So you’re planning a trip to SE Asia and want to do some good along the way … you’ve come to the right post! I’m SO excited to share this with you: five legit, trusted charities doing amazing work in SE Asia. And these are charities that tourists can – and should – visit.
Unfortunately, not all “charities” in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand are doing good. You’ve likely heard about “orphanage tourism.” And maybe now you’re hesitant to get involved in any charity, for fear of doing more harm than good.
BUT I promise that the organizations below will inspire you to join in their mission. They all grew out of someone seeing a need and believing they could help; and they did, and continue to help. By creating meaningful, lasting change … in the lives of individuals, their families, and their communities.
And as a tourist visiting SE Asia, you have a unique opportunity. You get to support these charity organizations in very tangible ways.
But first, how do I know these charities can be trusted?
Great question. Primarily, because they’re trusted by the Intrepid Foundation.
The Intrepid Foundation is an extension of Intrepid Travel. And Intrepid Travel started out in 1989 by two guys who wanted to make a living taking travelers through developing countries. At the same time, they committed to supporting projects that helped those countries develop. And travelers wanted to be part of it, too.
Through Intrepid Travel, tourists meet the people behind some incredible charities; you get to see the work for yourself. Charities aligned with their values of empowerment, innovation and transparency.
And through the Intrepid Foundation, all money raised goes directly to community projects. Intrepid Travel covers the administration costs and will match donations from their travelers dollar-for-dollar.
I saw for myself the work these charities are doing. How I’d LOVE for you to, too!
Please learn more about the Intrepid Foundation.
1. Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, Hanoi VIETNAM
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation works throughout Vietnam to rescue kids in crisis. “In crisis” includes kids living on the streets, trafficked, enslaved, with disabilities, and affected by drugs and HIV/AIDS.
Blue Dragon reunites kids with their families when possible. If it isn’t, they care for these kids by providing safe housing, education, training, health checks, and counselling. They also make sure that victims of traffickers get legal representation in court; I love this.
When I toured Vietnam with Intrepid Travel, we got to have breakfast with these kids, buy items they made, and play a bit of soccer. Man, do they love soccer!
Here are ways that tourists can support the Blue Dragon charity in Vietnam:
Drop off needed items at their Hanoi location. They give these items directly to families in need or use them in Blue Dragon shelters/drop-in centers. Wishlist items include educational supplies, personal items and activities. Many of their wishlist items are easier and cheaper to buy in Hanoi; they’re happy to have someone help you shop! Here’s the Blue Dragon wishlist.
Support Blue Dragon by shopping at these locations (with no additional cost to you):
- Amazon: Select Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation and start shopping.
- Intrepid Travel: They’ll match your donation dollar-for-dollar when you travel with them. (I can attest that they’re a terrific tour company. More on them below.)
- Travel services: Mon Cheri Cruises for a glamorous yacht adventure in Ha Long Bay; Rentabike rentals throughout Vietnam; and Travel Agent Hanoi tours.
See all the businesses in Vietnam (and Australia and UK) that give proceeds to Blue Dragon at bluedragon.org.
2. KOTO Restaurant, Hanoi VIETNAM
KOTO, which is an acronym for “Know One, Teach One,” is about sharing knowledge. In this case, providing a tangible way to end the cycle of poverty in Vietnam.
Since being founded in 1999, KOTO has changed the course of life for nearly a thousand at-risk and disadvantaged youth. Once on the streets, now they’re executive and sous chefs, hotel and resort managers, business owners and university graduates.
KOTO has a 24-month holistic hospitality training program. This program equips kids with internationally-recognized accreditation, counselling and English training. KOTO offers scholarships and capital for startups, too.
Here are ways that tourists can support the KOTO charity in Vietnam:
Support KOTO Restaurant simply by dining with them! The food is high-class and the service terrific. Note that it is a bit pricier for Hanoi.
- KOTO Van Mieu (59 Văn Miếu, Đống Đa): Just behind the Temple of Literature in Hanoi.
- The Temple Bar is upstairs, where you can enjoy a casual cocktail or smoothy with free wifi.
You can also take a cooking class with KOTO. Pick from morning or afternoon (in the morning, you also get a personal guide through the market – awesome for practising your haggling skills!), and from four menus (vegetarian and gluten-free options available). Make three dishes and enjoy them for lunch or dinner; take the recipes home so you can recreate them.
I LOVE the cooking class idea!! Fun AND a great way to support their work. More information is available on their website at koto.com.au.
