Rise Up Development Collective: Starting an NGO and Building Community as a Student

Before Jeremy Kirshbaum was the USA Facilitator of the RiseUp Development Collective in the Volta Region of Ghana, he was a Politics and Economics double major at UC Santa Cruz. Today, he has been featured by UCTV Prime as well as in UCEAP systemwide publications. Jeremy took his experience with UCEAP Ghana as a time to build an international community and shares some of his strategies for using the power of connection in grassroots projects here with GiveYourGap. The following essay solely expresses the views of Mr. Kirshbaum and his experience with RiseUp Ghana.

In 2010, I travelled to Ghana to study abroad through the University of California Education Abroad Program.  While there, a group of friends and I started the Rise Up Development Collective, and the Wli Todzi Clinic Project.  As of 2013, the Wli Todzi clinic has walls and a roof, and soon will have doors, windows, and a ceiling.  Progress has been slow, but we are very proud to have come this far.  Starting an international project from scratch has not been easy, but through many people across the globe recognizing a need and rising to the occasion, our dream is slowly becoming a reality.  A major contribution to this has been the power of connection, one of the many important tools for a grassroots project.  An international community of individuals inspired to make change has grown up around the project.  Ultimately, this has been a great an outcome as the progress on the clinic itself, and nearly as difficult to accomplish.  We’d like to share our story of how we got to where we are today, and some strategies we’ve used that we think will work for you too.

The village of Wli Todzi rests on the peak of the Agumatsa mountain, in the east of Ghana near the Togo border.  The village’s beauty is astonishing.  From plateau at the summit, you can look out all the way across the Volta River valley 3000 feet below.  The village is nestled in the rainforest, and surrounded by fertile lands that the 1500 people living in and around the village farm with a skillfulness recognized throughout the region.  The people of Wli Todzi are incredibly strong.  There is no easily accessible road to the village, so everything from the outside is carried up the mountain on their heads, or brought in from the neighboring country, Togo.  Although for a young American such as myself, the climb can be very tiring, there are old women in the village who go up and down the mountain twice in a day.  The villagers deals with the sometimes- vertical path with aplomb—the  sporadic electricity that is available in the village is made possible because the villagers carried up every electrical pole by hand.  Because of their isolation, most of life in Wli Todzi passes with a peaceful regularity.  The people are friendly to one another, work hard for their families, go to church on Sunday and enjoy the occasional palm wine during celebrations.  Most who visit the village fall in love with it.

Although their peaceful isolation is easy to romanticize, it is also the cause of great distress for the villagers.  When there is a medical emergency, for instance complications with childbirth, then the villagers must carry the patient down the mountain on a stretcher.  This is time-consuming and dangerous, and results in deaths every year.  Since Christmas of 2012, there have been 12 fatalities, 5 of which were children.  Many of them could have been prevented with easy access to healthcare in the village.  Wli Todzi is a beautiful place, but its isolation can be deadly.

Slowly, a growing collective of people across the world have come together around the project.  At first it was just people who had been to the village that worked on the project.  It is matter- of- fact to us that this clinic needs to be built.  The people of Wli Todzi are our friends, and it is natural to want to help friends.  The difficult part is getting people involved who have never been to the village at all.  Most people who have helped with the project have never heard of Ghana, and will probably never go there.  However, these people are the most essential and most inspiring element of the project.  These people participate in the project simply because they think it’s a good thing.  Sometimes, though, they can take some convincing.  Here are some strategies we’ve found that work well for helping people feel connected to a place very different from their own,

1.     Use reference points that they understand.

No matter how different the place, there is going to be some kind of overlap between cultures.  Playing up how exotic the people are makes people feel disconnected.  Talking about elements of the project people understand, like food, holidays, or jokes, you can make the most “exotic” of places feel familiar.

2.     People, people, people

It is essential that any project have a solid budget, timeline, and theoretical framework.  However, conveying the project only in this fashion quickly becomes boring or confusing for people.  However, the individuals involved in the project are something that newcomers to the project can connect to, even if they haven’t met them.  Talking about the personalities of the people in the village makes the project come alive for people, and makes them feel like they are dealing with a community of real people, not an accounting apparatus.

3.     The community at home is just as important as the community abroad

People need to be able to talk about what they’re doing with others.  Through events, social media, and even small projects, a community at home is maintained.  Because project participants can’t call the people of Wli Todzi and talk to them directly, having a group of people around them who are working on the project together makes them feel more connected- otherwise they can feel lost in space.

