New Futures Organisation - Takeo, Cambodia

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November 9th 2013
Published: November 12th 2013
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On the Way Back to SchoolOn the Way Back to SchoolOn the Way Back to School

Some of our favorite kids from the class we taught.
As we peddled the creaky used-bicycles down the quiet streets toward the NFO Children's Home my mind wandered in a thousand directions – I was nervous, why was I nervous? I have taught children for many years, on different sides of the planet in fact, and here I was about to volunteer my time for free to Cambodian orphans and I felt a fluttering in my stomach – what am I going to do with them? Do I know any fun games? I hope they like me…

The day previous we said goodbye to Mr. Ox, Stronger John and the rest of the family at Castaways Beach Bungalows on Otres Beach II in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. We arranged transport with Mr. Ox’s assistant at the Bungalows - a quite fellow who poured beers, drove a tuk tuk and served as a senator in Phnom Penh – in fact, we caught him on his way there to represent his district as part of the local representation system that helps govern Cambodia. We said our goodbyes and headed out in preparation for our trip across Southern Cambodia to Takeo in the back of our friend's Tuk Tuk. It was a cool, grey morning
RIP NevilleRIP NevilleRIP Neville

The founder and director of New Futures Organisation, Neville O'Grady. His adopted daughter Princess is on the bottom left. Photo courtesy of the New Futures Organisation facebook page.
as Mr. Ox explained that the trip would be about six hours - though he failed to mention that our driver would be stopping every fifteen minutes to collect cold water from irrigation ditches, rice paddies, or stagnant pools to serve as engine coolant and keep the tuk tuk from overheating. As we made our way every part of my body began to tingle from the vibrations - the hours crept by, dusk approached. The extra weight on the cross country journey put a strain on the tiny engine - but our $25 was more than paying for the senator’s trip to Phnom Penh so I don’t think he was too upset by the whole ordeal – he smiled and apologized every time he had to stop, we kept wanting to tell him we understood - but for the minor inconvenience that he couldn't speak English, nor us a lick of Khmer. We were soaked by a few torrential downpours and as the impending night fell upon us the insects were like tiny bullets of goo smashing against our faces at an ever increasing frequency, but in the end I treasured the experience as there is so much of Cambodia
At the Children's HomeAt the Children's HomeAt the Children's Home

Neville asked - for good reason - that we not bring out cameras to the orphanage every day, asking that we instead share what is available on the website. Credit will be given for any photos from the NFO facebook page that are not mine. Photo courtesy of the New Futures Organisation facebook page.
that can be better understood at this speed – the mundane sat in front of our eyes in all it's brilliant majesty, at 20 miles per hour we might as well have been a part of it.

As the tuk tuk hummed into Takeo we were exhausted, disoriented and hungry - it was now well after dark. The final twelve kilometers after our driver pulled some water from a roadside ditch near a petrol stand seemed to take an eternity. We passed a bizarre red-light district with several dozen working girls and lady boys, a few beer shacks and eerie red-lights dangling from the branches above, the towering trees provided a veil of darkness while the red glow and tiny dresses made the whole spectacle seem like a strange, forest clearing sex party. The little sex village was completely surrounded by forest and sat about six kilometers from either main road – an odd sight indeed. We had been unable to reach Neville, the man who single-handedly deals with volunteers, secures funding for and runs the entire New Futures Organization from an old, donated laptop from a small makeshift office in the volunteer house. Unfortunately, the town seemed to
Local ChildrenLocal ChildrenLocal Children

Local children pour out of the classroom at one of the schools to say hello.
be asleep and we had never fully secured directions outside of ‘it’s in Takeo.’ We pulled up in front of a guesthouse, I tried desperately to ask if we could connect to the wifi to get the phone number for NFO – ‘you need room?’ the woman replied – half the family came out, no one understood anyone... we finally got the password. In the middle of it all Mr. Ox called our driver to talk to me for the third time on our trip, chatting casually and asking how everything was going. I tried to get him to translate for us but instead he started putting our drunken friends from the guesthouse in Sihanoukville on the phone despite my pleas that it wasn’t the best time. Finally we said our goodbyes and found a phone number through the NFO website - we made the call from our driver's cell phone and explained to Neville where we were and about ten minutes later he came rolling up on some type of tractor vehicle which wouldn’t quite suffice for all of us and our luggage. Our driver offered to drive the extra few kilometers no problem, being a right and agreeable
Departing SihanookvilleDeparting SihanookvilleDeparting Sihanookville