3. Social Businesses with Friends-International, CAMBODIA/LAOS/THAILAND
After a devastating 8-year civil war, followed by a 4-year genocide, Phnom Penh was flooded with families looking to improve their lives. One QUARTER of Phnom Penh’s population now lives in slums. One QUARTER.
Friends-International supports struggling families in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. They do this through outreach, drop-in centers and transitional homes for kids on the streets. Friends-International also provides vocational training and apprenticeships through “social” businesses. These businesses reinvest all their revenue into students-in-training and partner NGO projects.
These social businesses focus on the hospitality and tourism industries. For example, food preparation and service, barber and beautician, and motorbike mechanic. And like KOTO, their restaurant businesses also include classes!
Here are ways that tourists can help the Friends-International charity work in SE Asia:
Find a Friends-International social business in the country you visit. They’re located in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. You can eat at a Friends restaurant or take a cocktail-making class. Shop in their gift stores, get pampered at their beauty salons, and buy clothes tailor-made for you at their tailoring shop.
- FRIENDS THE RESTAURANT and FRIENDS ‘N’ STUFF STORE with NAIL SALON (Phnom Penh):
- Open daily at 11am-11pm (kitchen closes at 10pm; gift store closes at 9pm)
- #215 St 13, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- ROMDENG RESTAURANT and FRIENDS ‘N’ STUFF STORE (Phnom Penh):
- Open daily at 11am-11pm (kitchen closes at 10pm; gift store closes at 10:30pm)
- #74 St 174, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- KSE METH TAILORING SHOP (Phnom Penh):
- Open Monday-Friday at 8am-5pm
- #215 street 13, Mith Samlanh Training Center, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- MARUM RESTAURANT and FRIENDS ‘N’ STUFF STORE (Siem Reap):
- Open daily at 11am-10:30pm (kitchen closes at 9.30pm)
- #8A, B Phum Slorkram, Siem Reap, Cambodia (between Wat Polanka and Catholic Church)
- FRIENDS ‘N’ STUFF STORE (Siem Reap):
- Open daily at Noon-10pm
- Made in Cambodia Market at Kings Rd Angkor (Achar Sva St between 7 Makara Rd and Street 27), Siem Reap, Cambodia
- PHKA KRAVAN BEAUTY SERVICES (Siem Reap):
- Open Monday-Friday at 1pm-7pm and Saturday-Sunday at 9am-6pm
- House #24, group 11, Vihea Chen Village, Svay Dangkum Commune, 17251, Siem Reap, Cambodia
- SANDAN RESTAURANT (Sihanoukville):
- Open daily at 11am-11pm (kitchen closes at 10pm)
- 100m from the Golden Lions Circle on the road to the Sokha Beach, Sihanoukville, Cambodia
- MAKPHET RESTAURANT and FRIENDS ‘N’ STUFF STORE (Vientiane, Laos):
- Open daily at 11am-10.30pm
- #78 Ban Inpeng Vat Chanh Tha, Vientiane, Laos
- KHAIPHAEN RESTAURANT and FRIENDS ‘N’ STUFF STORE (Luang Prabang, Laos):
- Open Monday-Saturday at 11am-10.30pm
- 100 Sisavang Vatana Road, Ban Wat Nong, Luang Prabang, Laos (between the French Institute and the Mekong River)
- KHANUN RESTAURANT (Bangkok, Thailand):
- Open Monday-Saturday at 11am-11pm (kitchen closes at 10pm)
- 53 Trok Rong Mai, Chao Fa Road, Bangkok, Thailand
- FRIENDS ‘N’ STUFF @ SUKHUMVIT 49 (Bangkok, Thailand):
- Open Monday-Friday at 9am-6pm
- 3/8, Soi Sukhumvit 49 Sukhimvit Rd, Wattana, Bangkok, 10110, Thailand
To learn more about these social businesses run by Friends-International, visit friends-international.org.
4. Green Gecko, Siem Reap CAMBODIA
When you’re in Siem Reap, it’s pretty common to see children as young as 5 rummaging in garbage and carrying younger siblings around as they beg for money. They’re often the main income earners in families. More than half of their parents are maimed by landmines. And issues like domestic violence, alcoholism and gambling are rampant.
Green Gecko was established in 2005 to provide a safe place for kids to play, go to school and get basic medical care. Now the school is a comprehensive, holistic learning center. Khmer school and English classes. Media, computers and Bokator, the traditional Cambodian martial art. Creative electives like music, art, cooking and dance.
Green Gecko also supports families and the community with things like micro-loans for startups. One of these projects is Rehash Trash. Mothers earn a living by turning used garbage bags that litter Siem Reap streets into beautiful handcrafted items like handbags and baskets.
