in children who were on the streets, abused, jailed as children for having parents who broke a law, or in the Maoist army carrying rifles at 5 years old. I understand people’s skepitcism, that is why I didn’t want to fund raise for an orphange in nepal until I had been there in person and gotten to know the people, but I can tell you this is the real deal. There is fiscal transparency if you get involved in helping out.
      Namaste Children’s House has taken in over 95 children! The person who told you about NCH educating 150 children is true too. These are kids whose parents can afford to raise them but who couldn’t afford to send them to school. There is no education in Nepal that is free, so in essence any education in nepal is a “Private” one, with fees, uniforms, books, school supplies. 150 children are recieving an education in addition to the 95 who have a safe home, and are housed, fed, cared for medically, and educated. The goal is to build a green energy sustainable campus with 350 children rescued from abuse and neglect, with a boys dorm and girls dorm, cafeteria, library, infant center etc, a women’s empowerment dorm and an elder community. All done in a sustainable, green energy way!
      Visma Paudel’s Namaste Children’s House has also started a Women’s Empowerment Center to help women who are abused or abandoned or whose husbands have died and they have no form of income, and he is running a MicroLoan business.
      It might cost a little money to volunteer there, a few hundred dollars. That pays for your guesthouse room and your meals. But if you volunteer there, it isn’t like they work you to death, you can come and go, the family invites you to meals with them, they will take you sight seeing and set up trekking for you if you want. If you have no interest in traveling to Nepal and just want to send money, then yeah that would be great. But if you want to travel to nepal, and do some volunteering but also see sight see…this is by far the best way to go. I can’t wait to go back.

      • Laurie: I’m a bit confused. My article does not mention Namaste Children’s Home, nor did Vera Marie mention Namaste in her comment.

  48. You’ve tackled a subject near and dear to my heart in one of my favorite countries. I volunteered in Nepal and yes it was unorganized, and I received no support – but I only paid $300 too. Plus – I made friends for a lifetime – some of which you met!

    I’m not going to get into the debate of what it too much to charge as all businesses have expenses and people are willing to pay to not have the hassle of making their own arrangements. It’s a free market – supply and demand. And yes, there are people who are corrupt all over the world. I think people should do better research before they go…especially contact other volunteers who were there working with that company…that’s where you’ll find out a ton of good information.

    However the statement made about the rotating volunteers with different accents and the fact that the kids are probably not any better off I have to disagree with. By just being there you are making an impact – one so small that you may never be able to see it. You have to adjust your expectations as a volunteer. There’s never been a volunteer project I’ve done that was well organized or what I expected…it’s just like travel…if you have expectations – you’ll probably be disappointed. And if you evaluate the program based on western standards – then you’ll most definitely be disappointed. You will not be changing the world or the lives of these people as if it were a Hallmark movie…but you are making an impact…no doubt.

    • Thank you all for sharing your thoughts. Sherry’s comment is insightful – we
      have to be careful not to attach our western expectations to these types of
      projects, but on the other hand we also need to take care to choose a
      program that is doing the most possible good for the people who need it the
      most – the beneficiaries of the volunteer efforts. And as Vera Marie says,
      “Let the volunteer beware.” We should all do extensive research before
      choosing any company that purports to arrange volunteer opportunities.

  49. Pingback: Tweets that mention Volunteer and Volunteer Scams in Nepal | Hole In The Donut Travels -- Topsy.com

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