Getting comfortable for our nine-hour trip across Southern Cambodia
fellow as he was, and Neville positively insisted that he lay his head at the NFO house that night, free of charge. When word came back that no rooms were open, poor Neville seemed genuinely distraught that he had nothing to offer our friend, but our driver didn’t mind and said he could find accommodation for the night so we said goodbye as best we could. Neville welcomed us and spent the good part of two-hours casually and humbly recounting the origins and current day to day administration of the organization. As I learned in the coming days, Neville was constantly on the move and I feel blessed that we had the chance that first night to hear the whole story straight from the lion’s mouth.

The New Futures Organization launched in the quiet southern province of Takeo some five years ago – today it funds an orphanage with forty-five children, some of whom have parents who have died, others economic orphans whose families are forced to make the unfathomably heartbreaking decision to give away a child because they are too poor to feed another mouth. Some of the children are also mentally handicapped – one boy we met
Children Play at the RoadsideChildren Play at the RoadsideChildren Play at the Roadside

On the way to Takeo.
has a brain that never fully developed because his mother’s diet was so lacking in nutrients while he was in the womb. The young-man - so strong for his size - has so much love in his heart, he can’t help himself from grasping the volunteers in a firm hold, squeezing and smiling, he is so innocent, trusting and needy it is impossible to imagine him living by his own means. In addition, the New Futures Organization works in coordination with at least three local schools for children who are too poor to attend public school. Although the government provides free education in Cambodia, the cost of a school uniform, transportation, books and supplies for one child could cripple a family in the devastatingly poor region, where genocide and famine are wounds that remain raw and leave the nation cripplingly vulnerable to forces beyond the average family's control. The volunteers at New Futures Organization also give English lessons to the Monks who are keen to learn at the main Buddhist temple in Takeo, joined by wide-eyed university students who seem in awe of the fact that they are able to have free English lessons and speak to foreigners about the world outside of Cambodia. As we spoke they sat alert, writing every word we say, asking for meaning and clarification – a type of gratitude a former American teacher could never have had imagined. And finally there are the lessons to the Chief of Police in Takeo and his two assistants. The organization receives no government funding, no funding from larger NGOs, and is relatively unknown, relying on Neville and a few incredibly dedicated Cambodian teachers, volunteers like my friend Andy who has been there many, many times and is always lending a hand via the internet from all corners of the globe - and other volunteers like ourselves who stop by and donate whatever time and skill sets we have.

The next morning we got on one of the functioning bicycles from the lot – those parked on the right hand side are completely inoperable, while those on the left are only semi-inoperable - and we made our way to the orphanage while I fretted over what I could do to excite the kids – I just wanted so badly to be able to make my presence worthwhile to them. We peddled down the sparse road past the
At the Children's HomeAt the Children's HomeAt the Children's Home

Photo courtesy of the New Futures Organisation facebook page.
old market, turned and rode along a sprawling, lilly-filled wetland and finally down a dirt side-road where I could see the brightly painted signs for the NFO orphanage. When we pulled in we saw a large patch of dirt with some buildings around the border. Some kids were playing with Legos at a table, others were playing chess, some were having a volleyball match and others lounging in hammocks – it was a public holiday, the birthday of one of the Monarch’s relatives, there was no school that day. The heads of the orphanage, a Cambodian man and his wife with two children of their own, take care of the forty-five kids here by themselves – the husband gave us a tour of the facilities, including the chicken coup that had collapsed into the water, he informed me that they hoped they might someday have the money to fix it. I tried to imagine what it would be like having a chicken-coup that helped to provide for nearly fifty people in my care, and to not have the means to remove the debris and rebuild – the partially collapsed structure serving as backdrop to my thoughts. He took us into
The Chess-Masters at the Children's HomeThe Chess-Masters at the Children's HomeThe Chess-Masters at the Children's Home

Photo courtesy of the New Futures Organisation facebook page.
the kitchen where some of the children were cooking a meal, some bits of pork fried with bean sprouts and oyster sauce to be served over rice. He pointed to one of the large bags of rice which cost $25 – enough to feed the children at the facility for two days.

