Free Haircuts for Homeless in NYC: Using your Skills to Give Back

There are numerous ways in which you can give back to your community, donate your time, your money or your skills. One of the main points I have made over the years in my posts about volunteers is how important it is to first think about skills you have and how you can share them.

Whether you like painting or dancing, football or computer science, you can use your talents to help out charity organisations.

I wanted to share some lovely articles I have come across over the past few months as great examples of this.

The first one gave me the idea for this post, a hairdresser in NYC spends his Sundays giving free haircuts to the homeless. A fantastic way to boost their self esteem and feel like a person and not just an invisible homeless person. And a great example of someone who uses their initiative and skills in a creative and thoughtful way to give back to his community.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2730212/Swapping-salon-streets-New-York-City-hair-stylist-transforms-looks-homeless-gives-free-haircuts-day-off.html

It also reminded me of the Cambodian Children’s Painting project, which I discovered when travelling in Sihonoukville in 2009.

http://www.calias.net/#/something-is-changing/cambodian-childrens-painting-project/sihanoukTAN2007hd20

I bought one of the paintings and it is at my Mom’s house in storage (I WILL have a permanent address soon if it kills me!!). I will attach a picture of  it when I next get to open those boxes.

These legendary guys set up a mobile laundromat in the back of their van!!!! http://anonhq.com/two-students-turn-their-van-into-mobile-laundry-car-for-the-homeless/

A photography project;   http://photography.tutsplus.com/articles/giving-something-back-with-photography-10-ways-to-get-started–photo-4897

Social media knowledge;   http://www.nonprofittechforgood.com/

A great HuffPost article;

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tracy-hoover/think-differently-use-you_b_4218983.html

Whatever is it you are good at, you can use that for good.

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Harmony Home Taiwan: 2014 Secret Santa Toy Drive

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I first heard about Harmony Home a few years ago on a Taiwan expat forum, Forumosa. I had been looking for somewhere to volunteer and it sounded perfect. Harmony Home has become very dear to my heart and I have such respect and admiration for the staff that work tirelessly to run the centre and to care for the kids.

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It all began in 1986…

 when Nicole Yang welcomed her friend, the renowned Taiwanese theater artist, Tian Chi-yuan to her home with her two children.  He had nowhere else to go because he was HIV positive. It was the time when there was no proper medical treatment available and there was insufficient understanding of the disease. The rapid increase of AIDS patients has caused negative responses in the society. This further induced withdrawal of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) out of fear of being discriminated. Being aware of this sad situation, Nicole opened up her home to PLHA to provide them with a secure place to live in. Out of compassion, she established Harmony Home with the hope of fully reintegrating them to the society.
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As is usually the case, it took a couple of e-mails to get a reply but when I did, it was friendly and enthusiastic and I couldn’t wait to get involved. My first visit was a little chaotic, there were kids running around everywhere, my Chinese was almost non-existent and everyone looked far too busy to be bothered with me. It took a few visits to get used to the way things are done but every time I came the kids would jump up and come to hug me. I taught English there with two friends, one person with all those kids was just not enough!! They have a classroom upstairs with lots of arts and crafts supplies. After a few months, I decided to organize some outings for the kids. It would be a nice break for the nannies and great for the kids to get out and let off some steam! They are often cooped up inside and end up fighting over toys and the TV. Our first outing was a hike in Xin Yi and the kids absolutely loved it! A group of friends came, with their dogs and toddlers in tow and everyone had a great afternoon.

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After that, we started going to the park regularly. The kids had the freedom to run around and play with adult supervision. Some of the kids were curious about the volunteers, others were too shy but either way, they were out and about and getting fresh air and exercise. One particular Saturday, we had a lot of dogs with us and the kids loved them! They were fascinated and took turns walking them and feeding them snacks. For some of the kids, it was their first experience with a pet because they have grown up in the centre. It was so lovely to see!

My favourite outing, however, had to be the trip we took to the public swimming pool. It was in the middle of a melting summer and the park was just a bit too hot. The kids were exhausted and hiding under the slide for shade so we took them to the outdoor pool instead. The LOVED it! For a lot of the little kids, it was their first time swimming and they had so much fun.

