Friendship Village – Hanoi, Vietnam

The Friendship Village provides vocational training to Vietnamese children and elders affected by Agent Orange

In Hanoi, Vietnam, the GiveYourGap Travel Team visited The Friendship Village, a learning center for Vietnamese youth. This learning center was unlike any other the team had visited before. The students attending this school bear the weight of the consequences of a war fought generations before their time. This not-for-profit serves children affected by Agent Orange, a toxic gas that can cause physical deformities and severe neurological damage. During the Vietnam War, 20,000,000 gallons of toxic herbicides were spread all over the country in order to eradicate food and foliage coverage for guerillas in the war. As a consequence, the gas affected many innocent people and its use during the war still has repercussions today. At The Friendship Village, the children receive medical attention, specialized education, and vocational training. This NGO was founded by an American veteran with the vision of repairing the severed ties between the US and Vietnam after the Vietnam War. Once enemies fighting against each other, now they are working together to help improve the lives of these children with an overarching goal of working towards a more peaceful future.

Students busy at work

With at least one volunteer and teacher per ten children, each child received a lot of personalized attention. Brightly colored walls decorated the classrooms and give what could be considered a sad situation a jubilant feeling and positive energy. The kids welcomed us strangers, young Americans, with smiles, hugs, and hi-fives. When Kim gave one of the boys with Down’s Syndrome a cheek to cheek side kiss, he squealed with joy and shed tears of happiness. GYG strolled through several of the vocational training classrooms where these children learned different skilled crafts including embroidery and sewing. Despite being born with limitations, these children had an amazing ability to perfect their craft of choice with such a technical skill.

Kelley helps a young girl with her English grammar in one of The Friendship Village’s classroom

Being an American at the center, one may feel ashamed or guilty for the actions committed by one’s own country. However, we did not feel that way because we are a new generation. We hope to be ambassadors of peace and agents of change. The Friendship Village is just one example of how Vietnamese and American relations have changed since the war. To be a part of continuing to mend this important friendship, and to spend time with some amazing kids, consider giving your gap at The Friendship Village.

Check out our interview with Friendship Village volunteer Steffen!



Gapper Video Profile: Steffen K., Friendship Village

Check out our full feature on the Friendship village here!

Full Interview Transcript

GYG: So first, can you introduce yourself for us?
SK: My name is Steffen K. I am 26 years old, I am from Germany, and I am a volunteer here at the Friendship Village.

GYG: What do you do here at the Friendship Village?
SK: In my project here I have two activities: working with disabled children and teaching them Photoshop. So one side is teaching them numbers (1,2,3) and writing, and the other side is teaching them Photoshop. It depends on their disabilities.

GYG: And what are some of the other things volunteers can do here?
SK: They can work in the garden or the hospital. In the hospital they can work with Physical Therapy, and the in garden, well they work in the garden.

GYG: Why did you come here to volunteer?
SK: Actually, I decided to do something else in making the perfect line of working in Germany, so I decided to leave Germany for one year. There’s a special project to help volunteers without money. I decided to come to Vietnam because I like the history and the mentality of the people. I came here because my organization said it would be the best place for me, and actually, I’d have to say that it is.

GYG: What’s your favorite part of volunteering here?
SK: My favorite thing about volunteering here is seeing the children smile. Because it’s the best thing you can have. They smile, you smile a lot; you’re very happy.

GYG: Why should other people volunteer here?
SK: If you want to volunteer, it’s your decision. I cannot tell why they are doing that. Everybody has his own reason for doing that. But volunteering here is a really good place, because you have a lot of things you can do. You are really free – you can decide what you want to do. So you don’t have to stay to class 3 or 2 or 1 all the time. If you want to go to the garden, you can go to the garden; you just have to tell the gardener. Everyone here is very friendly. The teachers really like the volunteers and they also are able to speak a little bit of English, so communication is possible. And the children are lovely and very nice. This is the main reason to come here- to see the children and play with them.

