Kenya Takes Significant Steps to Support #FamiliesNotOrphanages

Families are at the heart of Kenyan life and all children in Kenya have the right to family. Unfortunately, many Kenyan children grow up in institutions without the benefits of family life, and are denied the stability of attachments that only a family can provide.

The Kenyan government is taking significant steps towards changing this situation in a series of decisions which place family-based care at the centre of Kenya’s child care system.

Building on the Guidelines for the Alternative Family Care of Children which were introduced three years ago, on 13 October 2017 the Kenyan government announced its intentions to develop a long-term action plan to end the institutionalisation of children.

Following this watershed announcement, and coinciding with this year’s Adoption Awareness Month, the government has placed a moratorium on the registration of new residential care facilities for children, known in Kenya as Children’s Charitable Institutions (CCIs) (i.e. orphanages, children’s homes, rescue centres, etc.).   

The decision to place a moratorium on the registration of CCIs follows a recent report of the Expert/Steering Committee on Child Adoption in Kenya which observed that, “[m]any children are inappropriately placed in CCIs yet they could desirably be placed for Foster Care, Guardianship, or Local Adoption with Kenyan families.” It also observed that “children are put up in the institutions under circumstances that are not in their best interest and are accordingly denied the opportunity to be raised within families”.

Consistent with what Stahili has witnessed through its work in Kenya, the Committee further observed that “it was evident that some of the Children’s Homes were involved in unscrupulous practices which may include Child Trafficking.”

The development of an action plan, the placement of a moratorium on the registration of new institutions, and the recognition that orphanages can be sites of trafficking, present important opportunities for Kenya to develop inclusive family-based care solutions which put the rights and best interests of children first.

Introducing Stahili’s Ambassadors

We are proud to have as part of the growing Stahili team more than 30 Ambassadors made up of young people from 16 countries across four continents who want to see a world where children live in families, not orphanages.

Stahili Ambassadors are proactive volunteers spreading the word about sustainable development and ethical volunteering, acting as focal points in schools, universities and workplaces. In the past month, Ambassadors have delivered presentations on the harm of orphanages in Romania, raised funds in Sweden to help support children in families, and held debates on deinstitutionalisation in Armenia and Finland. There are more projects in the pipeline in the Netherlands, the US, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia, and Turkey.

Check out this video introducing our Ambassadors and why they decided to get involved

Follow the Stahili Facebook page and Twitter feed to stay up to date with what our Ambassadors are up to maybe you’ll be interested in joining one of their projects or their ideas will inspire you to also become a voice for children.

Join us now at!

Why are taxpayers paying for orphanages?

There is growing awareness that orphanages are bad for children and harmful to their development.

We are, however, witnessing shifts in policy to end the institutionalisation of children and bring children home to families. Some countries, notably Rwanda, have already started to reform their care systems and systematically close orphanages in favour of family-based care. A process of gradually closing residential care facilities is also under way in Cambodia, and Kenya has recently publicly announced that it is developing plans to deinstitutionalise residential care facilities and bring children home from orphanages. Haiti has made significant strides to strengthen its national care system in favour of families and reduce the institutionalisation of children with financial assistance from the EU and the support of organisations such as Lumos.

Despite these positive developments, which are only a few examples of a global trend, we still have a long way to go to end the era of child institutionalisation. For this to happen, change requires a global response that needs to take place in the Global North as well as the Global South.

Reforming tax systems to help children

While many countries in the Global North have seen an end to the use of orphanages within their own borders, donors continue to support orphanages in the Global South as a response to poverty and family breakdown.

Many countries in the Global North offer tax incentives to individuals and corporations who donate to charities, including those operating residential care institutions or funding the institutional care of children abroad. Charities based in jurisdictions such as Canada, the US, the UK, and a number of EU countries, among others, can register to be accredited by the relevant national tax authority. Such registration usually allows the charity to issue donation receipts to individual and corporate donors who make gifts in a particular calendar year. Governments in turn reimburse individuals and corporations for a percentage of their charitable donations.

In Canada, for example, a donor receives a non-refundable tax credit which can be applied to reduce the amount of tax owed in a given year. In fact, Canada has charitable tax credit rates for both the federal government as well as the provinces and territories. There is also an incentive to donate because a higher rate is applied for donations above $200 CAD. A donation of $2,000 CAD would result in approximately $762 in tax savings in the Province of Ontario and approximately $1,024 in the Province of Quebec (check out the Government’s tax credit calculator here).