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I have continued to be involved with Harmony Home as a fundraiser and coordinator even though I can’t go and see the kids any more and will keep doing so for as long as I can. Recently, Harmony Home have been on the receiving end of a horrible campaign to remove them from their centre on Xin Yi due to neighbours complaining and it is really heartbreaking to hear about it all. They really need support this year and thanks to my amazing friends and the Harmony Home volunteer network I think 2014 is going to end of a very positive note.

Throughout my time volunteering with Harmony Home we have had so many fun events, two VERY successful drag shows at Dalida, my Black and White birthday, two Halloween parties, Pride parade and two Christmas parties. On top of that, we have had more clothes, books and appliances than I can count as well as tons of new volunteers and patrons. The generosity of the community in Taipei never fails to amaze me!

Our current event is the annual Secret Santa event which is in its third, and what looks to be biggest, year! Here’s the basic idea:

Dear volunteers and supporters,

I am sure you are all familiar with “secret santa” concept. You pick a number out of a hat and buy an anonymous gift for that person.
I’d like to do something similar this year for the kids at Harmony Home.
It will be all the kids name in the hat and you guys will be buying a gift for one of them.
I have a list of each of their names, ages and genders.
All you have to do is let me know you would like to take part and I will allocate you a kid. I’ll give you the info and then you go and buy them a gift, wrap it and put their name on it.
This way, each kid in the centre will get a lovely gift, chosen just for them.
I’d like to set a spending limit because everyone has different budgets and we don’t want some kids to receive really extravagant gifts. Rather, if you would like to give more or you have extra cash, I can allocate you more children!

Lets say, around 500NT.

This year, we have had such an overwhelming response that we have so many more donors than kids!!! For anyone who wants to get involved from now, you can make a donation via PayPal or credit card here or make a donation in kind (list here)and drop it off either at the centre 1F No.262-1, Jiaxing St., Xinyi District, Taipei City 110 or at the Christmas show Santaland Diaries.

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VSO: The Volunteer Experts

VSO-logo1I’ve been thinking about adding a section with details on specific organisations. I’m going to start off with an excellent volunteer group- VSO. If you are a skilled professional and you are looking for a way to use your skills and expertise where it is needed most, VSO are a fantastic organisation to get involved with.

A while back, I featured Sarah Naughton, a friend of mine who volunteered in Rwanda a few years ago, in the ” volunteer experiences” section and she described her volunteer placement with VSO. I was really impressed with how Sarah described VSO, and I’ve always been a big fan of how they operate. Here’s why:

– they are dedicated to long term solutions

-they send experts in their fields, to ensure that projects succed

-they ask volunteers to commit for at least 6 months, non of this ” gap year” two week business.

VSO is one of the world largest volunteer networks in the world, and like the UN, they want the best of the best for the projects. They advertise their placements the same way the advertise paid positions and if you want to apply, you will need to send you CV and a covering letter. It is competitive and they want the right person for each position. You must commit to at least 6 months, and fundraise for your trip. This is volunteering done right.

If you cannot commit to a longer term placement overseas, VSO encourage you to volunteer for them at home where you can campaign and fundraise. They have lots of ideas on the website to help get you started.

Do you know another great volunteer group that you would recommend for someone wanting to volunteer overseas? Please comment or e-mail me volunteerasia@hotmail.com

The Plight of Asian Elephants: Volunteering in Thailand

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My first overseas volunteering experience was in Thailand in 2008 at WFFT with Globalteer. It was the beginning of a year travelling and I couldn’t think of a better start to an amazing year. WFFT is an animal rescue centre about 6 hours outside Bangkok, in a beautiful rural area. The grounds themselves are picturesque. It was like living in the middle of the jungle. I was volunteering as part of the group looking after abused elephants in the elephant sanctuary part of the centre. During the day, the elephants stay in an enclosure and are fed and cleaned. They love to eat pineapples and watermelons. At night, they are walked out into the forest to graze and sleep. Every night they need to be left in a different spot in a bid to outsmart poachers who steal elephants for the tourist trade. In the morning, they are walked back to the centre. The morning and evening walks were amazing.

EVERY year without fail, I see people on my Facebook riding elephants on holiday in Thailand and other popular destinations and it breaks my heart. I often post articles to try and deter them but it mostly falls on deaf ears. (More of that willful ignorance I have mentioned before). Its seems people are more interested in having that quintessential elephant ride or tiger or monkey picture than learning about how the animals are treated. In reality, the animals are captured by killing the parents and stealing the young. To train them, they are starved and beaten into submission to break their spirits and once trained are kept in awful conditions.

