…“Our goal was to create a covered Muay Thai boxing gym and surrounding fitness circuit with various stations with funds that Goodwill Globetrotting had raised. The week got off to a slow start as it was rainy season. Additionally, without the benefit of the local Home Depot, acquiring supplies can leave you at the mercy of others who are none too concerned with your timeline or with the quality of the product they are delivering.”

The following blog comes from Mason Wheeless, a visiting volunteer from Goodwill Globetrotting. A related print-based publication from Texas, US, is available online here. 

The title of this blog is the motto for Austin-based non-profit Goodwill Globetrotting. I recently had the opportunity to join founders Joe and Rebecca and four other volunteers on a three-week journey around Southeast Asia, attempting to help those less fortunate along the way.

Our first stop was Siem Reap in Cambodia, one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world. While there, we donated 11 laptops collected from friends and family in the US on which was installed KidPix 3D educational software to the charity Honour Village Cambodia.

We also led an art class as part of the first anniversary celebration of Goodwill Globetrotting’s K.I.D.S. program. The class was followed by a pool party where I personally had more fun than I´ve ever had before in a swimming pool. Although it was only our first stop, the joy of the kids as they played in the water was already enough to make this entire trip memorable.

Next was a trip to Warm Heart Worldwide, an organization in Phrao District in northern Thailand that is working “to ensure that all Phrao residents have equal access to basic services and an equal opportunity to build better lives”. Currently  Warm Heart´s children´s home houses 41 kids from the surrounding areas during the school year who would otherwise have no access to formal education. They are fed, bathed, clothed and generally cared for by Thai staff living on-site.  Warm Heart’s founders, Michael and Evelind, also live right there in the middle of it all, with the kids and all the attendant chaos. After just a couple hours at the site, I was filled with awe at the lengths to which people will go and the sacrifices they will make to help others build better lives.

Meeting Ben, Warm Heart´s current project manager on a six-month volunteering stint, was another highlight of the trip. He showed us around and filled us in on the myriad ways that Warm Heart is working within the community. Despite his overflowing responsibilities, Ben worked with us throughout the week we were at Warm Heart and was also always ready with ideas for sightseeing or dinner plans when the day’s work was done.

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Water tower and gym shelter under construction before arrival of GG team.

Our goal was to create a covered Muay Thai boxing gym and surrounding fitness circuit with various stations with funds that Goodwill Globetrotting had raised. The week got off to a slow start as it was rainy season. Additionally, without the benefit of the local Home Depot, acquiring supplies can leave you at the mercy of others who are none too concerned with your timeline or with the quality of the product they are delivering.

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Me hard at work

After the first couple of days, the rain mostly stopped. This meant that by 10am, the sun was beating down, and although the thermometer showed “only” about 92° F, combined with 70-90% humidity, the result was oppressive. I am from Austin and feel I know heat, but this was something altogether new for me. Still, though, day-by-day we made progress.

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Concrete setting for high bar and more holes being dug for wobble bar

All our meals, if we chose, were provided by the Warm Heart staff. This meant that on the days the kids weren’t in school, we sometimes ate together. By the time we finished work in the evening and went in search of shade and water, they were back from school and milling about so we had time to get to know some of them. Their curiosity regarding iPads and laptops, those that were playful and those that were bashful, their brief histories as Ben might know them, their favorite outfits, and even the different medical conditions some of them were dealing with, became part of the nightly conversation. Despite the language barrier – none of them speak any English and we only knew a phrase or two of Thai – we would spend time watching cartoons, or let them braid the hair of the female volunteers, or just gave them the attention that kids so often crave at that age.

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Warm Heart children “help” spread fresh dirt in the rain

At night, we volunteers sometimes hung out in our cabin, a gorgeous, open-aired collection of rooms atop a giant hill with incredible views of both the sunrise and the sunset. Sometimes we got “dressed up” and headed into Phrao town – where Westerners are still rare enough that we attracted quite a bit of attention – for dinner at Nanta’s Kitchen or to karaoke hosted by one of Thailand’s many “ladyboys”.

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GG team and Ben relax on newly laid sod

When we had finished what we could at Warm Heart, we headed off as a group to Koh Samet for a little relaxation before we all went our separate ways and returned to lives that would now feel forever different no matter what our individual feelings were about the journey that we had taken together. 

Those experiences have changed me fundamentally as a person. I now have more perspective on life, both the good and bad aspects. Although you have instant access to everything through Instagram or YouTube, you don´t really understand the depths of poverty that people in the world have to live in unless you see it in person.  I also know, however, that there are people all over the world sacrificing their chance at material wealth and spending their entire lives often tucked away in tiny villages in remote parts of the world to do whatever they can to change lives. 

I was incredibly sad to see my time here end, but I am also excited that my eyes have finally been opened to what else is out there. People like Michael, Evelind, Ben, Joseph, Rebecca, Abby, Allison, Jenny and Sophie, and many others like them, are making our world a better place and I am a better person for having worked with them towards making these changes.