La La How The Life Goes On

Archive for June 2016

Responsible travel operators leading change in industry approach to orphanage volunteering

World Children’s Day was June 1st. Like all people with children, I’m a little behind in my organization skills. So we are celebrating it today.

One of the main thrusts of this year’s  WCD is the effort to stop orphanage tourism around the world.  We’ve all seen it. Selfies of twentysomethings with little brown kids smiling. Self-satisfied blog posts by people who have traveled far and paid much money in order to “help” folks in Africa and Asia.

UNICEF and several major international organizations have made it clear that orphanage tourism is not only inadvisable but actively harmful to the children and communities involved. So why are we still talking about it? Because the folks involved in these trips are largely are well-meaning and sincere. So when you come up against big-hearted, well-meaning, decent white people on a mission it is almost impossible to convince them that what they think is Good Works is actually detrimental to the very people they think they are helping. Even if that evidence is coming from UNICEF.

The reasons are pretty straightforward (more details of each point are in the link above):

  1. In some countries, tourism keeps kids in orphanages because they generate revenue.
  2. In most countries, very few of the children are actual orphans as in, “have no living parents.” But they cannot be allowed to visit living relatives for fear of the loss of revenue if discovered.
  3. Children in care are traumatized and vulnerable. Allowing tourists with no expertise in childhood trauma to interact with them is unethical.
  4. Children in care struggle with healthy attachments. Having differing sets of rotating “caring people” in their lives for two weeks at a time, showing affection and then leaving, is deeply damaging to the children long-term.
  5. If particular tourists take a liking to a particular child during their stay, it creates interpersonal conflicts with the other, often older children who were not noticed. This creates conflict within the institution that would not exist without the intervention of westerners.
  6. The presence of unvetted, untrained, uncommitted “volunteers” in the daily lives of children already traumatized and vulnerable is on its face unethical regardless of any “affection” they show the children during their stay.
  7. Research indicates that having unstable, constantly-changing sources of affection is actually WORSE than having minimal affection overall.

If you need further convincing, let’s talk about your kids for a minute. Let’s envision them in their preschool or daycare (the name and management of the child’s location is irrelevant, just as whether the kids in African and Asia are in an “orphanage” or a “community care home” or whatever).

Let’s imagine the preschool or daycare director received money for the school (or themselves) in exchange for allowing, say, Kenyan and Laotian tourists to come sit in the classrooms with your children. They play with them, sing with them, hug them, laugh with them, have them sit on their laps. A couple of the tourists ask to take your son or daughter on a day trip to a local site of interest, alone. The director says yes. While there, the tourists take photos of themselves with your children and post them on their blog. None of the tourists has been background-checked by law-enforcement, nor do any of them have any expertise in  working with preschool children. They are, very simply, tourists who want to come to the USA and help out at soup kitchens and dig some gardens at a preschool. And while they’re here, they get to see what an American preschool and daycare is like, in order to get a sense of how else they could help kids in America.

Please tell me you would not be the first parent to have that director’s head on a damn stick.

Please tell me you would not be the first parent to shut down any argument that “isn’t it better that your kids get hugs from these folks than no hugs at all?”

Please tell me that you would not be the first parent to demand to know how this dehumanization of your children could ever have happened.


If you actually care about the children in African countries or in Asian countries, you will–above all–want for them the same dignity, privacy and security that you want for your own children. If you truly see each of these kids as an individual human soul–just as you see your own children–you will be unable to insert yourself into a situation that removes the protections from them that you demand for your own children. Even if your heart is telling you that you are a good person with good intentions. ESPECIALLY if your heart is telling you that you are a good person with good intentions.

What many of the organizations and individuals working to stop orphan tours have come up against is that old chestnut: Whitesplaining. The white folk involved listen politely and then tell the experts giving them this very expert, well-researched, well-sourced, on-the-ground information about the negative aspects of orphan tours, “But we are different and here’s why.” All the ways in which your research does not apply to me. All the ways in which you don’t understand what it is we do. All the ways in which you are missing the point of our good works. When the only answer should be:

“This is hard to hear, but I’m going to sit with that discomfort. I’m going to consider this information from a universally-respected international organization. I’m going to try to turn off my defense mechanisms so I can truly absorb the information. I’m going to trust that the people and organizations making these recommendations are not doubting my heart and my intentions even while they hold a mirror up to the flaws in my work. And then I’m going to make some changes because I truly do care about children more than I care about my ego or my ‘life’s work.'”

If your tour company still offers these tours, tell them not to. And then find another tour company. Your kids will learn far more about decency and caring for other humans in that one act than they will doling out a thousand hugs to orphans.