Elephants in Thailand.  (from Globalteer.org)

There are only around 2,000-3,000 wild elephants in Thailand

When commercial logging was banned in Thailand there was no longer a demand for working elephants and their owners were forced to resort to different ways to make an income. Unfortunately, in many cases, this meant exploiting the elephants for the tourist industry.

The growth of urban areas in Thailand, has seen the elephants natural habitat become smaller and smaller. 

Many elephant owners took their animals to the big cities and today there are many elephants roaming the city streets at night, the dirty, hectic city environment is far from ideal for these elephants, which are by nature forest dwellers.

The noise and traffic causes them considerable stress, not to mention the dangers posed by the traffic.

Every year many elephants are killed or injured in traffic accidents. City elephants are frequently malnourished and do not consume anywhere near the amount of food that they should eat every day just to prevent excretion on the streets.

In the daytime the city elephants are kept hidden away from view in unsuitable locations such as rubbish tips or disused car parks, often without adequate shade and no access to good food, only leaves from city trees intoxicated with pollutants.

Elephants are frequently drugged to keep them calm in the chaotic city environment.

Many city elephants suffer from respiratory diseases as a result of constantly breathing in polluted air and are at risk of standing on broken glass and other debris on the streets leading to infections.

They are not bathed regularly, as elephants should be, and this often leads to skin diseases.

Thailand has a thriving tourism industry. Unfortunately this has been exploited by people wishing to make money by using elephants as ‘entertainment’ and every day hundreds of animals are suffering at the hands of humans purely to make a profit for their owners.

They are forced to perform degrading and unnatural tricks, often being beaten with spike hammers. Kept on chains 24 hours a day, these animals lose their dignity and freedom and merely exist as moneymaking commodities. The elephants are worked hard, often with out shade, and denied the much needed time for eating, drinking and bathing.

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In many ways, this was an eye-opening trip. I met people from all over the world, many of whom were activists and seasoned travelers. I was exposed to a lot of new (to me) ideas which have stayed with me and had a big influence on my politics and lifestyle. Just last year, I met up with one of my friends from WFFT in Amsterdam and had a ball reminiscing about our days walking the elephants.

Ready for your first experience volunteering overseas?

A friend of mine, Cátia Lúcio, shares her experiences at WFFT here.

Volunteer with elephants through Globalteer in Thailand or Cambodia.

Volunteer Stories: Lindy Mei

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Lindy Mei: USA
I met Lindy a couple of years ago when we both volunteered for TSPCA walking and caring for dogs. Lindy joined an excursion I planned for the kids at Harmony Home Taiwan and was amazing. The kids took to her immediately and had so much fun, Since then, Lindy goes to help out with the kids in the Xin Yi centre whenever she can. You can read her advice here. 
I have volunteered with Harmony Home for almost three years and continue to be involved with them from the UK. We will be continuing out “Secret Santa” toy drive this year so I’ll be updating you all about that soon.
If you are interested in volunteering at Harmony Home, you can e-mail me at volunteerasia@hotmail.com and I will send you an application form and guidelines.

Volunteer Stories: Ashley Wang

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Ashley Wang: Taiwan

Ashley volunteered in rural Taiwan in an Aboriginal village during her university studies and was awesome enough to share an essay she wrote about her experiences.

You can find out more about the organisation here. : http://www.volunteermatch.org.tw/IW/default_en.asp

Volunteer Stories: Sarah Naughton

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Sarah Naughton shares her experiences volunteering in Rwanda with VSO.

You can read the full interview here, as well as some more volunteer stories.

Volunteer Stories: Jaclynn Joseph

I’ve decided to add a “volunteer stories”section to my blog. I want to give you guys first hand information from actual volunteers so that you have a better idea about the programmes featured and of course, helpful advice and tips.

volunteering at the Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand

volunteering at the Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand

The first volunteer to be featured is fellow Taipai expat, and friend of mine, Jaclynn Joseph who volunteered with The Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket Thailand last Chinese New Year.  Jaclynn is an animal lover, and very involved in animal charites as a volunteer and fundraiser. You can read the full interview here.