We went outside and I wasn’t really sure what to do – I sat down to watch the kids play Legos, they were making guns and saying a phrase from some movie they had just seen before pulling the trigger. The children were so skilled and creative that some of the guns were nearly full size, complete with functioning triggers, ammunition clips that could be loaded, and sights on top of the guns – some of the children even made theirs on wheels and rolled them around, engineered from a giant bin of random Lego pieces. One of the older boys came over and took me by the hand – I think his name was ‘Tea’ - and insisted I play on his volleyball team, two on two and these kids take their volleyball very seriously and are remarkably talented. Based on my size advantage I managed to hold my own and we won a couple games (albeit barely) against kids half my size before they took off for lunch and we headed back to the volunteer house. That evening we peddled back again and ‘Tea’ was waiting for me. He wanted to challenge me to a game of chess – a game I considered myself quite good at before he promptly beat me in about ten moves. I adjusted my strategy and gave him a bit of a game of it the second time but was still no match. Afterwards we went back for a bit of volleyball and then the kids caught on that Tara and I could write in Thai. Some of the symbols are quite similar to Khmer – we began writing with sticks in the dirt, a mob of children around us – they began climbing on my back and everyone was shouting for us to write their name in Thai. We taught them phrases in Thai and they picked them up instantly – they were confused as we continued to mix up the simple Khmer phrases they taught us. The strongest boy came out and locked me in a huge bear hug and tried to climb on my back, then another boy on top of him – kids were tugging on Tara’s arms from all angles to show them more Thai. When we left for the evening an entourage escorted us to the bikes – one boy who I had played chess with in a Led Zeppelin t-shirt threw an arm around my shoulder as if we were old friends, and the other boys followed with outstretched hands wanting a proper Western handshake or some variation of a hand-slap they had picked up from other volunteers. I sat there on my bike for about fifteen minutes – I didn’t have the heart to leave. Although other times we visited there were less kids about, or they were less interested in the volunteers, I left that night feeling like something magical had happened, as if nothing I had ever done in my life before this day had been of any real consequence at all. The sun was setting over the lotus-swamp and some children had parked their bicycles and were lounging on a makeshift bridge – every child we passed screamed hello, some with such excitement that they leaped up and down
A Small Town Hugs the WaterA Small Town Hugs the WaterA Small Town Hugs the Water

On the way to Takeo
uncontrollably – and I just peddled on with a silly grin waving and cranking along on the dilapidated bicycle.

The next morning I went down to do some teaching the police station and I felt a bit intimidated – the police in Cambodia are described in major publications in blunt terms - ‘not your friend’ – ‘not out to protect and serve’ – ‘call only in the event of an emergency or major theft.’ Police in many parts of South East Asia are notoriously corrupt, perhaps even my friends here – but when we stepped into the office I felt like I was at home. From a couple years of drinking and bullshitting with Thai men I felt instantly at home with the boys in brown. The Chief of Police and his two assistants were some of the best guys I met in Cambodia – and quite good at English too - we joked around for a bit, one suggested he might marry me to one of his daughters, and when I asked who the handsome young man in the photograph behind the Chief’s desk was the room shook with laughter. It took them nearly 25 minutes to print off the ‘work-packets’ they use, during which time we giggled like childrem and the Chief’s personal phone went off with a Gangdam style ringtone - the room roared. I came back to teach the police every chance I got – I think they may get on a bit better with the male volunteers, societal norms perhaps – and it seems an overwhelming majority of the volunteers are females, so I like to tell myself that they really enjoyed the time we spent together as much as I did.

That same night I also went to teach the monks at the temple – a group that consisted of about nine monks, some of whom left early or came late because of meditation, prayer, and other callings around the temple – and a few university students eager to learn more English, one session a middle-aged businessman even showed up to the class. They were all so grateful for the free English lessons – I don’t think anyone has ever been as grateful to me for anything I have done in my life. When the two-hour lesson was over – imagine anyone in the US or Thailand for that matter voluntarily sitting through a two-hour lesson in anything – they didn’t want to let us leave, engaging us in ever more conversation, one of the young law students so excited I could see him visibly shake with joy every time we spoke to him. The chief monk of Takeo province showed up and through a translator thanked us and insisted we stay for coffee and he sat with us for an hour or so as we sipped our coffee and took some pictures. He wanted to get in on the action as well and for the last picture he took hold of my hand, afterward he looked at me while grasping my hand and spoke in Khmer while looking into my eyes – on que the young law student who I think lives there at the temple translated for the chief monk, telling me that we had kind faces, that we were excellent teachers, and how proud he was to have us there at his temple – his eyes were so sincere as he calmly gazed into our eyes while the musical language rolled from his tongue. He made the moment seem all the more sincere by looking us straight in the
At the Children's HomeAt the Children's HomeAt the Children's Home