GYG: Do you like Hanoi?
SK: No. I actually do not like Hanoi. Hanoi is crowded- a lot of people. It’s very good for making party. I have to say, very good for making party. But for living, it’s not the best place. My living place is around 2 km away from here and it’s next to a main street. You have a lot of trucks passing by. You have a lot of dust- it’s very dirty. But actually I have to say, it’s something you have to cope with if you go to Vietnam. Because Vietnam somehow never sleeps.

GYG: Do you like living in Vietnam?
SK: Yes. I like it very much. Because I’m volunteering for one year, I decided to buy a motorbike and to drive around and visit and explore all the places. This is really nice. Vietnam is very very nice country- we have really lovely places.

GYG: What does the Friendship Village do?
SK: It’s a really big place for a lot of disabled children. I’d say about 80 children and 40 veterans. It’s a place where the children can learn for the future. They get teached things like embroidery and tailoring. After Friendship Village they have education to do something in their life. I have to say it’s a very good place.


PEPY – Siem Reap, Cambodia

The welcoming staff of PEPY Tours. Sarah took the time to sit down with us and tell us all about PEPY Tours.

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1Walking into Cambodia (yes, literally walking) proved to be one of the most unique experiences of our trip. In the span of five short days, we waited for buses we weren’t sure would come, climbed through ancient temple ruins worthy of Indiana Jones, and took in the terrible relics of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia retains not only the impressive structures of its ancient history, but also the deep scars of its recent past. But a visit with sister organizations PEPY and PEPY Tours doesn’t lead one to dwell on the challenges the people face, but rather it impresses upon you a revolutionary approach to service any organization or volunteer should learn from- that you should learn before you help, not help to learn.

Every PEPY Tour provides someone from a job as your guide!

PEPY stands for “Promoting Education, emPowering Youth,” but you could just as well claim it’s a title earned by the enthusiasm and spirit of the volunteers and staff. Based in Siem Reap, PEPY is technically two distinct operations with a strong relationship and shared vision. PEPY the non-profit runs a wide variety of educational programs for 1700 families in 12 villages. PEPY Tours, the social enterprise, runs educational tours and fundraising programs that help fund the work of the NGO. The two began as one in 2005, when PEPY’s founders came to Cambodia hoping to help build schools and directly impact communities. But as they learned, the work of the organization began to adapt – PEPY’s focus shifted from building schools to building up people. Within the community, they help provide opportunities for local leaders to meet their own needs. And now for people with a heart to help, PEPY Tours provides opportunities to learn about service and what sustainable development truly looks like.

PEPY Tours also facilitates discussions and provides trip manuals full of critical and thought provoking articles.

PEPY NGO’s educational programs focus on working with existing (but committed) school leadership, like in the Sahakoom Apeewaht Sala program. But they also support Child-to-Child clubs for local children to lead the effort to educate their peers on issues like health, sanitation, and sustainable farming. PEPY also runs a Khmer Literacy Program and Creative Learning Classes. An impressive feature of the PEPY design is that they are almost entirely staffed by locals. Through their experiences, they have learned that local professional development leads to much more sustainable community development. But within both the NGO and PEPY Tours, there are still internships available for westerners, mostly in the communications department. On the communications team, native English speakers can help out a lot.

Pengowl, an adorable half penguin half owl, is the unofficial mascot of PEPY Tours. He accompanies all the tours and is one well-traveled… bird? Just another sign that they are still retaining that PEPY quirkiness.

And in place of short-term volunteer placements, PEPY Tours offers an opportunity for long-term learning to schools and other groups who are willing to commit at least one week to learn about responsible travel. In addition to seeing the sites of Cambodia, they also visit with different NGOs and learn about the work they are doing. PEPY Tours also facilitates discussions and provides trip manuals full of critical and thought provoking articles. While learning about the work NGOs do, PEPY Tours participants learn about the impact every part of their trip (and their money) makes, from where they stay to where they eat. They do not visit the schools themselves, but instead weigh the impact of short-term volunteers on local communities. They also learn about the specific challenges Cambodia faces, such as the effects of the Khmer Rouge’s deadly campaigns against educated people has had on current education. Occasionally, if there is a project that the Cambodia Rural Development Team needs assistance with that it cannot get in the local community, PEPY Tours travelers may be able to help out. Recently, a team helped contribute to a land-leveling project that needed to be done quickly, but lacked workers to do the grunt work. But these opportunities are not the most common. The most exciting way to take part in PEPY Tours is through PEPY Ride, and annual 1000km bike ride through the countryside. This fundraiser brings in people from all over the world, from ages 11 to 71, to explore Cambodia and raise awareness about PEPY programs.