There is no silver bullet for an international grassroots project.  It takes very hard work, stubbornness, and an appetite for overcoming insurmountable odds and disappointment.  However, for us, it has continued to pay off.  Not financially (we are a 100% volunteer program), but because the clinic is going to be completed, because of what we’re learning in the process, and because of the incredible people that we’ve met at every step of the way—people we now call friends.  This is what keeps us going on the project, and will keep us going until the clinic is built, equipped and staffed.

And our connections are growing.  We’re excited this summer to announce the first ever opportunity for people to travel with us in Ghana, and visit the village of Wli Todzi.  We’re teaming up the Operation Groundswell to work with community groups all across the country- including 3 days in the village of Wli Todzi!  If you’d like to travel with us this summer, climb the Agumatsa mountain with us, see the clinic in person, as well as work with community organizations all across Ghana, please visit our website.   However, even, if you don’t think travel is in your plans for this summer, you can still get involved by helping fundraise for the clinic project in your hometown or at your university.  If you’d like to help, or just want to know more about the project, check out www.riseupghana.org, or email us at info@riseupghana.org.  We’d be happy to hear from you, and welcome you into our family.  With your help, we can Rise Up!

IMG_9064-1 SAM_0175-1 IMG_9072-1 IMG_9066-1 IMG_3161-1 IMG_3015-1 _DSC6131-1Stretcher


Photos courtesy of Jeremy Kirshbaum, RiseUp

Gapper Video Profile: Maggie, Magic Hospital – Beijing

On our visit with Magic Hospital in Beijing, China, GiveYourGap was able to sit down with Maggie, a part-time volunteer form South Carolina, to talk with her about her volunteering abroad experience.

Full interview transcript

GYG: So first, can you introduce yourself for us?
Maggie:Hi my name is Maggie Hicks. I’m from Colombia, South Carolina, I’m 25 years old, and I’m currently living in Beijing China volunteering for Magic Hospital.
GYG: What is Magic Hospital? What do they do?
Maggie: Magic Hospital is a quality of life organization. So we work in partnership with hospitals, migrant schools, and orphanages around Beijing to help improve the programs that they already have in place. So we bring in volunteers who can help with art or music or just to bring a new level of engagement to organizations that work with children. We also do different individual programs like outdoorsy days or gift-giving where we go into these organizations and do a special type of event.
GYG: What do you do specifically for Magic Hospital? What are some of your daily tasks?
Maggie: I’m the volunteer communications coordinator. I have a full-time job, but I also work as a volunteer with Magic Hospital to do the website, work with local publications, spread the word about different fundraising events that we’re having, basically just get the word out about what Magic Hospital does. So daily stuff that I do is I post pictures of our most recent events, I edit our website, or I’ll answer questions that a local publication might have about what we do and our volunteer opportunities.
GYG: How did you find Magic Hospital?
Maggie: I originally moved to Beijing to teach, and then have since found another job. I found Magic Hospital just through searching. I wanted to do something that would supplement the skills that I already had and was learning through work and where I could help an organization grow and use the skills that I was learning through my professional job. So I found Magic Hospital just through Google and through word of mouth. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of different people from everywhere around the world in Beijing.
GYG: What can other people do volunteering at Magic Hospital?
Maggie: We have two different ways to volunteer at Magic Hospital. One is the core team that does more the administrative work. We help coordinate the different programs and do fundraising, communications. We also have volunteers who work within the specific programs in our partner institution. So they go into the migrant schools or the hospitals and actually play out the programs that we help coordinate and work with children and teach them, or do art with them, or play with them.
GYG: How do you like living in Beijing? What’s the experience like to volunteer here?
Maggie: Living in Beijing has been a great experience. It’s been three years and I get to meet people from everywhere who are doing really really interesting things. As everyone knows, China is growing, and there are amazing opportunities if you do choose to come here. There is someone who is working on everything, so no matter what your interested in, someone is here who is doing something innovative in that space. I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed the most.
GYG: Why should people come to volunteer at Magic Hospital?
Maggie: I think the real reason people would want to come to volunteer for Magic Hospital is because you really do get to see the difference you get to make. We are a small organization but we have strong partnerships with the groups that we work with. When you go into these schools, the little bit that we are able to do has a big impact. I think that you’re not going to get lost in the scope of Magic Hospital. You’re really going to get to see what your skills and your energy can do to make a positive change.

