JK Rowling
Credit: Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

Thinking about taking a gap year? J.K. Rowling has some thoughts about that.

Many young people like to use a year between high school and college to travel, sometimes volunteering in other countries. Volunteer travel has been dubbed “voluntourism” that ideally serves the traveler — by letting them see new places — as well as helping communities around the world.

But while it sounds like a great exchange, J.K. Rowling says there are potential problems.

“Young people from the West, with the best intentions I have to say, often think the thing to do on their gap year is to go and volunteer in an orphanage,” Rowling said on BBC Radio 4’s Today show, as reported by The Telegraph. “They may not realize it, but they are driving what is sometimes a lucrative business model, they are keeping the institution open as a magnet for funding or private donations, they are driving a system that we know from 80 sound years of research irreparably harms children.”

Rowling said some institutions use voluntourism to gouge money from wealthy travelers to care for children, who could be abused, starved or even trafficked.

“There are children that are being severely abused and neglected, but children tell us that they are told they have to smile and sing and tell the volunteers they love them, otherwise they’ll be beaten or locked up or they won’t get food,” she said.

Rowling has founded a new charity called Lumos, which works to better children’s welfare around the world by exposing these exploitative practices and orphanages that use them.

Travelers interested in voluntourism should do their due diligence on the organization they want to work with. They can ask for a breakdown of where money goes and to see what kind of difference previous volunteers have made.