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Investigation

So, how do you make sure a charity is genuine?

© SOS Children

Mother and child © SOS Children

Despite the growing number of bogus orphanages in the world, there are still many children out there who desperately need help. But how to do you find a genuine charity to support?

My husband and I had been given some money (by all of our wedding guests) that was to go to a good cause. After investigating orphanage tourism, we were extremely worried about giving the money to the wrong organisation and – rather than helping – actually making the problem of worse.

We had already decided we wanted to go somewhere, whether to volunteer or donate. This was partly for selfish reasons, to experience a different culture, meet new people and to learn about the world, but we also aimed to forge a relationship with a charity that we might be able to support long-term. And we wanted to be able to come back and talk about the place and the people, and perhaps inspire others to help too.

We did a great deal of research, and asked ourselves some important questions, before making the decision to visit the SOS Children’s Village in El Jadida, Morocco.

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Can we commit to the time needed to volunteer?

As we both work, time is an issue. We found that volunteering was not a viable option as we could not offer enough time to most projects or could not be there when volunteers were wanted.

We came across the website, Stuff Your Rucksack.

This features a map of charities across the world. The charities say what ‘stuff’ they need and you stuff your rucksack full of it and take it to them. This seems like a great idea on the surface but be very careful: Stuff Your Rucksack says they do the vet charities that they include on the site but they don’t specify how. When asked what they were doing to minimise the risk of people supporting bogus charities and inadvertently fuelling orphanage tourism, they were not able to offer a comment.

However, we did find SOS Children on the Stuff Your Rucksack website, so it is definitely a useful tool. It just meant we had to do our own groundwork to make sure the charity was legitimate.

Does this charity let people volunteer directly with children?

SOS Children do not take volunteers to work directly with children. Any volunteers work with the staff in the Cambridge office or help to spread the word by speaking publicly about the organisation.

Do they promote the importance of the family?

SOS Children provides a foster family and home for more than 78,000 children in 518 Children’s Villages across 125 countries. They also help half a million children stay with their natural families through programmes in the surrounding communities, and provide education and healthcare for many more.

Do they have an affiliation with a well-known and trusted charity?

SOS Children’s Villages works with UNICEF.

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El Jadida was a breath of fresh air after the chaos of Marrakesh and Casablanca. Our hotel was right on the sea front where we enjoyed a cool sea breeze and a view of people playing in the shallows.

The Children’s Village was just a short walk away, a gated community of a few blocks of flats, pretty gardens and play areas. Youssef Bouyahyaoui, Director of SOS Village d’Enfants El Jadida, welcomed us warmly and offered us a tour of the site.

He showed us a lovely light and airy art room where they would be holding summer classes, a computer room (“For gaming,” said Youssef with a smile), a sports room complete with sprung floor for martial arts, and a family apartment.

Each apartment is home to eight children aged 0 to 16 years, a ‘mother’ and the mother’s assistant. The children share a few to each bedroom. There is a living room and a kitchen with a big table that everyone can sit around to eat or do their homework. It was spotlessly clean and extremely homely.

Youssef explained to us that despite the children’s many inevitable problems they work very hard to make it feel like a real family.

The children go to normal schools in the city. This helps them to integrate into society later in life. They are looked after in the Village until they reach 16 years. They then live in a halfway house and are cared for until they get a job and become independent.

We donated art supplies for their summer school but Youssef explained to us that they receive many donations, from companies such as McDonalds and Dell. What they really need is ongoing financial support.

What can you do?

If you’d like to help SOS Children, find out how you can get involved or donate here.

Or find your own charity to support. There is some great advice out there on what to do and what not to do:

This Telegraph article has a great list of dos and don’ts: Orphanage tourism: help or hindrance?

Childsafe also offers some great advice here and here.

Related articles:

Tourists are fuelling child poverty and family separation

Orphanage tourism: The volunteer’s story

Orphanage tourism: The local’s story

Volunteering in Cambodia: The good, the bad and the ugly

Cambodia: Country profile

Beautiful Cambodia

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About Katherine Latham

Copywriter, journalist, writer.

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