According to Montreal-based tax lawyer John J. Lennard, “the notion of charity should only include those activities that positively promote human development and this is simply not the case when it comes to orphanages.” He contends that “the Canadian taxpayer should not be subsidising orphanages by reimbursing individuals and corporations for their often good but ill-guided intentions”.  

The problem lies in what fiscal policy-makers and tax authorities consider as “charitable”. The operation or support of foreign orphanages may be considered as charitable under national tax legislation without recognition of the harms that orphanages can do to children. Charities supporting orphanages are also tax exempt since they are deemed to be engaged in charitable activities. But support for orphanages neither furthers the relief of poverty nor brings benefits to communities. Orphanages are not a sustainable response to poverty and contribute to the undermining of families and communities.  

Unfortunately, charities, donors, fiscal policy makers, and tax authorities may be unaware of, and perhaps unintentionally reinforcing, the harmful effects of orphanages on children in the Global South. The good intentions of donors could also be making the matter worse by contributing to the proliferation of residential care facilities and the unnecessary institutionalisation of children rather than supporting family-based care which an increasing number of developing countries such as Kenya have set as a priority.

It is important to recognise that orphanages in a number of countries are established on a commercial for-profit model precisely to attract foreign donations. Children are recruited into these institutions for the sole purpose of attracting donations and exploiting children to that end. These institutions can also be sites of child trafficking. Conditions need to be placed on support for orphanages so that taxpayers money is not used to inadvertently support trafficking.

Changes in taxation policy could play a critical role in redirecting funding away from orphanages and trafficking enterprises by acting as a guide to personal decision-making by donors. This will help ensure that taxpayer money is used to support the Sustainable Development Goals and that children globally are protected and can enjoy their rights, including the right to family.

The problem is that the changing realities around orphanages may not at the present time be reflected in a tax authority’s view of the purposes and activities that are considered charitable under that jurisdiction’s tax laws. In that sense, there is a lag between current child protection best practices, which overwhelmingly favour family-based care over institutionalisation, and the charitable behaviour that is incentivised by a country’s tax system.

The power of tax incentives should not be underestimated: benefits that incentivise donations to organisations that support orphanages, as opposed to those that support families, reinforce the continued separation of children and violation of their rights.

Incentivise families, not orphanages

Regulatory bodies in the Global North have a key governance role to play in ensuring that the aid sector protects and upholds children’s rights through appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks. Through the current taxation incentives in a number of countries, the violation of children’s rights may be inadvertently encouraged, legitimised and reinforced. While this is not the intention of such policies, procedures must be put in place in national taxation policies to promote child protection, safe practices, and sustainable development.       

The current sea of change in care system policies and the way we see orphanages has consequences for the way we give, and the types of giving that should be incentivised. The views of tax authorities need to evolve so that any unintentional deleterious effects of a country’s tax incentive system may be minimised. As taxpayers, we should demand that we are not paying to harm or traffic children. This can be achieved by redefining what a tax authority deems as charitable. Taxpayers in the Global North should not be paying for an outdated system of care in a number of countries in the Global South.

All Children in Kenya Count but not all Children in Kenya are Counted

Achieving the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda in Kenya by 2030 is important in order to ensure that children have a life that they deserve. But in order to meet the SDG targets, all vulnerable children in Kenya need to be included.

In official surveys, children living outside of households are often not counted. In 2016, Stahili joined a global call for an improved global monitoring framework for assessing the needs of the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations. For instance, children living in institutional care such as as orphanages or children’s homes, much like children living in street situations, are often not recorded in official statistics and so fall off the map when it comes to policy-making. The needs of these ‘invisible’ children may not taken into account by governments when developing policies and mobilising resources to uplift the most vulnerable.

Research suggests that up to 250 million people globally may not be counted due to household-based survey methodologies. Children outside of households are therefore not counted. The omission of such large numbers of people, including children, has serious consequences when it comes to achieving the SDG targets. Uncounted populations remain on the margins of society and without a voice, denied basic rights and services.

How many children are in orphanages?

We do not know the exact number of children living in orphanages and other forms of residential care where they are denied their right to a family life. Worldwide, it is thought that at least 8 million children are living outside families in institutional settings, although this figure which dates back to research in the 1980s is likely to be a gross under-estimate.

