The Gift of Education

My name’s Neetu and I’m from Penticton, British Columbia. I’m currently in Cap Hatien, Haiti on a Life Different humanitarian volunteer trip. The mission of this trip is to build a new classroom onto a school that is located on the edge of a hill (or a mountain according to Ontario or other prarie areas’ standards), as there are many students that are waiting to be able to attend this school.

I just graduated from my bachelor’s degree and have so many incredible years of education to look back on. Education is something that has been available to me, ever since I learned how to walk, and I think it is something that always will be an option for me. That’s not the case here in Cap Hatien. I had a mother come up to me while walking through the streets of the village and tell me all about her three children, and how she is waiting for the school to grow in size so that her children can attend, and how happy she is that we are here to help make that happen.


Today was the first day on the ‘work site’ where we didn’t teach the Haitians how to build, rather, they taught us. They taught us how a group of dedicated and empowered individuals can work collectively to achieve complex tasks; back home in Canada, most of these projects would never be attempted without machinery and equipment like a bulldozer or a saw.


The highlight of my day was interacting and playing with the children who currently attend the school. We played soccer, skipped rope, sang, and tried our best to communicate with one another with the little bit of Creole we knew. At one point, one of the students kicked the soccer ball over the brick wall and it fell down the side of the hill. I was absolutely blown away to see that in an instant a dozen of the little children (about 5 years old) ran down the side of this mountain with trees, unstable rocks, and a steep foundation, and within minutes got the ball back and were playing soccer again. It was amazing. These children, not matter how young, have to be street smart because they have such limited resources. They have no other way of survival than to depend on themselves for things such as finding clean water or waiting to get an education – things that children back home don’t ever have to worry about. Haiti is beautiful because of its landscape, its culture and most of all, its people. The rest of the world could learn a lot from the people of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

– Neetu – Participant, LiveDifferent Hero Holiday


Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 8th, 2012

Bangkok Biscuits, A Long Boat To Laos, and the Power of the Downward Dog

After two long days of rainfall, today’s sunshine brought us a day that was nothing less than amazing. We arrived at the children’s home this morning with a planned day of fun activities for the kids – from sports, to yoga and music, and the crowd-favorite, the craft station. As the kids moved from station to station, their excitement and enthusiasm was contagious. Carrying their beloved animal masks made at the craft station (with the assistance of Gabby, Bianca, and Alli), the kids showed off their spiritual, mental, and physical discipline at the yoga station, led by 3 lovely Yogis- Christal, Aelea, and Mart-Mari.


Next, they were off to the music station, where our musical gurus, Trevor, J.P, and Natasha brought out the rhythm in the kids as they learned classic North American children’s songs, and then taught us Thai songs in return. Last, but not least, was the sports station led by two very tired, (and slightly sunburnt) leaders, Ashley and myself. Never in my wildest dreams would the thought of playing hours of monkey-in-the-middle have seemed appealing to me, but somehow these amazing children made it one of the best days of my life!

Following lunch and in the need of a little R-&-R, the Hero Holiday crew took a scenic riverboat to the nearby country of Laos where we had our first experience of local market-bartering. Just as I thought this day couldn’t get any better, we were off to then Mekong River to go swimming with the kids! At first, my fears of what lay beneath the opaque river water was overwhelming. Four years of university microbiology raced through my mind as I considered what might be lurking in the water below. But this concern soon became obsolete as dozens of kids arrived and ran towards the water. Before I knew it, I was neck-deep in water with kids hanging off of every limb and having the time of my life! The kids swam and splashed the afternoon away followed by a treat of Bangkok biscuits and juice. As the children devoured as myany cookies as their stomachs could hold, it truly resonated with me that these amazing kids and volunteers we’ve been blessed to meet are more than a gathering of children in need, but a giant family with endless amounts of love. Each child has their own unique and irreplaceable role in the family, being able to express themselves without fear of judgment or punishment. Their bellies are full of food, their hearts full of love, and their eyes are full of hope and opportunity. Days like today compel you to reflect on all things you once though were important and essential in your life, only to lead you to the same conclusion reached in ’67 by The Beatles – all you need is love.
~ Steph, Participant, LiveDifferent Hero Holiday Thailand

Author: LiveDifferent


The Power of One

Since arriving in Thailand and reading the book Not For Sale by David Batstone, I’ve had an uncomfortable feeling that I wasn’t able to identify. I want to help. I think anyone who knows about poverty and exploitation wants to help.  But how do we eradicate poverty, statelessness, and the exploitation of women and children completely?  The vast nature of the root causes and the millions of women and children who are impacted is astounding.  Truly, I don’t even know where to start…and that’s when it hit me during one of our evening debriefings.  We may not see poverty, statelessness, and exploitation entirely solved within our lifetime.  The problem is simply too big.  However, we can make a difference one person at a time.  