The 'father' of the 45 children at the orphanage, as well as two of his own, is seated in the red jersey. Photo courtesy of the New Futures Organisation facebook page.
eye, rather than at his translator, as he spoke. We loved teaching the police and the monks so much that we spent day after day between the station, temple and orphanage – we almost never made it to ‘Little Po’ school, which now in hindsight I can hardly fathom, so powerful an impact it had made on my life.

The morning we rose to work at Little Po I took a ride down to the local market at the crack of dawn - a large open-air concrete structure with arch-like entrance ways. One of the other volunteers had taken me the day before and showed me her favorite breakfast, a Vietnamese-style ban xeo which is a crepe-like pancake filled with minced pork and bean sprouts in a sweet, salty and spicy sauce, with a rice noodle dish over the top of that and some stir-fried vegetables over that, then some more sauces and dry-fried garlic and white pepper powder to finish it off. One delicious bowl was only sixty-cents in US dollars and it really set the tone for a remarkable day, I peered over my shoulder at the hundreds of people gathered around communal tables enjoying
Dan, Tara and TeamDan, Tara and TeamDan, Tara and Team

Although he looks scarcely older than a high school student, Team administers the day to day at Little Po school solo, including instruction for the more than 200 students
hot fresh food from their favorite vendors, gathering calories for unspeakably long days of difficult work. I was the only foreigner in the entire structure, perhaps the only person who had ever been outside of Cambodia – it’s unbelievable how comfortable and welcome the people can make you feel in such an unfamiliar situation. As I peddled back toward the NFO house I took deep breaths of the fresh morning air – the rain had fallen the night before and the brutal Khmer sun had not yet reared its oppressive head. I met up with Tara and another volunteer outside the NFO house as we checked the bikes to make sure they were ready for the ride. Then we took a left and headed out a long flat road leading away from the town, our friend leading the way as we rode through the increasingly sparse farmlands, the ubiquitous palms dotting the horizon, many of the houses assembled from second-hand materials. After some time we turned off down a long dirt road, the arch-way over head indicating the presence of a temple somewhere down the path. We rode through the mud road accompanied by herds of grazing cattle, a few
The Children's HomeThe Children's HomeThe Children's Home

Photo courtesy of the New Futures Organisation facebook page.
bicycles and the occasional motorbike. After a mile or so we came upon a small town with a collection of humble homes (by Cambodian standards) and a temple. Here a Cambodian aid organization collaborates with NFO and the temple to create a makeshift school for children whose parents are too poor to send them to the free government schools. The children, some as young as five, come from the small village and farming residences all around the area to attend the completely free ‘Little Po’ school. Notebooks and writing utensils are provided free of charge, often accompanied by a snack, but the students must find their own transportation – which can sometimes involve a run-down bicycle but is usually done on foot. Because it is completely free of charge, there are now more than 200 students who make the difficult trip over the muddy roads to the structure that includes a roof and three walls, open air, along with benches, tables and a front board. The back of the structure is now standing room only. A young Cambodian man in his late twenties named Team is the only adult present to organize the curriculum and deliver it to the hungry
Tara with the ClassTara with the ClassTara with the Class

Little Po School
young minds that show up in increasing numbers at the temple gates. He is paid $60 a month through a thin-stretched Cambodian organization that works in tandem with NFO – it is good money in Cambodia but not enough for him to pay for a place where he, his fiancé and his children could rest their heads, which would cost $1,000. For another $500, he could marry his wife to be – a grand ceremony as per Khmer culture, but one that can strip humble finances to the breaking point.