In Kenya, it is suggested that there are approximately 2.5 million orphans and vulnerable children, most of whom live within family and community environments. While the government recently reported that 45,000 children are housed in more than 800 registered charitable children’s institutions (CCIs) (i.e. orphanages or children’s homes), the actual number is unknown. It is likely to be considerably higher since many orphanages are unregistered and therefore operate outside government regulations. In one sub-county, Stahili continues to witness first-hand a number of unregistered residential care institutions, suggesting that the real number across the country may be several times higher than officially stated in some locations. But the true statistics are unknown.  

Working towards counting children in Kenya

The government of Kenya has recently committed to a process of bringing children home (i.e. deinstitutionalisation) which is intended to close CCIs and promote family-based care throughout the country. Counting all children so that they can be included in a plan of action is critical. Stahili is committed to working with local and national government in Kenya on broader and more inclusive forms of data gathering beyond household data collection.

These steps will be important to ensure that children living in residential care institutions in Kenya are counted and not left behind. Until this happens, not all children will be counted.  


10 things to know about orphanages

At Stahili we are often asked about orphanages and why we believe that children should grow up in families instead. Here are ten things that you should know.  

  1.  Every child has a right to a family. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, every child has the right to be with their family and to be reunited with them if separated. For children without families, family-based solutions are the best alternatives to orphanages.
  2. No child should live in an orphanage or children’s home on a permanent basis. Under international law and the UN Guidelines on the Alternative Care of Children, orphanages and other forms of residential care institutions should be places of last resort. In reality, children often end up spending their entire childhood in such institutions. Decades of research make it clear that growing up in an orphanage can be harmful to a child’s development.
  3. The majority of “orphans” are not actually orphans at all. Most children (at least 80%) living in orphanages have either one or both living parents or a close relative who could care for them. In our experience at Stahili, the overwhelming majority of children who are known as “double orphans” (i.e. children who have lost both parents) have extended family who could care for them but are too poor to do so.
  4. Orphanages are not an appropriate, nor sustainable response to poverty. Orphanages are often used in response to poverty and neglect without addressing the underlying issues that lead to the separation of children from their families. Why put funds into long-term residential care that is harmful for children when it is possible to support the empowerment of families to enable them to care for their children?
  5. The number of orphanages is on the rise in many countries, even though the number of orphans globally appears to be on the decline. The rise in the number of orphanages can be attributed in great part to foreign aid and especially to what are known as “voluntourists” – usually unqualified volunteers who spend short periods  of time in orphanages, often paying for the experience.
  6. Volunteering at orphanages causes more harm than good. Vulnerable children need the support and care of local experts who know how to support families and communities. Volunteering in and donating to orphanages has created a lucrative industry that acts as an incentive to the “orphanage business”. But even in the best of conditions and when an orphanage is not run as a business, the constant rotation of foreign volunteers is harmful to a child’s development, creating attachment issues which can greatly affect children later in life. Even children in well-meaning orphanages often have families.
  7. People with good intentions are fueling child trafficking. There is increasing evidence that children are being trafficked from families into orphanages to attract donations from often well-intentioned tourists and donors. This form of child exploitation has recently been acknowledged in leading reports on human trafficking.  
  8. Most children living in residential care can become part of families. The process of reunifying children with their families has worked successfully in countries which have resolved to reduce the number of orphanages or eliminate them altogether. At Stahili, we have seen the benefits of family reunification first-hand and the positive long-term impact on children.   
  9. There are alternatives to orphanages. Where it is not in the best interest of the child to be with his or her family, or where he or she has no one, children’s rights law and best practices in child welfare and protection confirm that alternative care, such as kinship-based care, should be established in preference to institutions.  
  10. We cannot end orphanages without tackling the root causes of separation. Family separation is often closely linked to wider issues such as poverty, inequality, lack of access to education, and neglect. Responding to family separation means addressing these root causes as well as changing care systems. It requires interventions which empower and strengthen children, families, and communities in the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals.  

If you want to help children, make sure you support organisations which work together with families and local communities to develop sustainable solutions. Read more about our work here  and consider donating to help us reunite children with their families.