At first I had a hard time processing that revelation.  After years of business school, it’s in my nature to want to take a linear approach and identify the root cause of an issue and simply “fix the problem”.  Unfortunately, there is no such approach to this complex challenge, and focusing on the problem in its entirety is simply overwhelming for the average person.  Thankfully, the eureka for me was when I finally realized that I could make a difference in the life of one person.  Impacting one life is realistic and attainable for all of us.  I may not be solving world hunger but that one person I helped matters!  The one child who will get to play in the playground we are building matters!  The one child who will enjoy fresh eggs and meat because of the chicken coop and pig pen we’ve built matters!  The one child who will get to be a kid and play games with our group of volunteers matters!  


I’m on this trip because my daughter Allison speaks so highly of the LiveDifferent organization and has volunteered with them in past.  However, I will confess that I am guilty of worrying that she is trying to single-handedly change the world.  As her mom, I don’t want her to be hurt or disappointed if her efforts don’t produce the desired impact.  Today I stand humbled having learned much from the lovely young lady I am proud to call my daughter.  Clearly she has proven that you can teach old dog new tricks!  And most importantly, you can make a difference – and it MATTERS even if it is only one person at a time.  

~ Natasha, Participant, LiveDifferent Hero Holiday Thailand


Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 7th, 2012

Gallery: WestJet employees build homes in the Dominican Republic

In April, 50 WestJet volunteers spent 10 days on a ‘Hero Holiday’ in the Dominican Republic working with local contractors and families to build five homes in an impoverished neighbourhood in Puerto Plata called Aguas Negra – Black Waters. The project was co-ordinated by LiveDifferent, an aid agency based in Hamilton, Ontario. Photos by Stuart Gradon, and Cole Brown,

View the photo gallery here: 

Photo Gallery

Author: LiveDifferent


Author: LiveDifferent


Define Poverty

Haiti first came into my world view in 2008, as was the case for many, after the enormous tragedy that was the earthquake. I was in Grade 12 at the time, and just beginning to pique my interest in social justice issues after a volunteer trip to Honduras through my high school in Grade 11. The overwhelming coverage and global response to the event were impossible to ignore, and I read every little thing I could. I couldn’t even fathom the devastation that must have gripped this country, and I knew it was something I couldn’t just let slip off my radar. The night of hearing about the earthquake, I drew on a giant red shirt the words “Hope for Haiti”, and set off to school armed with a donation bucket and a sharpie for donors who wanted to sign my shirt. I stood up in front of my classmates and explained Haiti’s situation before the earthquake, and why I wanted to raise money to send with a friend, Nikki, who was already planning a trip down with LiveDifferent prior to the earthquake. I raised about $100 and helped her out where I could with other fundraisers she organized. But Haiti had me hooked, and for the next two years I read everything I could about Haiti. In those two years, I completed LiveDifferent Academy in 2010/2011, as well as my first year in university as my interest in social justice issues continued to grow and grow. After a couple years of dreaming and fundraising, I am here in Haiti and I couldn’t be more excited.

Walking through the streets of Calvaire and Cap-Haitien today, Nettie had asked me to write this blog tonight and try and compare it to what I had seen living in Mexico for four months with LiveDifferent Academy. This morning, that seemed like a fairly easy task. For some reason, in my mind, Haiti had been set apart, and I felt like the poverty I would see here would be unlike anything I’d seen in Honduras or Mexico. Being the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere, I expected a whole new level of poverty, although I was unsure what exactly that might look like.

To my surprise, I truly struggled throughout the day to find many differences between what I was seeing and what I had seen in other countries. Despite the obvious language differences and some slight cultural differences, I found that poverty in developing countries has a very similar face, wherever you happen to find it. Poverty still feels unfair. Poverty equals no garbage collection, resulting in garbage collecting in the water, which results in disease. Poverty equals shacks with tin roofs if any at all, which haunt me after my own shack experience through LiveDifferent Academy, with the idea of surviving a rainy season while you and everything you own is constantly in danger of being completed soaked and often destroyed. Poverty equals housing so crammed together, one can only imagine if disease were to strike one house how easily it could spread to them all.

