Goodwill and Warm Hearts Change the World

By Mason Wheeless – October 3, 2013

The motto: “Don’t just see the world, change it.” The organization: Austin-based nonprofit Goodwill Globetrotting. I recently had the opportunity to join founders Joe Morgan and Rebecca Charles along with four other volunteers on a three-week journey around Southeast Asia, attempting to help those less fortunate along the way.


The trip began with a short stop in Siem Reap, Cambodia, one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world. While there, we donated 11 laptops from friends and family in the United States that we’d collected and installed with education software (KidPix 3D) to Honour Village Cambodia, a children’s residential center, school, and community. We also led an art class as part of the one-year anniversary celebration of Goodwill Globetrotting’s K.I.D.S. program. An hour-long swimming party followed the class, and I have never had more fun in a pool! The kids’ joy as they played in the water was enough to make this entire trip memorable. But more special moments were to come.


Next, we made a trip to Warm Heart Worldwide, a children’s home in Phrao District, 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 houses 41 kids who would otherwise have no access to formal education. They live on-site during the school year and are fed, bathed, clothed, and generally cared for by the staff that lives there with them. Warm Heart’s founders, Michael Shafer and Evelind Schecter, are right in the middle of all 41 school-aged kids and their 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 those less fortunate.

Ben, the project manager finishing up a six-month stint for Warm Heart and one of the highlights of the trip, 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 and was always ready with ideas for sightseeing or dinner plans when the day’s work was done. We spent roughly a week at Warm Heart, creating a fitness circuit with a series of exercise stations on a trail (called a parcourse) around a covered Muay Thai workout area.


Muay Thai is a combat sport that combines stand-up striking with various clinching techniques. It is the official sport of Thailand, and instruction often begins for children as young as 6 or 7 years old. Due to time constraints and a lack of expertise on our part, the covered and paved workout area (which had been paid for by donations from Goodwill Globetrotting) was already built by the Warm Heart construction crew when we arrived. Our goal—weather and supplies permitting—was to construct a series of stations that would help the kids work on balance and strength while, perhaps more importantly, keeping them entertained—and thus aiding in expending some of that endless energy.

The parcourse contained six stations, each with its own specific purpose. There was a tire grid to help build agility and work on leg strength, a station with push-up bars to refine form, a slanted vault beam to enhance jumping and agility, a balance beam to improve balance, a wobble board to build core strength and balance, and a series of pull-up bars/monkey bars to increase arm, upper body strength, and hand/eye coordination.


Despite our collective lack of building knowledge, our biggest challenges by far proved to be weather and supplies. In September, Thailand is right in the middle of their wet season, which means that rain is pretty much a guarantee every single day—the only unknowns are when and for how long. The first few days, it rained a lot, which also meant that we worked in ankle-deep mud for almost the entirety of the project. Additionally, there is no local Home Depot. We were entirely at the mercy of suppliers, who have a different set of priorities and were not nearly as concerned with the quality of their product or our timeline as we were.

For all of these obstacles, though, our team continued to work on and press forward, and things slowly came together. After a couple of really long days, some lucky breaks, and a mad scramble at the end, we were even able to cover the virtual mud pit by laying almost 300 square meters of sod. By the time our stay at Warm Heart was over, we had transformed a barren plot of dirt into an actual play area, green grass and all. We could not have been more proud, and the kids were clearly chomping at the bit to start playing with their new toys.


The experiences I had there have changed me fundamentally as a person. I have more perspective—both good and bad—on life. I know that there are people everywhere living in poverty that is hard to fathom unless seen in person, despite the virtual access that resources like Instagram and YouTube give us to seemingly everything. I also know, however, that there are people all over the world sacrificing their chance at material wealth, spending their entire lives often tucked away in tiny villages in remote parts of the world, doing their best to help other people for no other reason than they need helping. I was incredibly sad to see my time in Southeast Asia end, but I am excited that my eyes have 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 seen it, and possibly changed it, with them.



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