Paid Voluntourism and Volunteering Scams in Nepal

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Paying to Volunteer - Scam or Legitimate Social Program?

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.

Reinforcing prepositions with the students
Val reinforcing prepositions with the students

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 were part of a volunteering scam. The donated food had been sold and 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.” Another phone NGO and volunteering scam.

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.

Volunteer Michael Anfield reviews homework. These young men and women try to help, but often their postings are little more than volunteering scams
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
Example of voluntourism scams - Annapurna Primary School in Pokhara, one of many institutions that welcome volunteers but are not receiving any donations from the agencies that partner with them
Government schools Annapurna Primary School in Pokhara are often subjects of voluntourism scams

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 (DUH 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.

Val Jamiason drills English prepositions as part of her voluntourism package with POD
Val Jamiason drills English prepositions as part of her voluntourism package with POD

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, or if it is yet another voluntourism scam.

Erin Elliott of Alberta Canada and Rebeca Limmer of Tanzania Australia were taken in by a voluntourism scam
Erin Elliott of Alberta, Canada, (left) and Rebeca Limmer of Tanzania, Australia, (right) were taken in by a voluntourism scam

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” (AKA: “voluntourism”) 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 be 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 “voluntourism” 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 bused 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, voluntourism, 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.

Note: The Internet is rife with companies offering volunteering and voluntourism packages, priced from hundreds to thousands of dollars per week. Many of these are little more than volunteering scams. 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.

Considering a future visit to Nepal? You’ll want to check out my Essential Travel Guide for Pokhara, Nepal, which is updated regularly.

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134 thoughts on “Paid Voluntourism and Volunteering Scams in Nepal”


  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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  5. 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.  

  6. 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 ( 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. Thank you and God bless you!

  7. Pingback: Paying to Volunteer – Scam or Legitimate Social Program? — TravelBark
  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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…


  11. 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:
      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.

  12. 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 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.

  13. 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:

    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 (, 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 ( is another great resource.

    2) Charitable giving databases such as GuideStar (, 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” (

    3) Third-party sites that gain nothing from donations or volunteer work discovered through their site. One specific example is the online marketplace UniversalGiving (, which only lists international volunteer opportunities after vetting them. I used to volunteer and work for them. Another great resource is GreatNonprofits (, 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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 – 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

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