Even in our short visit with PEPY and PEPY Tours, we felt challenged to weigh some of the larger dilemmas of international volunteering. Coming into our trip, GiveYourGap hoped to find out what it takes for a volunteer to make a significant difference in the world. But with operations like PEPY out there shaking things up, we wish them the best as they continue to grow. Look out for their upcoming expansion into Nepal!

Check out our interview with PEPY volunteer Grace!

RKVM – Calcutta, India


SKY Memorial Foundation – Nepal

Kendra Fallon, one of the three people the SKY Foundation is named for, had a heart for helping the Nepali people. In her name, the children of Sikapur will have better access to a quality education.

SKY: Sarah- Kendra- Yuki. These are the names of three of the people that boarded a plane headed for the starting point of a trek headed for the tallest mountain in the world, Mount Everest. When the plane crashed in Sikapur, a small town just outside of the Kathmandu Valley, it was not just the lives of the surviving family members that changed. The lives of the Nepali people living in this impoverished, remote village also changed forever. The crash site is situated right next to a K-8 school in dire need of new infrastructure and administrative help. The GYG Travel Team visited the site to see the progress made in just the last year since the SKY Memorial Foundation’s establishment in 2011.

Upon arriving at the village, we were welcomed with music and the ceremonial Tikka- a red dot placed on the forehead symbolizing a spiritual third eye.

There is currently no easy way to get to Sikapur. The pathway we took, while worth it in the end, was long and difficult. After three squished jeep rides on crazy steep mountain pathways, an overnight homestay, and a two hour hike, we finally reached the village. We received a warm welcome and were adorned with prayer shawls, flowers and a tikka, a red mark on the forehead symbolizing a third eye in Hindu culture. We saw the school children in their matching green uniforms wearing the new shoes and backpacks provided for by SKY. With the fundraising efforts of SKY, a stupa was erected at the crash site to commemorate all 14 passengers who lost their lives. Also, a new wing of the school is currently under construction in order to provide a better learning facility for the children.

Young girls often face challenges to finishing their education. They often are pressured by their families to stay home and support their mothers’. This is why SKY has taken extra efforts to reward girls for doing well and encourage them to continue their education.

Visiting the crash site brought up very raw emotions, especially when stepping on fragments from the plane that still surfaced on the hard, red dirt. However, seeing how SKY’s work improved the lives of the entire community, the feelings of pain lessened. One of the main goals of SKY is to encourage young girls to stay in school, despite pressures they may feel from their family for needing to stay at home and tend to chores around the house. Piecewise, SKY hopes to improve the quality of the overall education of the villagers, and also to change the standard of the girl’s education in Nepal.

During our visit, SKY was able to help alleviate some burden of schooling on families by providing lunch for the children. We dished out quite a lot of dal-bhat!

During our visit to the site we played with the kids, taught English classes, and cooked and served simple meals of beaten rice and curry to the kids. In the evenings we also spent time with some of the kids around a fire (our only source of light due to energy shortages). We also showed them our pieces of technology such as our DSLR camera, exposing them to the world of digital technology. It is safe to say that we all felt particularly connected to this organization, especially having known Kendra (the younger sister of GYG’s Creative Director, Shane).

GiveYourGap is so thankful for the experience we had visiting the SKY school in Sikapur. It was an incredible journey we won’t forget and we will be ever thankful for the warm welcome and hospitality we received there.

While a language barrier exists, as no locals speak fluent English, it is our hope that with the completion of the SKY building and adjacent lodging, volunteers will come here to give their gap. Learning English would create many opportunities for these Nepali villagers. Also, creating more traffic flow through the village would also help the local community. Something else in the works to help reach this goal is building a trekking route from the village through the Kathmandu Valley. The SKY Memorial Foundation has many visions for how to help Sikapur and the surrounding communities in the future, and hopefully prospective gappers will also get excited about the amazing projects that are transforming this village.