On the day we visited, Team was spending nights at the school, and when we arrived at lunch time he used his only break of the day to learn English with the volunteers out of a workbook one of the volunteers had given to him. His dedication to learning the language is uncanny – we watched as each word took root within his mind, he smiled so sincere and so joyfully, took our hands into his, so much was his desire to pass on the language to his students. Team teaches much of the time in English, and he sends off groups of his best students to do additional
Mr. Bunthin and the PoliceMr. Bunthin and the PoliceMr. Bunthin and the Police

The Cambodian police trio is seen here with two volunteers - the chief, Mr. Bunthin, is pictured on the far left. Photo courtesy of the New Futures Organisation facebook page.
work with the foreign volunteers. We climbed up the steps of a meditation hall with a small chalkboard and taught a two-hour lesson to the group of ten – twelve year old's, nouns and plural nouns and how to use them in short sentences. Afterwards we took them below a pavilion and played some English speaking games. As we walked back toward the main classroom the students gathered around us and told us stories about what they and their friends were doing – they kicked a bottle around the mud as a makeshift soccer ball, large pigs shared the path – it is true, unabashed poverty and yet the sense of fulfillment with life is present in the smile of every child you meet. There is no sense among them of victimization, an expectation that things should be better, or that anything should be a certain way at all for that matter. They find a sense of joy in simply grasping their best friend’s hand, one that I’ve never seen on any child staring blankly into their I-Phone or gaming device.

When we returned to the classroom Team came up and hugged all three of us and asked that
Bicycles for NFO VolunteersBicycles for NFO VolunteersBicycles for NFO Volunteers

Outside the NFO Guesthouse.
we should take a photo together, he then ushered us into the front of the room and asked the two-hundred plus students to stand up - such a presence and respect he held among the students - and led them through a series of songs in English – including “You Are My Sunshine,” at the end of which the children sang “please don’t take my teachers away” before clapping three times and saying in unison “thank you so much teachers.” Afterward I stood talking to Team when a young boy came and tapped me on the shoulder. I looked down and he didn’t say a word, he just handed up a picture he had drawn of me with a heart and a smiley face and his name across the bottom. He smiled and looked away nervously and then ran back to the classroom. Soon other students were gathered around, also presenting their pictures and some of them small notes in English. As we went to leave the students gathered around and yelled goodbye, waving their hands frantically – there was no script, the students genuinely were that excited about having a school with a teacher like Team, and meeting foreigners who wanted to spend time with them. I can’t imagine what the grandparents must think when they get word that kids today are studying English with Americans, Europeans and others from around the world, right in the middle of their tiny village outside Takeo – such a concept must have been unfathomable under the unspeakable times of the Khmer Rouge or the decades of famine that followed.

We headed back along the rough paths toward the NFO house – plane tickets we had already purchased forced our hand to continue our travels the next day, but I promised myself that I would come back. How much I am needed there I will never know, perhaps not too much at all. It is more something that I need for myself – and if in the process I can do something good as well it will inevitably be worth it. In the very least I know that coming through NFO, I am not doing any harm. It is no secret about the level of corruption of many organizations in South East Asia, and shady organizations involved with orphanages abound in Cambodia. I came to NFO because I knew that an intelligent,
Petrol StationPetrol StationPetrol Station

Our driver fills up to the left while the young girl tends shop.
caring and good-natured friend had spoken so highly of it, and nothing we saw could ever have led us to question what the New Futures Organization provides for Takeo. Every single person you come in contact with knows why you are there, you can actually sense the appreciation - the best type of diplomacy we in the West can possibly offer. For the police, it allows them to hold their heads high for meetings in the capital where ASEAN and the English requirements loom large. For the monks, it can become a tool for dialogue as Buddhism throughout South East Asia continues to revitalize connections across national boundaries. The university students are the future of Cambodia and will serve as young leaders in the capital – and the ability to speak English could mean the difference between a job that supports the individual and a job that can help uplift their entire community. As people from Takeo become successful, the social dynamic is such that they will work tirelessly to improve life for their families back home. For the orphans and students who are able to learn and thrive in Takeo and across the countryside, the benefits are innumerable.

It is because of all this that tragedy cannot describe the loss of Neville O’Grady, the founder and director – indeed the lifeblood - of the New Futures Organisation. After years working in Africa, Neville came to Cambodia with an adopted daughter named Princess. From there he literally built New Futures Organisation from the ground up. Navigating the wild west of bureaucracy in Cambodia, Neville was able to completely fund an orphanage that provides food, shelter and a quality education to more than forty children who are among the most vulnerable on the planet. For Neville this was more than a full time job, with the responsibility of so many atop his shoulders. He ran the entire internet presence of the organization as well as the finances from a donated laptop - managing to recruit volunteers from all over the world to come and work with his children. A large guesthouse was procured where volunteers could stay – and Neville was in contact with every one of us, making us feel welcome and appreciated while never talking up the tireless work that always loomed large. In time he began providing additional education outlets around the town, for the local police, monks and university students. He was able to procure enough money to begin sending some of the most exceptional NFO children to university. As the number of volunteers continued to grow, so did the number of donations from former volunteers whose lives had been changed from their time at NFO.