Why families are at the heart of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

What do you think is missing in the Sustainable Development Goals? What would be your 18th goal, if you could add one to the list? These are some of the questions we ask students in our workshops on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the World’s Largest Lesson. Among the many ideas put forward by students is one that goes right to the heart of Stahili’s work: families.

The Sustainable Development Goals are a set of global targets to stimulate action for humanity and the planet. One of the core aims of the Goals for the year 2030 is “to provide children and youth with a nurturing environment for the full realisation of their rights and capabilities…including through safe schools and cohesive communities and families.”

Although strengthening families is not one of the 17 global goals, families are a crosscutting issue that impacts most, if not all, SDGs. Families are central to Stahili’s work in Kenya in response to the institutionalisation of children which has led to the denial of basic rights, including the right to family and the right to education, among others.

Stahili reunites children living in institutions, sometimes called orphanages, with families and provides family-based support. Our work bringing children home was recently featured on CNN. Through our work, we have put families at the forefront of making the SDGs a reality in the communities in which we work.

Ending poverty is the first goal. At Stahili, we have seen the effects of poverty on children and communities. Poverty severely weakens the ability of communities to achieve many of the targets in the SDGs. Stahili’s team assists parents and guardians to improve their own skills to achieve more sustainable livelihoods (Goal 8), especially for women who are often the sole or principal heads of households (Goal 5). Alleviating poverty is not about charity but about enabling families to live independent lives. Families are also supported with access to health services (Goal 3) and improvements in housing (Goal 11).

Education is at the heart of Stahili’s work. It is why our logo is a knapsack. Some of the children in our programme were formerly living in orphanages and did not always attend school. This was especially so when foreign volunteers would arrive. Today, all of the children and young people in Stahili’s programme attend school or university (Goal 4), significantly increasing their future life chances and helping to reduce inequalities in a country where up to one million children do not attend school (Goal 10). Some of our students have completed college and have gone on to live full, happy, and independent lives thanks to the support of family.

Families need an additional helping hand at times of emergency. The recent drought in Kenya has meant that families are not producing as much food as they normally would on their land. The problem is compounded by an increase in food prices. This year, some families have needed extra support in the form of additional food (Goal 2). Children do not learn well on hungry stomachs.

Communities also lie at the heart of our work. Stahili works with parent and guardian groups to make sure that decisions are made locally for the benefit of the community (Goal 11). To that end, all of Stahili’s programmes are designed in consultation with children as well as community members and leaders.

Our chances of achieving a more peaceful and sustainable world will grow if we can ensure sustainable families for all, and give every child the best start in life. That is why Stahili places “supporting families” at the heart of achieving the SDGs.

Please consider supporting our work in Kenya to bring children home from orphanages by making a donation or contacting us at

If you are a teacher and would like to know about our work on the SDGs, please contact us at

Why is orphanage tourism not in the UNWTO draft convention on tourism ethics?

It is a big year for global tourism. The UN designated 2017 as the International Year of Tourism for Sustainable Development and the 156 member states of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) – the UN agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism – is considering the adoption of two international conventions, including a proposed Convention on Tourism Ethics

The Draft Convention on Tourism Ethics is largely based on the Global Code of Ethics which was adopted by UNWTO in 1999. At its centrepiece is “the universal right to tourism” which is seen as “the corollary of the right to rest and leisure.” While some child protection concerns have been recognised, the issue of “voluntourism” involving children – and particularly orphanage tourism – is not mentioned in the Draft Convention. This means that a right to tourism may be created without fully taking into account the need to protect vulnerable children from harmful tourism practices which have grown considerably since the Global Code of Ethics was first adopted 18 years ago.

Orphanage Tourism and the UNWTO

Sexual exploitation is rightly recognised in the Draft Convention as an area where children need special protection – the result of extensive consultations between UNWTO, child protection NGOs, and tourism providers. However, the potentially harmful impact of other “tourism products” involving children, such as orphanage tourism, do not seem to have received the same level of attention in the Draft Convention.  At the start of the year Stahili drew attention to the need to address orphanage tourism as part of the International Year of Tourism for Sustainable Development.

Voluntourism is not new to the UNWTO. Its current campaign to promote responsible travel, launched in August, urges travellers to “research well before engaging into voluntourism”. However, there is no indication what this research should involve, and whether working with children as a volunteer in an orphanage is ethically acceptable as a form of voluntourism.