Janice Smith, Ramakrishna Vivekanada Girls’ Blind and Deaf Orphanage School

Name: Janice Smith
Type of Work: Education, Arts, Language
Region: Asia
Length of stay: 1-2 months

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I was the first foreign volunteer to stay and live with the girls in 2009. I taught and and other cultural activities.

Share a favorite memory.
The never ending love the girls had to offer. I learned so much about life and self discover.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
Material items are not essential to live a happy and meaningful life. I learned so much about their language and culture that positively effects me today on a daily basis.

What was the most challenging part of your job?
Not being able to speak the language, adapting to their food and hot humid climate.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
Travel with an extremely open heart and try as many new things as possible, except from street food venders :)


Asna Orphanage – Nepal

Asna is situated on the outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley. Here the orphanage has enough land to cultivate its own garden. The products of this garden are used to cook meals.

When the GiveYourGap Travel Team ventured to Nepal, a country filled with winding dusty roads and breathtaking views of the Himalayas, we were not prepared for the impact the country would have on all of us. Many of the people that live in this uniquely beautiful landscape also live in extreme poverty and face great struggles everyday. Due to the years of political instability and civil war, families have been torn apart leaving many children orphaned. With an increasing number of broken families and a lack of resources, these children are often left to fend for themselves on the streets or are placed in overcrowded orphanages.

GiveYourGap brought some juiceboxes, toothbrushes, and goodies for the kids.

GYG visited the Asna Orphanage, which is located in the Kathmandu Valley. To our surprise, Asna was not overcrowded at all. The children shared rooms and slept in bunk beds, but there seemed to be plenty of both personal and play space. The children at Asna are looked after by the warmest mother and father figures, who make sure all the children get enough food, clothes, education. The “parents,” Mr. and Mrs. Ghimire cook vegetarian meals for the whole group using mostly food that comes right from their own garden. The children are a big help both cultivating the garden and prepping in the kitchen.

The new tutor has been making a very positive impact on the children. A local Nepali college grad, he is able to understand the culture these kids are growing up in and provides essential assistance to the volunteers.

One unique aspect of this orphanage is the emphasis on ensuring that the children are provided with a quality education. They all attend their respective local schools during the day, and in the afternoons do their homework and receive extra tutoring back at Asna. Thanks to The Kendra Fallon Tutoring Program, in memory of the 18-year-old Asna volunteer who was killed in a plane crash just outside the Kathmandu Valley in 2010, Asna has hired a full time tutor, Sagar. In addition, they are able to provide the kids with essential school supplies such as books, paper, and pens.

The orphanage is surrounded by beautiful (and functional) gardens.

Volunteers at Asna live in private rooms in the orphanage. They spend their mornings preparing the children for school and the afternoons tutoring and playing with the children. They can also help working in the garden and cooking meals. Kathmandu is a bustling and exciting city where no visitor will be bored. The serene and happy atmosphere of Asna provides the volunteers with a calm living environment, close to the city, and hands on opportunities to really help the children.

We absolutely loved getting to hang out with the kids of Asna

Overall, the impression Asna left on us was one of hope. Seeing these children with such hard pasts so happy, made us wish we could spend more time with them there. We are confident that gapper volunteers would be cared for at Asna. More importantly, they can contribute their positive energy, creative ideas, and are also passionate about working with children and learning about Nepali culture.




Pratham – India

Intense is the word to describe our arrival in India. India is a country of intensity. With a population of over a billion people, it is always crowded. Traffic is constant. The amount and extent of the poverty that can’t help but be witnessed in any major city in India is overwhelming. Yet despite, or perhaps because of, this intensity India is a beautiful and inspiring place. Crowds of people everywhere means there is always a smiling face ready to help. Avoiding traffic provides more opportunities to enjoy the view or walk. And the poverty serves as a call to action.

Pratham teachers keeping students engaged

In cities as big and sprawling as the ones we visited in India, there is a great need for NGO support. We were lucky to be able to visit one of the most widespread and prominent NGOs in India: Pratham. Pratham works to provide education opportunities for marginalized children in some of the most underserved communities in the cities they work in. While we had heard some sobering statistics about the state of Indian public, or government, schools, Pratham mainly works with children who haven’t even made it that far. These are children who don’t go to school and work instead. Who are rescued from child slavery rackets. Who have quite literally been forgotten by society. These are children for whom Pratham is a last hope.