Posted on: June 8, 2016

Two major topics to discuss today, both of them connected. They are both about the constantly evolving role of women and female power in our society.

First, the first female major party candidate for President of the United States was determined last evening. Whatever your politics, this is good news for our daughters–and sons. Think about it. Think of all the countries in the world–Great Britain, India, Pakistan, Germany–that have had female leaders. Decades ago. And yet, here we are in the great United States of America, just rollin’ around to it in 2016. It’s certainly not that there have been no qualified women lo these 200 and some years of our history. How would that even be statistically possible? That 50% of the country’s population was somehow just not qualified for the office but, you know, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were? Come on now. It is because the bar has always been higher for women to be seen as capable of the multiple challenges of the job.

She must be tough, but not a Lady Macbeth.

She must be just the right amount of decent-looking. Not too attractive to be considered stupid, but not too unattractive to be considered too ugly for men to look at her face on TV. To be crass, she can be a hot grandma, but she cannot be fuckable.

She must be open to all ideas, but not easily swayed.

She must be smart, but not so smart that she acts like she’s smarter than you.

She must be accomplished, but not so accomplished that you doubt her mothering instincts.

She must be married to a man, but not be wifely.

She must be independent, but not so independent that you wonder if she’s a lesbian.

She must have had the same career as a man, but cannot have committed any of the same errors as a man, as these indicate dishonesty and treachery.

She must dress well, but not so well that she is seen as profligate, and not so cheaply that she is seen as frumpy and dowdy.


Apparently Hillary Clinton wore a $12,000 jacket to talk about inequality! GASP!

Now, quick–how much did Donald Trump’s suit cost yesterday?

The answer is: no one knows because no one cares. He can fly his personal jumbo jet while wearing a $75,000 suit and top hat and shiny black cane and not one reporter would give a single solitary crap about it because….well, why? Because we have never in the history of American politics judged our leaders’ fitness for office based on their outfits, on their fashion choices. “Oh I would have voted for Reagan except for that tie he wore just represented so much ignorance to me.” “I loved JFK’s speech about poverty. I wish he hadn’t worn a jacket with those lapels, though.”


Stop asking why Hillary is wearing a particular piece of clothing and start asking yourself why you care.  If you are honest, you will not like the answer. Because we have been conditioned to judge women and men in politics by different standards. For men, clothing is simply fabric you use to cover your body so you can go do whatever it is you do. For women, clothing is apparently an expression of something, a totem holding some kind of meaning, a secret code we can crack. AHA! She doesn’t care about poor people! She’s wearing an expensive jacket!!

It is ludicrous on its face. And yet we all unthinkingly unexaminedly buy into it. To the detriment of our daughters, granddaughters, and our entire country.


We want to believe that how we treat Hillary Clinton or any woman in power or, really, any woman in society has nothing to do with an unconscious woman being raped behind a dumpster and her attacker getting basically a non-sentence.  But it has EVERYTHING to do with it.

When a woman is judged by different standards than a man, for engaging in the exact same behavior, we have a problem.

Two people go to a party. Two people get drunk. One person passes out. The other person rapes that person while she is unconscious.  The rape victim is questioned about what she wore, what she drank, who she talked to, how she engages in sexual relations with her boyfriend at home, what crimes she has committed in the past. The man who was caught running away when confronted in the act, is given glowing letters of recommendation. Character witnesses up the wazoo. And given 6 months in jail so as not to have a “severe impact” on his life.

This is the result of having one standard for males and one for females. Men commit crimes against women and are protected from consequences so as not to ruin their futures. The women are treated like criminals from the start, with futures already ruined.

When you see a boy in an outfit–any outfit–and think nothing of it to the point that it doesn’t even register with you, and yet you ascribe all kinds of meaning to a girl and her clothing, you are contributing to rape culture. Whether you like it or not.

There is not a girl in the world hoping to get raped. And there is not an outfit in the world she can wear that would justify it. You can decide you think what she’s wearing is not appropriate by whatever standards you hold. But you cannot decide that her outfit contributed to a rape. Unless you believe that women’s apparel has a magical power to turn nice men into criminals, which is not reality-based thinking, and you should see someone about that.


So let’s take this week, where a woman took a crack at a big glass ceiling, and where another woman took back her power and her dignity in the face of unimaginable cruelty ( ) and resolve to do better. For our daughters, our granddaughters–and for ourselves. Who knows what greatness lies in the heart of some young girl watching this play out right now? Who knows what she will achieve in the future if we get out of her damn way with all of our sexist nonsense? Who knows what awe-inspiring things are possible for our nation if we can finally and at long last judge all of our citizens equally?

When you know better, you do better.
Let’s do better.

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