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.

Series NavigationStreet Kids in Nepal Drum Their Way to Self Esteem

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.”

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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 (, 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.

  7. 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 ( 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

    • 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.

  8. 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: [email protected]

    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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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…….

  11. 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 … 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

  12. 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.

  13. 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)

      • 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.

    • My daughter is going to Thailand with PoD. She has also been to Tanzania with GLA. The people at PoD are awesome and it is MUCH less expensive than GLA (although I have to say I loved GLA and all the preparation they did for my child). The reason my daughter went with PoD is because she “aged out” of GLA – she’s 18 now.

      The cost is MINIMAL and takes care of meals and accommodations. She is there for 1 month and it’s completely affordable. She will be working her butt off it sounds – but she gets to work with animals and take care of these majestic creatures. I’ll let ya know more when she gets back!

  14. 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’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…

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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.

    Greetings and happy travelling,


    • 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.

  21. 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 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


Leave a Comment