Pratham is a 20 year old NGO with a young, startup spirit. At each level of the organization, volunteers are bursting with ideas of how to better achieve their missioN: Every child in school, and every child learning well. Programs such as the Pratham Council for Vulnerable Children (PCVC) and the Pratham Learning Centers are products of Pratham innovation.

PCVC is a program that reaches deep into the lives of children in poverty. PCVC volunteers literally go into the slums, locate children who have been forced into labor, identify and train local women to become teachers, and extract these children from work to provide them with an education. We were lucky enough to see PCVC in action in Mumbai. Our visit was graciously arranged by Pratham’s communications team. We met our guide, Viral at a railway station and drove past a sprawling landfill, where we could see women and children parsing through trash. We stepped out of the car and were overwhelmed with the stench of sewage and waste. Inside the humble single room center we interviewed the two local volunteer teachers before the children arrived. They shared their personal stories of being recruited to teach, of fighting for children to be released from work, of visiting homes to get children to come to school. To us, fighting to get a child even the most basic access to education is heroic. For these Pratham women, it is their every-day.

Soon the children piled in to begin class. The arrived, some unkempt, and some without shoes. But all were bright-eyed in greeting us, “Hello, Didi (sister). Thank you, Didi!” Whatever the center lacked in resources – the teachers and students made up for in passion and dedication.

The American School of the Hague was there while we were too for a short-term program

We were again blown away at our Pratham visit in Delhi, where we visited a Learning Center in a slum on the outskirts of the city. We journeyed about an hour via metro into what appeared to be a totally different world. Our hosts, Arshi and Sam, welcomed us at the metro stop. Together we walked through crowded alleyways and past street vendors to reach the Pratham Learning Center. It was a four-room complex full of color, fun educational diagrams, bustling with energetic children and Western volunteers. We had coincidentally arrived on the last day of a visit from students of the American School of Hague, there on a one-week volunteer trip. For months they had fundraised and planned for the trip, bringing specific projects to do with the students. We interviewed them, local volunteers, and students.

We found enthusiasm at every corner. The international visitors were spilling with stories from their week, telling us that the Pratham students were showing up *early* to school to see their foreign visitors. The local volunteers, Kanij and Mehrunissa, had been working for Pratham for 9 years – and were still as energetic as the “one-weekers.” I was curious in particular about impact: what can volunteers do in just a few days? Can they make any difference? Everyone responded with a resounding, “Yes.” They can bring an energy and optimism that motivates the students to come to school, to practice their English, or to better their computer skills so they can keep in touch. It’s a burst of energy that can fuel the work for the long-haul.

The international students said their goodbyes (filled with a lot of hugging and adorable, energetic waving), and we went for a comfortable chai with our hosts. We sat for an extra hour, chatting about the spirit of Pratham and development work in India and abroad. We left impressed not only by the critical work Pratham is doing but the vitality of the organization.

Pratham has taken on a huge challenge with many complexities that we were only able to glimpse in our short visits. The world of the Mumbai slum differed greatly from the Learning Center in Delhi. But they shared a sense of hope, inspired by Pratham volunteers. They bring – sometimes with the help of international volunteers, but most of all with their local teachers – boundless energy and optimism for improvement.  Pratham is leading the movement to ensure children are in school, learning well, and have the tools not only to overcome their personal hardships, but to thrive.



Akanksha Foundation – Mumbai, India

We arrived at the Akanksha Foundation offices on the Monday morning of an Indian holiday, but the staff was in full swing.  We found the office buzzing with meetings behind glass doors, surrounded by student artwork and inspirational quotes about education and reform. We were there to meet Nina Sawhney, a fellow UCSD Alum (’10) and current teacher at the Akanksha Foundation, an organization leading India’s charter school reform movement.

