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My friend Dwight is slowly convincing me that I’m a philanthropist.

I’ve talked before about the impact Dwight Turner is making in Bangkok—making it easy for people to volunteer and contribute to charitable causes in Thailand. We have gone to hand out food to the homeless near Democracy Monument here in Bangkok, we’ve taken the great kids at Chonburi Children’s Center to the beach, we’ve volunteered with the infants and toddlers at Friends For All Children (F.F.A.C.) nursery, we’ve held events to raise money for an urban garden installation project here in Bangkok and for medical aide for refugees. Dwight’s hard work has even earned him the attention of CNN’s new local Asia site.

I’ve met incredible people with touching stories. I’ve made incredible friends with some of the other volunteers.

To commemorate September 11th this year, In Search of Sanuk hosted Bangkok’s Twestival celebration. Twestival is a Twitter-inspired social event where attendees can meet other Twitter users (much like our monthly Bangkok Tweetup), but also be a part of a global awareness and fundraising campaign for charitable causes around the world. We raised money for two orphanages near the Burmese border—Baan Unrak and Baan Dada.

The event was spectacular. Over 350 people came out to party on the Fraser Suites’ poolside rooftop bar and support our cause. People recorded and shared our social media-powered event live. We raised over $2400 US, which can go a long way in Southeast Asia. The founders of Digital Democracy even showed up to interview volunteers Jen, Danielle, and myself about emerging technologies in Thailand and about how the global Twitter event was helping make a social change:

So here’s the secret: Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had have been volunteering with children throughout Thailand.

A few days after the event successfully wrapped, Dwight and I took a 7-hour van ride to hand-deliver donations and visit the two children’s homes with our travel buddies Mark, Joel and Agnes.

Baan Unrak and Baan Dada educate and empower orphaned or otherwise impoverished kids—not only Thais but also Karen and Mon refugees who’ve been driven from their homes and persecuted by the Burmese military dictatorship. The children are instructed in playing musical instruments, sewing, fixing motorbikes, art, languages and technical skills. They’re taught to respect all people, creatures, religion and to practice vegetarianism. The homes also provide jobs for refugees and local families who help care for the children, assist with farming, construction and weaving projects.

Wandering through Sangklaburi farmland with the Baan Dada children

Hanging out with kids like these is a transformative experience. They are some of the poorest people in the world, often living in crummy conditions, many have lost their families, yet they are the most cheerful and gracious little people you’ll ever meet.

Words cannot describe, so I’ll let this video do the job for me. This is a montage of many of the great kids I’ve had the opportunity to share time with while helping out at Baan Dada, Baan Unrak, F.F.A.C., Chonburi Center, and more.

Whatever you do, watch this video.

Spending time with children in need will change your life. Once you begin to understand the loss some of them have experienced, the disadvantage they are at—and yet they still exude love—it should cause you to reevaluate how you look at your own life. You can’t help but smile around some of these kids.

The only activity I’ve found yet that is guaranteed to keep a smile on my face.

Find children in need (they are everywhere, unfortunately). Go and give generously with your time and any other resources you can share.

Some of the awesome kids at Baan Unrak

Some of the awesome kids at Baan Unrak

This message is dedicated to a gracious, playful little tyke who lost his life way before his time. Ali Baba lost a battle with disease on Thursday, September 17th, just two days after we said goodbye to him and the other children at Baan Dada. The loss was unbearable and affected a lot of us. Rest in peace, friend.

Cody with Ali Baba

If you’d like to make a donation on his behalf, the home is building a new medical clinic and needs your help. You can sponsor a child’s food and healthcare needs for three months for only $187. Donate to Baan Dada.

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

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.

 

Cody, Pom & Mint at LUSH

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.

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.

LUSH mixer at Fraser Suites, Bangkok

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.

Photos by Sascha Steinhoff.