Previous references to voluntourism by the UNWTO have emphasised its business potential for the tourism sector. Prior to the launch of the current campaign, a blog post on the Tourism4Development web site acknowledged “volun-tourism” as “a marketable product and one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative sectors in the tour industry market.” The post goes on to flag child protection concerns and the risks for children.

The issue of orphanage tourism has featured in the work of the World Tourism Network on Child Protection, which is coordinated by UNWTO. Most recently, at a meeting in Berlin in March 2017, a representative of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism of Myanmar gave a presentation on responsible tourism policy focused on preventing “orphanage and child sex tourism”. The Network’s meeting in March 2016 included a presentation by the Association of British Travel Agents which highlighted the dubious intentions of orphanage volunteering.

Orphanage tourism is neither sustainable nor responsible

Despite the relative lack of attention given to the issue by UNWTO, public awareness of the harms of orphanage tourism, its growth as an industry and its links with child trafficking, has risen sharply in recent years. Current developments in Australia, where orphanage tourism could soon be outlawed as part of a Modern Slavery Act, are just one sign of this growing international concern. A recent report by Lumos on Haiti also highlighted the negative impact of orphanage tourism in sustaining an orphanage “business” which separates children from their families.

Further signs have come from the travel and tourism industry itself. Initiatives to safeguard child protection and guidelines on voluntourism strongly discouraging orphanage volunteering have received wide support. Travel companies, such as Intrepid and Flight Centre, have stopped offering volunteer trips to orphanages. And some schools and universities have taken the pledge to stop what are known as “orphan trips”.

There is a growing consensus that orphanage tourism is neither sustainable nor responsible as a form of tourism or development aid. But despite the global concern, the new Draft Convention on Tourism Ethics makes no reference to orphanage tourism or voluntourism. Instead, the focus is mainly on the rights of tourists, tourism providers and other stakeholders in the tourism sector. The human rights provisions and protections in the Draft Convention (Article 2) are weak, especially when weighed against “the universal right to tourism”.

As the Roundtable Human Rights in Tourism – a European alliance of tourism enterprises, tourism associations and NGOs – recently stated in an open letter to UNWTO, “the focus on a right to tourism diverts attention from other human rights that are still threatened in the context of tourism, such as the right to decent work, the right to housing and the specific rights of children, women and indigenous people.” Further, the potential transformation of the Global Code into a tourism ethics convention which will be binding for member states is “hasty” and “a lost opportunity to review the code in the light of current developments in tourism as well as in the field of international policies and governance.”

Protecting children’s rights in tourism

The protection of children and children’s rights should be at the centre of tourism ethics. These rights should include the rights of children living in residential care institutions like orphanages who are frequently commodities, and rarely beneficiaries, of tourism.

Thanks to the work of advocates, researchers and child protection experts worldwide, the fight against orphanage tourism in terms of public opinion, travel and tourism practices, and even legislation, is gaining momentum. It would be a missed opportunity if one of the world’s major international conventions on tourism – and its first on tourism ethics – does not recognise and take account of these developments.

The time is now for member states of UNWTO to ensure that the Draft Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics reflects the need to protect vulnerable children from harmful tourism practices such as orphanage tourism.

My Year with Stahili

Avanti Menon, Stahili’s Associate Human Rights Officer, reflects on her year with Stahili as a ChangeMaker Fellow. How did her initial assumptions about the challenges of Stahili’s work change, and what did she learn from her experience?

As a Stahili Human Rights ChangeMaker Fellow, my work involved a little bit of everything: research, drafting, social media, campaigning, fundraising, giving workshops, organising events. During the year, I learned a great deal about children’s rights and advocacy. But the most unique experience I had was learning about Stahili’s child protection and development work in Kenya.

When I joined Stahili, I knew little about the harms of orphanages and the role they play in the separation of children from their families. Based in The Hague, I liaised nearly every day with Joseph, our Field Operations Manager, and Fred, our Field Programmes Manager, in Kenya. Their everyday work in the field includes visiting the families supported by Stahili, assessing their needs, and making sure the students have all the supplies they need for school. I was also lucky enough to go to Kenya twice with Michelle, Stahili’s Executive Director, to see first-hand how Stahili’s model for the reintegration of children with their families works in detail. While in Kenya, I also led two workshops with Stahili’s students –  one on the rights of the child and the other on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals –  and helped train staff to lead similar workshops with other students in the future.


