Name: Tou Her
Hometown: Park Rapids, Minnesota
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: Hmong, English (fluent)
Occupation: Supply Chain Manager at Chi St. Joseph’s Health
Volunteer Abroad: Teaching English in Luang Prabang, Laos
Duration: 2 weeks
Start month: October 2018
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I wanted to become a UBELONG Volunteer because they were one of the few nonprofit agencies that was able to provide me the access and option to volunteer in Laos. There was also an abundance of positive testimonies and feedback from previous volunteers that solidified my decision to select the organization. I also wanted to participate in an organization that had access to other locations in the world just in case I wanted to partake in any future volunteer opportunities.
What impact did you make on your volunteer project?
The greatest impact that I felt I made with my volunteer project was the ability to interact and engage with the ethnic minority students (Hmong & Khmu) and show them that you can succeed if provided and given the opportunity. I am myself an ethnic minority from Laos and was very honored to be the very first Hmong individual to participate with the organization in Luang Prabang. The ethnic minorities of Laos have always been treated as second class citizens and have been prevented from progress by the larger majority class. Even though I couldn’t offer much of options and solutions to their current struggles they felt a deep sense of appreciation because I took the time to talk and listen to them instead of being the typical tourist.
The overall situation of the country saddens me to see my own people and other underrepresented groups struggle so hard to get ahead by working hard and going to school but are not provided the opportunities to achieve their goals or dreams. It’s very difficult for me to turn a blind eye now that I know that there are names and histories associated to the faces that I have met during my times in Laos.
How did you grow personally during your volunteer trip?
I grew to appreciate the lesser things in life and appreciate all the opportunities that have been provided through the sacrifices of those before me.
In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your volunteer experience?
The volunteer experience has provided me a greater connection to my origin and provided a clearer image on why my father risk the life of his wife and unborn child to leave the homeland that he knows, loves and cherish. If given the choice my father would have preferred to perish during the war with his fallen friends and comrades if he had known how difficult it was to adjust and be accepted into American culture and society. He always wanted to go back home but due to financial and health issues he didn’t have the opportunity to return home.
As the oldest of seven I’ve always felt a strong filial duty to lead the family in the proper directions but the weight of my father’s decision to end his life five years ago has been difficult, very difficult to accept. The overall trip has provided the solace and treatment that I much required to help me move forward.