Students taking a break from their workshop on the solar system

Nina introduced us months ago to Akanksha in this gapper profile, giving us a brief look into Akanksha’s mission of education reform for India. Akanksha consists of three interconnected programs: The School Project, Akanksha Centers and Programs, and Art for Akanksha. Together, Akanksha is bringing cutting edge math, English, values and art education to Mumbai and Pune.

Thanks to Nina, we knew these basics about Akanksha before visiting. She worked to set up our visit with Alisha Varma, another young US college grad (Northwestern ’11). We met Alisha on a Saturday for a tour of some Akanksha classes. We sat down with Alisha, who shared with us some of these statistics motivating Akanksha’s work:

-       The Indian illiteracy rate stands at 70%.
-       50% of primary aged children will not pass out of the 5th grade.
-       90% of primary aged children will not pass out of the 10th grade.
-       5th grader read at an average of 2nd grade level.
-       80% of Akanksha Centers and Programs students go on to college.

What Alisha proved to us then was that Akanksha was an organization whose  work is closely informed by policy and research. But what moved me was the way each Akanksha staff member and volunteer connected personally and passionately with the vision of a more educated child. We spent that day shadowing Akanksha classes, which were full of over-enthusiastic children – clearly itching to learn and practice their English. (You may have seen a sampling of Akanksha children here: telling you to GIVE YOUR GAP!)

After seeing the Akanksha model in action, we headed to the Akanksha offices for one last set of interviews with staff and volunteers. We all look back fondly at meeting Babita, a former Akanksha student who now works full time for the organization. We asked her (as we ask all our Gappers!) she answered passionately, “Everything that I am, everything I have come to be – is because of Akanksha.”

Our final interview of the day was with Akanksha’s new CEO Vandana Goyal. I want to share an excerpt from her interview verbatim:

Volunteers are matched with a teacher in the classroom or can work in the office supporting the whole organization

“As a young person who is just graduated from college or just a few years out of college, what you’re looking for is a challenge and what you’re looking for is that even though you don’t have a lot of experience, even though you may not have accumulated this wealth of skills, that you can still contribute in a really meaningful way. And for me, when I first came to Akanksha, it was that opportunity that got me so excited and engaged in the work from day one. So the opportunity that I think Akanksha provides any international volunteer or employee is exactly that. To be exposed to India’s greatest challenges, and the world’s greatest challenges upfront, every day. But more importantly to feel like one person can actually change things. Can change the reality of children’s lives, can change the reality of a community. And to have that experience as a young person is a very profound transformational life experience. It’s changed my life and I’ve seen it change the lives of our volunteers at Akanksha.

Akanksha was founded by a 20-year old woman, built by young college grads, and has developed into one of India’s front running education reform nonprofits. It seems impossible to imagine an organization more in line with the vision of GiveYourGap. Akanksha has combined young idealism with critical thought. It blends policy research with grassroots action, and takes its progressive stance on reform to a positive, fruitful partnership with the India government. It cares deeply about its individual students, about India, and it’s waiting for you to join the movement.

Read more at:







Tiffany Prachachalerm, Bridge of Hope Thailand Charity

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1Name: Tiffany Prachachalerm
School: University of California-San Diego
Type of Work: Medical/Public Health, HIV/AIDS awareness
Region: Asia
Length of stay: 1 Year+
Contact email:

Tiffany dropping the kids off at their school on her last day at the center

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I started the foundation with a friend and thought of it after I returned from my volunteer experience at the center. I had found the center online and decided to go there during the summer to volunteer. At the time, I did not know that I would eventually form a non-profit organization, but I knew I wanted to bring more UCSD students back to the center and find ways to fundraise for them. They had become like family to me. Ideas kept rolling and eventually we decided to turn it into a non-profit organization so we can also get help from companies who would be willing to donate!

Share a favorite memory.
I have quite a few stories while with the orphans at the center and while interviewing the patients about their life stories. However, the one that sticks out in my mind is the site of the three youngest kids at the center who’d run around all day, playing so happily. Their parents are currently living with HIV, and I knew their life stories. There were three kids who were not HIV positive because their parents had taken anti-retroviral medicine when they were pregnant. It’s just overwhelming to know how much their parents had to go through in their lifetime to get to this point, and gratifying to know that the kids are happy, healthy, and have a chance to live a life very different from the rough lives of their parents. One of the girls there is a bit chubby and likes to run around eating crepes her mom makes. We bought crepes to pass out to all the kids at the center. She wanted one just because everyone else had one in their hands, but the minute she took a bite, she was sick of it because she had eaten it for the past two weeks, so she gave it to someone else. She was only 3 years old, but I found that act to be adorable. There were countless stories with the kids, but that’s just one that was on the top of my head.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?