Before going to Kenya, I knew that Stahili rescued children from orphanages, reunited them with their families, and supported them with their education. To me, it seemed that removing the children from orphanages was the hard part. All Stahili had left to do was raise money to pay for the children’s tuition fees, right? Wrong.

Helping children to leave orphanages is just the first step. There is a lot of work needed to ensure that reintegration is sustainable and that children stay in families. Children who grow up in poverty in Kenya are often targeted by orphanage `recruiters’ who offer to take away the children simply because their families can’t afford to care for them. The children supported by Stahili were trafficked to orphanages once before, so who’s to say it won’t happen again? This is why empowering families for the long term is essential.

In strengthening families, small things can make a big difference. For instance, when an elderly grandmother of two Stahili students lost her mobility, Stahili mobilised support to buy her a wheelchair so she could continue to care for her grandchildren. The impact of the wheelchair alone on the whole family was incredible. You can truly see the joy on her face when she was finally able to go outside again.

Another grandmother of two students was having trouble hearing, so naturally we needed to get her a hearing aid – how can she care for her grandchildren if she can’t hear them? Although this may seem like a small thing, for the family the hearing aid has made a big difference. These instances show the details we must consider in keeping families together that go far beyond reuniting children with families.

The last few months have been exceptionally difficult due to the ongoing drought in East Africa, which is expected to last until October of this year. If families are starving, their children are at an increased risk of being trafficked to orphanages, dropping out of school or being exploited in other ways. We must do all we can to ensure that families are supported holistically. Thanks to generous donors, we have been able to provide emergency food to children and families during this difficult time, although further support will be needed throughout the months ahead.

I’ll admit, keeping children in families is hard work. Some might say it’s easier to open an orphanage and keep all the children in one place. But from a human rights perspective, long term institutionalisation is one of the worst things we can do to a child, and there is no excuse for taking the ‘easy way out’. That’s why I am so proud to be part of an organisation like Stahili and to have contributed to making a real impact on the lives of children and families in Kenya. As a ChangeMaker, I can say that’s exactly what I did – make change.

Another kind of tourist

Stahili’s Transparency Officer Saskia Wishart reflects on what it means to be an ethical tourist.

Seven years ago, while I was living in Cape Town, South Africa, I travelled with colleagues to a winery where we had a unique experience. Besides tasting quality wine, we were introduced to a company that pays its workers a fair wage, provides onsite labourers with quality homes, and invests in the education of their employees’ children. Our wine-tasting experience was enhanced by the fact that we knew the money we were spending was being invested back into the lives of individuals in order to improve their quality of life and provide a fair and living wage.

As tourists, we have an important role in the countries we visit by choosing how and where we spend our money. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, travel and tourism supports 292 million jobs globally and generates 10.2% of the world’s GDP. One in 10 jobs in the world are in the tourism industry.

Aside from its economic impact, tourism can also have negative long-term effects – on the environment, on communities, on human well-being – which are more difficult to measure. Tourism has fuelled the rise in harmful practices such as ‘slum tourism’ and ‘voluntourism’ which are questionable for their harmful impact on local communities and their reinforcement of simplistic approaches to complex development issues. Not to mention that many children are trafficked to orphanages to attract the support of foreign volunteers.

What does sustainable travel and tourism mean?

The UNWTO defines sustainable tourism as ‘tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industries, the environment and host communities.’ Ethical tourism advocates for consumers and industry alike to avoid participation in activities that contribute to, or support, negative impacts on the communities we seek to help.

In other words, an ethical tourist considers the impact that their trip has on the people and places they visit and refrains from engaging in harmful activities such as orphanage volunteering.

(c) Saskia Wishart

The United Nations has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism and Development and as tourist season is peaking this time of the year, Stahili has put together the following practical tips to help you become a more ethical tourist.

Tip 1: Consider your travel values. Before you go, take a moment to consider the values that matter to you and plan your trip with these values at the forefront of your plans. For example, if you care about vulnerable children impacted by poverty, do not give to or visit locations which use poverty or vulnerable children as tourist attractions.

The little things we do while travelling matter. For instance, we should always respect the cultures we encounter, pick up our own garbage wherever we go, and use ethical travel and tourism companies.

Tip 2: Do the research. In order to stick to your values, you will need to research the places you are going to and the companies you will be relying on. For example, if a large hotel chain has had allegations of exploitative labour in the past, consider booking a locally-run, eco-friendly hostel or bed-and-breakfast instead.

