Making a difference and having fun don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Today I’d like to highlight someone who’s definitely living a thrilling life—making a huge difference in the world and serving a great example of how to choose the path less taken. Dwight Turner is a close friend whose passion is to help the less fortunate in any way he can, and he runs an organization here in Thailand called In Search Of Sanuk, where he promotes worthwhile humanitarian causes.

Sanuk is a Thai word roughly translated as fun or enjoyment. Sanuk, however, is much more. This value permeates Thai society giving people a jovial, lighthearted outlook on life. We combine this aspect of Thai culture with our goals to help needy people. To us, sanuk is a lifestyle. This lighthearted outlook naturally translates to those we’re trying to reach and becomes a powerful mechanism of hope and healing for all involved.

Dwight worked as an English teacher in Thailand for about two years off-and-on, and he was my only contact in Thailand when I first came out to Asia in 2008. We currently both live in central Bangkok, and Dwight spends the majority of his time promoting good causes and organizing mixers and fundraising events to raise money for charity projects around Bangkok and throughout the region. I do my best to help him promote his events, but he’s the mastermind—the real passion and drive to create change around here. He has worked with Burmese migrants, Balinese orphans, refugees, and much more. He’s the real deal.

Doing Good and Having a Blast at the Same Time

Together, Dwight and I host monthly Bangkok Tweetups—tech-centric Twitter meetups for charity. People get together to have some dinner and a few beers, meet interesting new folks (expats and locals) from around Bangkok, and a portion of what they spend on food & drinks goes to support In Search Of Sanuk projects in Thailand.

Ryan, Dwight & the Lub D staff
Ryan, Dwight & the Lub D staff

To recognize World Refugee Day on June 20th, Dwight hosted a Taste of Sri Lanka dinner at the Lub D hostel, attracting people from our Tweetups, from Facebook, and Couchsurfing. Everyone mixed and mingled, had some delicious food cooked by Tuan, the cook at the local refugee center, and proceeds went to support the medical needs of asylum seeking refugees.

And just recently, along with the good folks at Green Networking Days Bangkok, Dwight co-hosted a huge nightclub event at Fraser Suites called LUSH, Bangkok’s Green Night Out. There were over 250 people in attendance at this spectacular upscale rooftop bar, everyone danced and drank and enjoyed the DJ music, and we were able to raise 35,000 Baht (over $1000 US) for In Search Of Sanuk’s Urban Garden Project to put vegetable gardens in the Bangkok Refugee Center and slums.

Bangkok rooftop parties

ISOS’ events allow people (especially young people and travelers) to do things they’d already want to do—get together with friends, go out dancing, grab dinner and drinks, or attend music & art events—and easily contribute to making a positive difference at the same time. I think this is a world-changing idea, and I know Dwight will leave a big impact on the world.

I’m sure there are people doing this elsewhere, but I’ve never witnessed someone so dedicated to empowering others to make a change. I’m excited that my lifestyle gives me the time to invest in travel, hanging out with friends like Dwight, and participating in good causes.

Cody, Pom & Mint at LUSH
Cody, Pom & Mint at LUSH

Announcement: My Charity Commitment

For a long time, I wanted to contribute to something like 1% for the Planet, Kiva.org, or local charities. When I visited Cambodia, I really felt compelled to contribute to causes in this region. One day I realized, ‘Hey I know Dwight personally, I trust him, and he’s committed his life to doing good for others!’ So I decided to work more closely with him. We’re making plans to travel to neighboring countries across Southeast Asia every three months and volunteer for good causes wherever we go. And starting this week, 5% of my business profits will go toward ISOS projects. Anyone who signs up for my consulting and services will help us make a difference.

Improving a Broken System

Sadly, the state of philanthropy and volunteerism in Thailand is pretty convoluted and decentralized. Dwight works painstakingly to get non-profit organizations and NGOs throughout Thailand collaborating with each other and to turn volunteer opportunities into something more organized than they already are, so that people can more easily contribute and make a difference.

When I’m in the US, watching mainstream media, it feels like there is a 24-hour-a-day bad news feed directly into your brain. There is the war in the Middle East, the ongoing argument over global warming, shrinking resources and a growing population. Watching the news makes people afraid and helpless. In the face of this negative hype, I think most folks tend to retreat from the “real world.” We look for ways to escape (me included): You go see the new Terminator movie. You go get a drink downtown with your friends. You play online games for hours on end. You do your job, you go home… But we ignore the genocide, hunger and poverty going on around the world. We even stay selectively ignorant about the issues in our own backyard. Like Dwight says in a recent post, maybe we are Over Entertained and Under Challenged:

Consider what avenues exist to discuss helping the less fortunate or marginalized in your community. What are they? Are you a part of the discussion? I fear so few of us are not even having these discussions. When they do occur, it happens in niches so isolated that they’re inaccessible to both other groups having similar discussions or people who are not members of these segmented communities.

It’s my passion to change this where I can.

In Search Of Sanuk makes it easy for anyone to get involved and support good causes by making it fun! If you want to volunteer, Dwight makes it easy, but if you want to make contributions without having to go out of your way or spend a lot of money, we also host mixer parties, art shows, donation drives, and other fun events in Bangkok to raise money (and awareness) for local charity projects. If you’re not in this part of the world, you can still show support by following the ISOS blog, connecting with Dwight on Twitter, signing up for our services, and helping us spread the word.

Dwight is a shining example that you can have fun and make a difference at the same time! He’s a selfless, hard-working guy who genuinely cares about making the world a better place. He understands that not everybody is able to or willing to make the same commitment, so he does his best to enable others to contribute in simple and fun ways. Bangkok wouldn’t be the same without him.

LUSH mixer at Fraser Suites, Bangkok
LUSH mixer at Fraser Suites, Bangkok

Photos by Sascha Steinhoff.