But then again, is that all that defines poverty? When it comes down to it, it seems that all they’re really impoverished in is financial matters and governing structures to offer things like garbage collection and healthcare.

However, the people I met today are so much more than their governance and financial state. Poverty also equals the friendliest faces you’ve ever met, and a world where you’re not crazy to go around greeting every person you meet. Poverty also equals bright, vibrantly coloured buildings that are bursting at the seams with interesting culture. Poverty can also feel unbelievably hopeful, with big dreams and hope for tomorrow. Maybe it is all crammed tightly together, but one can only imagine if we open up and take in the immense amount of love and hope, how far we could spread it.

– Alex, Hero Holiday participant 


Author: LiveDifferent


26,000 Baht and a Whole Lotta Excitement!

Last night it rained so hard that the road to the children’s home was too muddy to get down and had a truck stuck in the middle of it. So, we declared today to be a day of shopping for our party this upcoming week with the kids.  I never thought I would feel so fulfilled from a day of shopping! (Well, truth be told, yesterday’s clothes shopping with the girls was great, too!). Team work and 26,000 baht (about $800) was all it took to fill 80 backpacks for 80 very deserving kids! We filled their backpacks with everything from teddy bears to school supplies to toothbrushes, depending on their age and sex, and I’m so excited for them to get them! I’m glad that we went shopping on a rainy day so we don’t waste any time that we could be spending with the kids.

Yesterday, as part of our project, we worked on the art work on the side of the new library that they are building for the children. The entire building is made out of a rice and clay mixture and we have named it “guck”. We are responsible for doing the art on the outside of the building and we are all becoming very great “guck artists”.

And, in case you are wondering, the food has been amazing! The staff at the children’s home have been cooking special lunches for us every day and we’ve been getting so spoiled!  We sit cross legged on the dining room floor with all the kids. They sing a little thank you song before each meal thanking the farmers for the rice and promising to not waste any. It is quite convicting when you are eating –  you want to make sure you clean your plate every time!

These children continue to amaze each of us. Despite what they have been through and the pain that many of them have endured, they are so helpful, caring and happy! Each day with them is a new adventure and we are grateful for the chance to be a part of their lives. 

I can’t wait to see what the rest of this awesome experience has in store for us!

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 6th, 2012

Opium, Monks and the Power of a Changed Heart

Our day began at the point where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos converge, called “The Golden Triangle”. The region has special significance because many of the children we work with at Buddies Along the Roadside come from the hill tribes of Myanmar.

From there we went on to visit Thailand’s Opium Museum where we learned about the history of the cultivation and trade of opium in the Golden Triangle and Asia in general. The sale and use of opium within Burmese hill tribes is a major factor in the abuse and eventual sale of children in these areas. When parents use the drug and develop a dependence for it, they are often forced to make rash decisions to get their fix; sending their children to the streets as beggars or in some cases, selling them to become involved in Thailand’s sex trade. Gaining perspective on the opium trade helps to better understand the situation that this area of Thailand faces.
After lunch, we visited a Buddhist pagoda perched atop a lookout over the beautiful Thai landscape. There, we were met by a monk who was extremely informative and helpful in understanding Buddhist customs and the functions of a pagoda. He also sported a great sense of humour, better-than-average English, and a degree in Airplane Engineering. We all had the honour of receiving a blessing from the Monk.
Down the hill from the pagoda, we met with Kru Nam, the founder of Buddies Along the Roadside. She shared with us her story of how she got involved with helping the homeless and impoverished, to eventually starting her organization. Kru Nam explained how she witnessed her career transition from being an art student, to jewelry designer, to volunteering as an art therapist working with the homeless. She soon realized that her volunteer work brought her much more satisfaction than her well-paying jewelry design job, and decided to quit her job and pursue her passion in helping the less fortunate. 15 years later, Buddies Along the Roadside has helped to rehabilitate 35 drug-addicted mothers and hundreds of children who were former victims of Thailand’s dangerous sex trade. Hearing Kru Nam’s story first-hand was motivating and inspirational, and it set the stage for the day’s next experience.
We arrived at the children’s home to be greeted by 80+ enthusiastic children ranging from toddlers to late teens, and several staff members and volunteers. After a brief meet-and-greet, we took to the playground and tried to keep up with the kids’ excitement  as we played for about an hour before heading back to town for dinner and a good night’s rest.
All in all, today’s activities were eye-opening to say the least. It really set the mood and pace for the rest of our time here in Chiang Saen, and I’m thrilled to experience whatever the next couple weeks may have in store for us.
– Trevor, LiveDifferent Hero Holiday Thailand

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 4th, 2012

Four Dollars and a Lot of Perspective

Today was our first day of adventures with the Hero Holiday group here in Thailand. After many hours of traveling and very little rest, our group of 13 Canadians had the opportunity to convene together over breakfast and begin the preparation for the next two weeks of exploring and learning! 

