Giving Back, By Learning React

 by Robin Wieruch
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At the time of writing this, I am travelling through South East Asia. On my quest to experience the countries in their most natural ways, I try to connect with locals often as possible. When travelling a country, it is not about seeing another cave or waterfall that drives me. Instead, I seek to connect with the local people. When speaking to them, I realize each time again how privileged I am. Even though I was aware of it before, I am even more aware of it now that I am traveling.

The article is intended to give something back. It is by accident that I read Give and Take by Adam Grant at the moment. It is an inspiring book and it partly inspired me to write the article. But an even bigger impact have had my recent experiences.

Several days ago, I travelled through Laos. In a village, I met volunteers who arrange get togethers between travellers and locals, mostly students and monks, to practice English with them by having a conversation. Those lessons take place each day during the morning and evening. Usually, the students prepare questions because most of the time they are not that confident in the conversation.

Their questions led me to reflect on my own life. They asked me about my travel plans yet they themselves never even left their villages. I felt bad to tell them that I travel around Asia. I found myself avoiding topics about myself and asked them a lot about their lives, families, and hobbies instead.

One of the students, he was 16, wanted to become a policeman one day. He told me that it costs 120$, which is a lot considering the low income in the countryside of Laos, which is sometimes only about 800$ per year.

Another student asked me about my hobbies. I told him I liked to do music in my free time. "What kind of music" he asked. "Electronic music, because that's popular in my hometown" I answered. It was difficult to understand for him, because he couldn't imagine to produce electronic music. His hobby is singing karaoke.

Wikipedia says there are 82 distinct languages in Laos. An older student picked up that topic and we discussed it. In his school, they speak 4 different languages. It is hard to educate the students in the first place, when they have a language barrier between each other. In addition, they learn English at school, but teachers have a hard time teaching it. As they lack the education themselves, especially in pronunciation.

That's why the students come to the mentioned place every morning and evening before and after school to improve their English. I met a handful of volunteers, who decided spontaneously to stay in Laos an extended period of time to support the project. They can't donate money but what they can give is time. One volunteer was a retired man from France.

The program is called Big Brother Mouse. You can consider to drop by and make the same lasting experience that I made. It is located in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Personally, I find it important to give back. Whether it is time or money, it doesn't matter. Whenever I consider making a donation, I try to remember places that I have a personal connection with. Then I know that the money is well spend.


At my company Small Improvements, we have the tradition of giving back once a year. Every employee can decide where to spend his or her part. It is a great tradition and one of the plenty reasons I love to work there. The last two years I donated money to Sapa O'Chau, an organization I was able to get to know when I traveled through Vietnam in 2015. They have a lasting effect on education, sustainable tourism and crafting in Sapa, a village in the mountains of Vietnam where a minority of Vietnam's population, the Hmong, lives.

Just yesterday, I saw a group of children, supported by an organization, visiting the ruins of Angkor Wat, Cambodia. These children were around 9 years old and it was great to see them having fun and enjoying their time. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the organization.

Because I saw all of these organizations in action, I feel they are great choices for donations. I saw that they had an impact, whether it was by having an interesting conversation with a student or by seeing their joyful faces when visiting ancient ruins.

To have a meaningful impact with the article, I want to donate all earnings of during the next 7 days to the Big Brother Mouse project. I always wanted to use my website to have a positive impact once I would have at least some readers. If I was able to show you the meaningfulness and importance of these organizations, you can have an impact too. If you don't want to donate by getting the book, you could donate directly by visiting their websites.

How is all of this connected to a web development book? The book is open source yet it isn't of use for minorities in countries who lack education. People are not able to achieve higher education when they have no knowledge about the English language. For example, the Big Brother Mouse project contributes English children's book to educate children in Laos.

People in such countries have no access to things like Open Source in the first place. By donating in education you can open up opportunities for them. They could be the next generation of engineers. By investing in education for children in the developing world, you contribute to diversity in our professional lives.

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