As a result of our travels, we’ve been fortunate to have visited tremendous nonprofit organizations and businesses with a cause. We’ve also met wonderful people who are committed to empowering citizens in developing countries – allowing them to lead better lives. If you’re traveling to these nonprofit organizations’ neighborhoods, I encourage you to visit them and learn more about their causes and the great work they do.
If you’re reading this from a spot that’s far from the communities in which each organization works – you might find it meaningful to get involved in another way. Please visit the organizations’ websites to learn more about their aims and how you can help.
Books for Cambodia. Our homestay hosts and friends in Takeo Province, Cambodia introduced us to this New Zealand nonprofit which raises money for community school libraries in their area.
Big Brother Mouse – Books in Laos. We visited Big Brother Mouse’s Luang Prabang, Laos location and were impressed by the array of books, published in both English and in Laotian, available for sale there. The organization encourages visitors to Laos to distribute books to children in lieu of candy, promoting literacy efforts. Tourists are also invited to conduct informal English-language workshops with Laotian students on site — something we’d planned to do while in Luang Prabang, until our plans were foiled by a stomach bug!
Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Cambodian Home Stay. Our week-long stay at the Meas Family Homestay in rural Takeo Province was one of the highlights of our time in Cambodia and in Asia in 2011! Siphen and Meas are extraordinary hosts and also inspirational community role-models. As educators, they were able to easily coordinate our visits to high school and university level English classes. They also arranged fun activities such as rice-threshing and day-trips to the local pagoda and market.
Community Learning International. We visited Community Learning International in Luang Prabang, Laos, to support their Book Boat program. (Visitors can purchase any number of books to populate the floating libraries that travel up and down the Mekong River to remote villages that might not have roads, let alone libraries.)
COPE – provider of prosthetic, orthotic and rehabilitation services in Laos. Laos is the most heaving bombed country in the world per capita. Between 1964-1973, the US Air Force dropped more than 260 million cluster bombs on Laos, locally known as ‘bombies’. It is estimated that at least 78 million unexploded bombies remain in Laos today – threatening farmers, villagers and children. We visited the COPE Center in Vientiane, Laos, and found its hands-on exhibits detailing the scope of the UXO problem to be extremely informative and inspirational. Examples of prosthetics are on display, too, and it’s possible to make donations, purchase gift shop souvenirs or fund-raise from a distance.
Elephant Village, Luang Prabang, Laos. One of the highlights of our stay in Laos was visiting the Elephant Village, just outside of Luang Prabang. This business cares for nine elephants, keeping them away from work in the abusive logging industry. We were able to ride an elephant for just under one hour. An on-site veterinarian is there to care for them and the gentle giants seemed to be happy and well-cared-for.
Eye Will, Inc. International Charity for the Blind and Disabled – Home. We met Eye Will’s founder, Gabby, by chance, while in Hué, Vietnam. Gabby is a young woman from the U.K. who is blind herself, but committed to helping others with special needs in Vietnam. Time did not permit us to see Gabby’s Vietnam-based projects in action, however, our meeting with her left me asking myself, “What can I do to make the world a better place?” We found it challenging enough to negotiate Vietnam’s busy streets on foot, but Gabby seemed to do it with ease. What an inspiration she is, plus a tremendous role-model for those with special needs in Vietnam!
Friends, International We dined at superb Friends-run restaurants in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Vientiane, Laos during our sabbatical travels in 2011-2012. Friends empowers former street children by training them in the hospitality industry. The food was delicious and well-presented; the restaurants had cheery interiors with gift shops filled with homemade trinkets. I wish I’d had space in my luggage to purchase one of their delightful cookbooks!
MAG | Mines Advisory Group. With a mere $10 USD donation, MAG is able to remove unexploded ordnance from 14 square meters of Laotian land — protecting villagers and children. We visited the MAG Center while in Phonsavan, Laos, and found the exhibits to be eye-opening, heartbreaking and inspirational. We were also able to make our own small contribution, making a donation to clear land in our parent’s names.
Plan International. From 2002-2011, I sponsored a child named Delphine from Benin, Africa through Plan, a nonprofit that helps the world’s most impoverished communities through education outreach as well as health and sanitation initiatives. Even though Delphine has since graduated from the Plan program, she and I maintain contact and a friendship that’s lasted for nine years. In 2004, my parents and I visited their Plan-sponsored child, Iman, in Cairo, Egypt. We were impressed by Plan’s successful completion of projects in that community as well!
One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something.
-Henry David Thoreau
Reality Tours and Travel. Our tour through Dharavi, India’s largest ‘slum’ (and home to more than one million people in Mumbai/Bombay) was fascinating and thought-provoking. Dharavi is 20 times more dense than Mumbai and its GDP is estimated to be at more than $500 million. Conducted in a respectful manner, our tour was led by a guide who is a former Dharavi resident. He showed us the slum-dwellers busy at work — recycling aluminum and hard plastics, engaging in leather-work, pottery and papadum-making. What’s admirable is that 80% of this organization’s profits are returned to the Dharavi community – helping to fund a community center and Kindergarten (which we also visited).
Unite For Sight. Making a donation to this organization to help give someone in the underdeveloped world the gift of sight (in lieu of buying material trinkets as holiday or birthday presents for loved ones) is a rewarding gift-giving idea!
I shall not pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
A Pen Pal Correspondence Opportunity for a Classroom Teacher
If you are a teacher with a classroom of native-speaking English students who would be interested in communicating with a 5th grade class of Balinese students who are learning English, please contact me. I’ll then put you in touch with a teacher in Jimbaran, Bali, Indonesia.
You may enjoy the accompanying post Lessons from a Balinese Classroom: Our Visit to an English Class in Jimbaran.
If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want one hundred years of prosperity, grow people.
- Chinese Proverb