Thanks Maggie!! It was so great to see someone dedicating their little free time volunteering, even while working abroad. Best of luck! Check out our full feature on Magic Hospital.


Featured Organization: African Community Internship Placement Programme

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1This week’s feature was written by Kristine Sloan, who currently serves as the Director of Operations for ACIPP West Africa.

The World is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place.

–Chinua Achebe, Arrow of God

I’d say I first got involved with ACIPP four years ago, when I traveled to Ghana on a study abroad. I met our founder, Simon Eyram Tsike-Sossah then. What struck me then, and continues to strike me now, is Simon’s simultaneous optimistic energy and hardened realism about volunteering and interning abroad. I was forced to question my motives for studying abroad in Sub-Saharan Africa. Was I really giving through my volunteerism, or was I merely receiving: wisdom, experience, and a paradigm shift.

West Africa wielded its way into my heart, and though I travelled and worked on three other continents and regions throughout the world in the next four years, I knew I wanted to go back. Ghana, the land of tro-tros, mangos, and red soil had spoken to me in a way that other places simply did not.

Interns at HEPENS

So, in the summer of 2011 I emailed Simon (well, I think I Facebook messaged him—we love social media). There was an internship opportunity available to lead a Farm project in Ghana, and I wanted in. I’m currently working on my Masters degree, and the Farm offered me an avenue for practical experience as well as a chance to complete research with a local community nearby. The emails back and forth kept at a steady stream, and it seemed my philosophy on interning and volunteerism had more closely aligned with Simon’s. We shared a common goal: engaging interns and volunteers in a way that provides lasting impact to organizations on the ground, rather than simply an “experience” for the intern.

Thus, after about 11 months of working on various projects, I was offered the Director of Operations position with ACIPP. My plans for the summer had changed, and now I was off to both the farm in Ghana and to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where we also offer internship opportunities with 5 different incredible and engaging organizations.

Freetown is madness: 1.5 million people in one city, most who fled there for refuge and never left. The streets are congested, people living in the valleys, neighbors everywhere. Freetown is also beautiful: mountains behind you falling into the sea, colors and energy and a resilient vibrancy that WILL bring growth and vitality to this post-conflict country. During my time there I met with heads of organizations, felt their commitment and drive to their mission and values, and wanted to sign up to intern with each of them myself!  At night, looking out over a city of darkness knowing that our house, with our generator, may be the only of a handful in a city of over 1 million that has electricity, and yet listening to the neighborhood soccer game, the conversations in the street below, and the endless chatter of chickens and dogs; I knew our interns would do well here.

One of the monthly intern BBQs at the Abusua House!

The rest of my summer passed in Ghana, where I was welcomed with the warmest hospitality by our house manager, Ms. Mavis Aseidu, and where we had 16 interns living in our house in Kwaprow village. It was madness, but it was wonderful. Importantly, we saw the expectations of our interns and the struggle for them to conceptualize and internalize their experiences, which were far out of their ordinary. We also saw the impact on placement organizations, where our interns published news articles, edited media content, led community health talks and importantly, left behind their curriculum for future use. We created partnerships between organizations and new communities; we fostered capacity, at the heart of ACIPP’s mission.

I think the most important thing for people to consider when they think about interning abroad is what set of skills/knowledge they can share, and what set of skills/knowledge they hope to receive. Does impact last? Are we creating situations where we, as interns and as staff, are at the periphery (not the center) of community engagement? Are we building local leaders, or are we simply leading? These things are crucial, because in a way, they multiply time if achieved. Effort catalyzes action, rather than simply acting itself. That’s what makes ACIPP so unique I think. We believe in the agency of the places that we work to solve, to create, and to be receptive.

West Africa is an incredible place to work and to live. I’m so proud of ACIPP West Africa, both of our dedicated staff and all of our interns (over 27 just this year). Everyone works hard. They make friends; they create relationships. Just as importantly, they go out to a bar in a gas station (yeah, you’ll have to come visit us) and drink cheap beer, dance all night, and have a great time.

I hope to see all of you there.



To check out our various internship opportunities and learn more about us please visit our website: www.acippwestafrica.org

Like us on Facebook “Acipp West Africa”

and feel free to email me with comments, questions or inquires at Kristine.sloan@acippwestafrica.org.



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.