Here are ways that tourists can support the Green Gecko charity in Cambodia:
- Shop or attend a workshop at the Rehash Trash gift store (Sombai Rd, Krong Siem Reap 17000). Let one of the local crafty women show you how to turn trash into art!
- Volunteer at the Footprints Farm (Navatu Road, Krong Siem Reap)! Help with weeding, watering, planting or prepping to grow fresh veggies for their kids.
- Print and even design your own t-shirt at their Printing Shop (Korkhrang Village). All profits go to Green Gecko’s projects.
- Drop off wishlist items to support the kids in their school (Navatu Road, Krong). Note: Green Gecko is VERY serious about protecting the privacy – and normalcy – for their kids. They only open for visitors between 9:30 and 10:30 Monday through Friday.
5. Children’s Hospitals, Cambodia
Clean blood is often desperately needed to save lives of children in Cambodia. Tuberculosis is still a serious problem; it weakens the immune system, making children more susceptible to other threats like the dengue virus. And one dengue fever patient needs FOUR BAGS of blood.
Getting usable blood locally is a real challenge. Certain diseases that prohibit someone from donating are rampant in Cambodia. Diseases like malaria, hepatitis and HIV. There’s also a superstition that donating blood weakens them, leaving them unable to work and provide for their families. So, the few locals who dare to donate are family members. If they’re a match, and have clean blood.
Adding to the situation is rampant corruption and theft. Some blood banks sell to the highest bidder.
BUT there’s a special group of hospitals operating in Cambodia. Kantha Bopha operates five hospitals (four in Phnom Penh and one in Siem Reap). These hospitals provide cost-free, corruption-free treatment to all children who enter their doors. They were founded by the Swiss pediatrician and cellist, Dr. Beat Richner, and continue to be managed by his foundation. Very little funding comes from the government, and its employees are paid fair wages they can live on … preventing theft and corruption, but meaning heavy reliance on donations.
These five hospitals care for 85% of Cambodia’s sick children, with four of five from very poor families.
Here are ways that tourists can support the Kantha Bopha children’s hospitals in Cambodia:
Donate blood at one of the children’s hospitals.These facilities are as hygienic and sanitary as European standards. And their corruption-free philosophy ensures that the blood you donate won’t be sold to the highest bidder … it’ll go to a child who needs it.
- Kantha Bopha IV Children’s Hospital (Phnom Penh): 90 Chivapol, Phnom Penh (beside Wat Phnom temple)
- Jayavarman VII Children’s Hospital (Siem Reap): Charles De Gaulle & Street 60, Krong, Siem Reap
Learn more about Dr. Richner and these hospitals at beat-richner.ch.
Want to know more about my experience donating blood in Siem Reap? Take a look at my post: Donating Blood in Siem Reap: Inspiring Beyond Angkor Wat.
BONUS: Travel with Intrepid Travel
I traveled through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand with Intrepid Travel, and am eager to share how much I love this company. Although Intrepid is actually the world’s largest small group adventure travel company, they get tourists up-close-and-personal with the cultures they visit.
And they have the philosophy of giving back to these countries they travel to.
Their tours are mostly led by locals, who take you deeper in your experience than you often can on your own. Itineraries are packed with opportunities to give back by seeing for yourself many of the charities in this post. And, in most itineraries, you get to stay with a local for part of your trip.
Intrepid Travel has set up a foundation that funnels donations directly to projects and charities listed above. They cover the administration costs and match donations from their travelers. Having traveled with Intrepid, I’m confident that any donations you give to their partner projects will be used in a way that truly benefits these communities.
Learn more at intrepidtravel.com.
WARNING: Some ‘charities’ feed human trafficking
You’ve likely heard about “orphanage tourism.” It’s an ugly truth that feeds on our desire to do good. But rather than helping, tourists actually feed the human trafficking problem.
Orphanage tourism works like other types of child trafficking in Southeast Asia. Traffickers (i.e. “child collectors”) approach families in rural areas, promise to provide a better life for their kids (education, health care, etc) and might even offer money. And then they put those kids to work for them. I saw this with children selling anything you can imagine on the streets. But they also put kids into supposed orphanages. And travelers coming to volunteer in these orphanages unknowingly fund the trafficking market.
Here’s an informative post from Intrepid Travel about orphanage tourism.
On the positive side, it’s very easy to inform yourself before you travel. To learn more about how to keep children safe when you travel, visit thinkchildsafe.org.
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Do you have a favorite charity in SE Asia you can vouch for and that tourists should check out? Please share in the comments below!
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