Jenny is a 4-year old orphan living at the center. These are her different expressions as she’s feeling the wind pass by.

I learned that you have to do your research before you donate to any nonprofit organization. Some organizations do not donate 90%, or even 30% of the donations. There are even some that donate only 5% of the donations for the cause they are claiming to donate to! There are so many loopholes. The important thing is to do your research before you get involved. Another important thing is to show your commitment once you have decided that you want to be a part of the team. Accountability, responsibility, and most words ending in -bility means your ability to uphold those different values. If you really want to help, then do it, but don’t ever half-a** your way through. That is just my opinion. 

This experience is teaching me a lot of things about life, which is important for a doctor. Although you can never truly understand everything and life’s philosophies, volunteering is a start. It’s teaching me so much about how people interact and how sickness and death can affect people. You don’t start living until you’re close to death. I definitely learned that as I watched the orphans and patients taking their medication twice a day the same time everyday. That’s what they worry about. They think about, “”Will I survive today?”” while we are here thinking, “”What should I eat for lunch? Too many choices!”” It definitely puts into perspective what is important and what really matters in life. Volunteering allows you to give back to society. It allows you to be generous and hope that everyone will give so that we can continue to live together and prosper. Really, it’s a survival mechanism and if we don’t help each other, how would we survive?

No, my goals have not changed. Volunteering definitely advanced my plans and hopefully will prepare me to be the best doctor I can be!

Do you feel like you are making a positive, critical impact on the global community? 
I definitely think I am doing what I can. I have a vision about how I want this all to pan out, and if it becomes something greater, then great! If I overestimated and it doesn’t get as big as I imagined, then I’ll be fine as well because I’ve learned to manage my expectations. I really do hope that I am making a positive, critical impact on the global community. I know I am spreading awareness and providing opportunities for students who want to be active and do these sorts of things but don’t know how or don’t have the means to. Sometimes it’s just a matter of your ambitions and if you think it’s possible. One of the things I believe is that if you want it bad enough and you work hard enough at it, then anything’s possible (as long as it’s not defying gravity or physics). Like in the Wicked play, “Nothing will bring us down!” It’s important to have spirit and not think that whatever your plans or goals are will become a failure. If you believe that it will become a success, then you can provide that inspiration to others and sooner than later, they too will believe that it is a success. I hope that I’m making an impact when I make someone aware about these social issues. They may not have to donate, but the fact that they are more aware that these problems in society exist, they are being more open and more willing to contribute to society in the future. As for the orphans in Thailand, I know that they would really appreciate all that we’re trying to do here, halfway across the world. Everyone, excluding me, would be complete strangers to them. If they knew that strangers were helping them out, then they wouldn’t feel like this world is such a bad place when it’s filled with caring people. If there aren’t people who show that they care, the kids might think that they are being punished by being born HIV positive, without a choice. So I hope that I am making a critical impact. It’s worth it, even if will only make an impact on one person. 

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
My advice is to get out there. Do whatever you wanted to do because you know once you apply for graduate school or get a job, you won’t have the time to explore the world. If you want to teach English in another country, volunteer, explore other career options, now is the time to do it! You just graduated and worked hard during your undergraduate years and you deserve a break. Traveling, joining an organization, and staying active is a great way to open a new perspective and you’ll grow as an individual during the process! You’ll learn more than what you expect to and you’ll remember it for the rest of your life. Why not? You have the rest of your life to go for your career. After taking a gap year, you may have a more focused, clear mind to accomplish your career goals in an efficient manner. Just make sure to blog everything so you can look back on it. I’m sure whatever you decide to do, as long as it’s productive, would be something memorable. Literally soak up every opportunity because it won’t come by as often as we get older.