Tip 3: Buy fairly produced and locally sourced goods. Supporting local artisans and businesses helps to boost the economic benefits of tourism at an individual level. Buying in-season local fruits and vegetables prevents the need to ship in foreign-grown food to feed picky tourists. Support local businesses or social enterprises that have a fair wage certification or some other way of demonstrating how their company is positively impacting its workers and the community.

Tip 4: Support arts and culture. Instead of taking a slum tour or visiting an orphanage, why not learn about the culture of the place you are visiting? Check out museums and other places dedicated to the preservation of history and local art, music, and literature, and don’t miss out on local festivals and events. Be sure to respect signs that ask you not to touch items, to take pictures, or to walk on protected ground. Respect the religious and cultural practices of the places you visit.

Tip 5: Become a committed volunteer in your home community.  Yes, you might really, really want to volunteer for an organisation helping street kids, or that one orphanage you are *certain* is not engaged in trafficking children. However, short-term, unskilled volunteering rarely does any good on a local level, can be damaging on a large-scale development level, and most often ends up being about the experiences of the tourist-traveller instead of the beneficiary.

This may be the moment when you need to come back to your personal values. How can you do the most amount of good and stay true to the things that matter most to you? My number one recommendation is to find an organisation operating locally that is having a measurable positive impact and make a donation. Once you get back to your home country, put all those amazing volunteer skills to work by committing yourself locally to a cause you care about.

Family Institutionalisation

Stahili’s Director and Co-Founder, Michelle Oliel, reflects on the people who live and work in orphanages and their children.      


Children are meant to grow up in families. Unfortunately, millions of children worldwide grow up in residential care institutions, sometimes called orphanages, care centres or children’s homes. The harm to a child’s well-being, including their health, development and life chances, of growing up in residential care without stable family relationships has been widely documented in more than 60 years of research.

Through our work bringing children home from orphanages, I have met many children living in residential care as well as care leavers who have transitioned into families or independent living. I have also met the many staff living and working in orphanages. They are often the forgotten characters in the orphanage story.

I once met a staff member of an orphanage in Kenya. She worked in a “children’s home” which claimed to provide care in a “family-based setting”. As a “house mother”, she was living at the orphanage. So too were her biological children and a few dozen other children –  far surpassing the number of children in a typical Kenyan family, and more than any super-Mom can handle while providing the individual attention children need. She told me of her feelings of remorse at leaving the children at the orphanage and taking a holiday. Besides, she had little annual leave and would go home to visit her family only after obtaining approval for time off from her boss. This was not always easy to negotiate.

We have realised through Stahili’s work that this woman’s story is not unique. In Kenya, an unknown number of women and men work in residential care institutions, and are often required to live on the premises for extended periods of time. We have found that women are more likely to live with their children in these institutions, while men are more likely to be separated from their families. In some cases, women have also been separated from their children, and others do not live in the orphanage, often working long hours.

It is this idea – that families, as a whole or in part, can be institutionalised – that has stuck with me. While some of the homes engaging in the practice of family institutionalisation are registered institutions, a number of them are also unregistered homes where children are often trafficked. These institutions sometimes count the children of staff living in the orphanage when determining the number of children in their care. At the end of the day, these children are also institutionalised and in need of a proper home, despite living with their parents in an orphanage.

Most of the staff I have met come from vulnerable backgrounds themselves and support their families on the income they receive from working at a residential care institution. Many express fears of losing their jobs, making them reluctant to speak to me or Stahili’s team. Many of the women and men living in residential care institutions with their children cite the need to balance their desire to stay together with their children and their need for employment. For others, separation is the only choice, with children often left with extended family members. This is a difficult balance or choice for anyone.

Deinstitutionalisation processes, while rightly focused on children and families, need to include the staff who work in institutions, and ensure that their expertise and experience are valued in transitions to family-based care. Examples of good practice from Uganda show that orphanages can be repurposed to support family reunification, and orphanage staff can play a key role in this process. We should not, however, forget the children of those staff living in orphanages who also need reintegration support as they transition back into communities and families.

Giving these forgotten figures access to support and training in family-based alternatives will allow them to play an important role in the move from institutions to families. This is an important part of the process of care reform which should never be forgotten.