Kaden Littrell and Laura Wurm are helping children around the world by educating others about the issue of fake orphanages.

Kaden Littrell and Laura Wurm are helping children around the world by educating others about the issue of fake orphanages.
Littrell, a 2014 Canton-Galva High School graduate, and Wurm, and 2014 McPherson High School graduate, are two of almost 20 Kansas State University students who organized a campus-based awareness project, as part of a K-State student response to an international challenge identified by Save the Children and The United Nations Children’s Fund.
These two global organizations and several others are part of the Better Volunteering, Better Care Network, a global, inter-agency initiative addressing increasing risks to vulnerable children caused in part by the good intentions of young people interested in international service.
As Littrell, Wurm and other students explained to their peers on campus, there is increasing evidence children in orphanages in many countries are not orphans at all, and actually have living parents. These fraudulent orphanages collect money and volunteer hours from people eager to help orphans, thus taking resources from children who really need help.
“Not many people know that this is a problem,” Littrell said. “All of us in this class agreed that none of us had ever heard of this being an issue. This is something that we are really trying to change. By making people more aware of what is going on, they will be more conscious about what is actually going on.”
The students, all of whom are first-year students enrolled in Honors Leadership through the Staley School of Leadership Studies, have formed a group called “Escape the Box” and developed a website that includes links to information about the prevalence and effects of these fraudulent orphanages.
The goal of their outreach is to raise awareness of this issue, called orphanage tourism, and encourage potential international volunteers to ask informed questions, do appropriate research, and make careful decisions to ensure that good intentions lead to good outcomes.
“One main reason why I think people should be aware of fraudulent orphanages is the fact that these orphanages are ruining the lives of children who could have been living a happier, better life,” Littrell said. “People who go to volunteer in these orphanages pay a large sum of money in order to be able to do so, and they are paying this money because they want to help too. If they are volunteering at false orphanages, their money is actually negatively impacting these kids instead of positively impacting them.”
Funding that accompanies idealists’ good intentions is influencing unscrupulous people to create orphanages where there is not a need. In the worst cases, children simply become a commodity in a business venture to make money off of others’ desires to make a positive difference.
The United Nations Children’s Fund suggests 75 percent of children in Cambodian orphanages are not orphans. Martin Punaks, country director for Next Generational Nepal, spoke to students and said orphanages in that country are disproportionately present in tourist areas, even though that presence does not correlate with population or with need.
Punaks, whose organization supports children who have been liberated from orphanages that trafficked them, also provided several individual stories about young people who did not experience a loving childhood because of this growing problem.
“What we are working on as a group, as well as what people are working at on a global scale, is trying to weed out the fraud orphanages from the legitimate ones,” Littrell said. “We don’t want to discourage people from volunteering overseas, we just want people to double check to make sure they are doing good instead of harm.”
The students continue to assemble related resources for ethical international volunteering, which they have placed on their website, http://escapethebox.dudaone.com/ and Facebook page, www.facebook.com/escthebox.
They also can be found on Twitter @EscTheBox.