Why Volunteer?

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It may come as a surprise to you but I get asked, often, “why do you volunteer?, what do you get out of it?”.

Its not about what I “get out of it”. Its not about me. Its about helping people who need help. Simple as that. When people are interested in volunteering, I never advise them to do it because it is “rewarding” or “enriching”. I don’t think other peoples struggles should be seen as an opportunity to enrich your own life. Of course, volunteering does bring you a great feeling of accomplishment and is a very rewarding thing to do, that is just not my personal motivation for doing it. I volunteer because awful things happen to people living in poverty (and animals and the enviornment) and I simple can’t sit around and pretend I don’t know about it. Someone has to to something, and I am that someone. It makes me mad to think that people volunteer to simply boost their CV or tick something off their bucket list. But whatever your motivation, get out there and do some volunteer work. You will not be sorry!! Some of my best friends and favourite people are people I met while volunteering.

Money will always be needed by NGO’s and non-profits and donations keep their programmes running but many also rely on volunteers. Whereas some of the bigger NGO’s can afford to pay all their full time staff, they still need volunteers to fundraise and become involved in campaigns and projects. Many smaller NGO’s rely more heavily on volunteers, some operating 100% on volunteers.

There are so many ways in you can volunteer your time and talents. You can volunteer overseas and at home. From walking dogs who live in a pet shelter, to doing a charity run, using your expertise to advise and consult (IT advise is a great example of this). You can get out in your community and plant trees, clean up public areas. You can volunteer at hospitals, support helplines. You can get involved in sports clubs. The list is endless, and there are so many fun options!

(for more information on the types of volunteer work you can do overseas, see my article “Making Your Time as a Volunteer Count“)

International Volunteer Day is December 2013. Whether its an hour, and afternoon, a weekend, or longer, get out there and do some volunteer work!!!

Weapons of Mass Production: Volunteering with Green Youth Collective

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Yesterday (Sunday) I volunteered in District 9 with Youth Green Collective. It was so nice to get out of the city and get some fresh air. The land is tucked away inside a small Vietnamese village with plenty of coconut trees, banana trees and right on the Dong Nai river.

Green Youth Collective is a small, non-profit with the goal of creating awareness and interest in green and sustainable products and practices in Saigon. Ultimately, the aim of the business is to train local disadvantaged youths to assemble, install, and maintain green roofs, vertical and container gardens.

Their first project however, is a plot of land in district 9, which they will use as their headquarters and for training. “GYC has realized that for all we hope to accomplish, we need a large space to carry out our experiments, demonstrate our products, and educate our future employees. The land in D9 is 6000 square meters, and will be our education center for hands-on learning.This will be a space designed to inspire the youth and anyone who comes to visit. We envision hosting both local and international courses in areas such as permaculture, natural building, natural product making, design, organic gardening, meditation, yoga, traditional crafts, or whatever area someone is motivated to host a course in. The Green Youth will also be trained here, so for a few months before they begin their job of installing our products, they will get hands on experience with the soil, seeds, building, maintaining, planning and designing.”

This is what some of the plans look like;

https://www.facebook.com/notes/green-youth-collective/things-to-do-at-the-d9-land/566962910007352

Its a really interesting and exciting project. I will be really curious to see how things are going in a month, three months, even six months down the line when I am back in Taipei!

Progress so far…..

handwash station

handwash station

two clay stoves have almost been finished

two clay stoves have almost been finished

banana tress have been planted around the shower but while they are growing, coconut leaf walls has been put up for shade and privacy

banana tress have been planted around the shower but while they are growing, coconut leaf walls has been put up for shade and privacy

shower floor

shower floor

some beds have been made but nothing has been planted just yet

some beds have been made but nothing has been planted just yet

Imagine the delicious meals you can cook when the all the raw materials you need are growing right in your kitchen!

Yesterday, we started to make the compost heap.

clear the patch and put up post around the edge

clear the patch and put up post around the edge

I forgot to take a picture of the first layer, which was dry sticks and branches to keep the compost a little off the ground and let air circulate.

green leaves

green leaves

a little lime

next: a layer of brown leaves

cow dung mixed with water goes on top.

Then repeat! We covered the compost heap with coconut leaves to keep the heat in.

I hope to get out to district 9 again before I leave at the end of this month. Watch this space………