Neville passed away unexpectedly on November 6th. The final post he made through the NFO website was an attempt on November 2nd to raise money for a fellow organization that was working to fund orphanages around Cambodia while raising awareness on global inequality. I can’t pretend to know Neville like those who have spent months or even years working with him, but I do know that he was the type of man you rarely have the opportunity to meet. A legacy such as his can make even the most skeptical among us wonder if there is indeed some type of higher power, intervening on the planet in such a way that a man might travel half-way around the world to walk into the obscure town of Takeo and create so much from so little. The West needs people like Neville as much as Cambodia does, as out of touch
Our DriverOur DriverOur Driver

Bartender, tuk tuk driver, senator
with our own humanity as many of us have become. I can only imagine how different life would be in America if every person were given the opportunity to spend a week with New Futures. A dedicated group of former volunteers is currently working behind the scenes to allow the day to day functioning of the orphanage to continue. At the moment the website is down, but information can be found on their facebook page – New Futures Organisation. They are no longer accepting volunteers for the time being, and recent posts suggest that they have been closed out of NFO’s primary bank accounts. They are providing the essential services through an outpouring of donations in memory of Neville. A fellow organization, Camkids, has sent one of it's own members to help get the organization back on it's feet. The rest of the world must generate much love, generosity, kindness and vision to fill the void that has been left behind.

Additional photos below
Photos: 53, Displayed: 41


More Than Just TeachersMore Than Just Teachers
More Than Just Teachers

Volunteers are needed for more than just teaching. Here a volunteer helps to install a new fence around the children's home. Photo courtesy of the New Futures Organisation facebook page.
Children Play in an Abandoned FieldChildren Play in an Abandoned Field
Children Play in an Abandoned Field

We watched these children on the roadside while our driver went for water to cool the TukTuk engine.
Notes From the StudentsNotes From the Students
Notes From the Students

One of the many notes and drawings the students presented us with.
The Job is Never FinishedThe Job is Never Finished
The Job is Never Finished

A photo of the roof at Little Po School. A reminder of the constant day to day for those who help make schools like Little Po possible. Photo courtesy of the New Futures Organisation facebook page.
Some of the Monks and Students after ClassSome of the Monks and Students after Class
Some of the Monks and Students after Class

The monk to my left is guilty for starting the tiger pose.

13th November 2013

What a wonderful blog...
thanks for sharing your experience. I'm sorry to hear of the passing of Neville, such a great humanitarian.
14th November 2013

Thank you
Thank you so much for the encouragement as always Bob and Linda. I love looking back through your old blogs and hoping that I can have the same thing to look back on some day, it is really inspiring. We will really miss Neville and I can't imagine what everyone in Takeo is going through, but I have been hearing very encouraging things about the status of NFO for the future so we are remaining really optimistic.
14th November 2013

Thank You
Bob and Linda, thank you as always for the feedback. As I continue to filter through your blogs and life of travel it keeps me inspired to really keep going so someday I can have my own detailed record of my experiences... Neville will really be missed at NFO, but I heard good news from my friend Andy the other day that suggests the organization will continue
13th November 2013

inspiring writing - thank you
This has just inspired me to start searching again for some worthwhile volunteer work to get involved in here in SE Asia - I really hope that NFO can find a replacement for Neville and continue the clearly much valued work he has been doing.. such a tragic loss as you say.
14th November 2013

Glad to hear it...
I really hope you get the opportunity to do so, please keep following NFO, their website is down for the time being but you can follow them on facebook for now. From what I have heard, they will try to bring back the volunteer program eventually so maybe you will get the chance to visit. We also visited an organic farm in Vang Vien, Laos where you can volunteer to work on the farm, but they also provide volunteer opportunities teaching under-privileged children provided you are willing to stay for a few weeks. We had an excellent time there although we didn't volunteer to teach - but my friend Mike did and he seemed to really enjoy it. You could probably get more information about that from his website if you are interested. We absolutely loved Vang Vien, especially since the river tubing party scene has toned down. Good luck!

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