After our arrival in Chiang Sen we had our very first Thai meal together overlooking the most breath-taking view of a small river and mountains. As we began to pack up and head to our hotel, our group leader and founder of LiveDifferent, paid for our meals and gave one of the young boys involved in the preparation and serving of the meal a small tip, only to have the boy show his gratefulness with a beautiful smile and his excited skip back to the restaurant. Tipping, which as a part-time server in North America, I am compensated with regularly, is considered pretty customary and almost mandatory nowadays. I have caught myself a few times feeling agitated when I return to a table I have served to find to my dismay, little or no tip. This was my first experience which reminded me of how privileged my life is as a Canadian. I took the time to reflect on the young boys reaction as we drove to our hotel, realizing that I do not always take the time to recognize how fortunate I am to not only have a job, but to be afforded the right to be paid at least minimum wage, while additionally regularly receiving extra financial incentives for the work I do. 


It is incredible to think that at no time in my life have I ever not had the opportunity to be employed, (whether or not I enjoyed my various part-time jobs), but regardless, I have always had opportunity and choice of work placements as well. Accessibility to employment is not the norm everywhere in our world and I think it is important to acknowledge this to be able to process the struggles that our fellow human beings face every day, and perhaps to help us understand why some individuals are almost forced to make decisions that some North Americans view as despicable. Today, our group leader, Christal, told us that many of the children in the facility we will be visiting over the next two weeks have been sexually or commercially exploited. Some of the children have been sold by their families for less than 3 dollars, so parents could feed their families or fulfill their addictions. Many of us find it difficult to wrap our minds around the idea of selling another human being, let alone a family member. As Christal discussed this disheartening information with us, she made an incredibly powerful statement that stuck with me: we need to replace judgment with compassion. As individuals from a developed nation, many of us have not been, and never will be, in situations where we would be overcome by such severe desperation that would cause us to consider selling ourselves or a family member. I have never gone to bed hungry, I have never had several children to feed with little to no income, I have never been homeless, and I have never been stateless.  


I have learned that statelessness is something all too familiar for millions of individuals around the world. As Canadians we seldom take the time to acknowledge how lucky we are to have the option to be born in hospitals, to receive a birth certificate, and to be afforded the right to be citizens of a nation. Someone knows we exist and our lives are protected by law. Millions of people around the world are not born in hospitals and do not have the ability to receive simple luxuries like birth certificates and citizenship due to the financial costs and other hurdles associated with obtaining such important documentation. Although this may not initially sound all that important, as I have always thought of my birth certificate as a little piece of paper, not being recognized by one’s state as a citizen has severe repercussions. If one is not considered to exist, that person is unable to go to school, unable to work, unable to exist enough to survive.

Our group also had the chance to receive Thai massages today on outdoor beds alongside a road overlooking Laos. After getting over my initial shock of my first Thai massage (which was rather invasive, as the woman crawled into the bed with me and used her weight, feet and everything else to relieve the tension in my achy and jet lagged body), I came to realize two things. First, as my leg was stretched over my head, I recognized I am not nearly as flexible as I thought I was and perhaps I need to start doing some yoga. And second, after paying 4 dollars for my hour long massage (and being able to consider 4 dollars an easily disposable amount of money), I realized that I am privileged and my life holds so much power. This power that each of our lives hold as Canadians gives us the ability to make change that is achievable if we all come together.

children's home

Today was our first day and I have already been so impacted by the things I have learned, without even meeting the children we will be getting to know over the next two weeks. I am so tremendously excited to meet the passionate and inspiring individuals who work at the children’s home, and to build relationships I will never forget with these children who have been though more than I could ever imagine. I am excited to see what our team can do and most importantly, I am inspired!

~Alli, LiveDifferent Hero Holiday Thailand

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 2nd, 2012

Global Calgary News – Report on WestJet Hero Holiday!

Jenifer Van Meenen, Hero Holiday Participant – earlier this month Westjetters travelled to the Dominican to build homes for local families.

Author: LiveDifferent