Catherine Gradel Volunteers in Vietnam

Catherine Gradel, from London, spent eight weeks teaching English at a children’s shelter in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

She and her fellow volunteers also helped paint and do light repairs on another children’s home where we send volunteers.

As the photos below show, volunteering in Vietnam is a wonderful experience not only for the volunteers but of course for the local children.

For sightseeing, Catherine visited Mui Ne Beach (about 200 km from HCMC). The beach is famous for its beauty, including huge sand dunes and dramatic views of the ocean and shoreline. 

Mui Ne Beach Pool

If you’re not into the ocean, you can rent a bike and take ride through the countryside. If you’re a golfer, there’s also the Nick Faldo-designed Ocean Dunes Golf Course for public play.

Here are some photos of Catherine teaching students in Vietnam:

Vietnam Volunteer Catherine Gradel Tutoring

Vietnam Volunteer Catherine Gradel Math

Vietnam Volunteer Catherine Gradel Fun

Vietnam Volunteer Catherine Gradel Teaching

36 Hours in Nairobi, Kenya

Journalist Jeffrey Gettleman wrote an article in the New York Times about his 36 hour trip to Nairobi, Kenya.

The piece appeared last December, but I liked it so much that I wanted to share it again.

Nairobi can be a bit rough for sure. One day, as I was walking one of our volunteers through the city center, someone tried lifting her cell phone from her back pocket!

Still, our volunteers have always loved living and volunteering in Nairobi. The city is vibrant, fast-paced, and filled with delicious local food and modern cafes.

In the world of volunteering in Kenya, the most “sexy” spot is the Kibera Slums.

Many films have been based in Kibera, including The Constant Gardener, The Kibera Kid, and most recently the documentary Mully just released in the US.

On one of my last walks through Kibera, I accompanied a local church minister and one of our volunteers on house visits to home-bound members of his congregation.

Here are some of the photos I took in Kibera that day:

Kibera Nairobi Volunteer Walking

Kibera Nairobi Volunteering Locals

Kibera Nairobi Volunteering Pastor

Getting back to Gettleman’s Nairobi article, here is the video that accompanied his piece:

And Gettleman’s summary of Nairobi:

Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, calls itself the City in the Sun, and a visit can be as pleasant as that sounds. Most outsiders drop in for two reasons: business and animals.

A short flight from spectacular wildlife parks such as the Maasai Mara, Nairobi has also become a magnet for some of the world’s biggest corporations trying to gain a foothold in Africa.

The city is surprisingly beautiful with flowering trees and the perfect climate: 70s and 80s, sunny, low humidity — almost every day.

It’s a palpably multicultural place, encapsulating what is happening in Africa better than any other city on the continent. Picture new construction, a lot of people, intense traffic, and more and more Western businesses.

Yet you can still feed giraffes and baby elephants from within the city limits and see Maasai warriors ordering lattes in red-checkered blankets.

Kathryn Kirk in the Philippines

Kathryn Kirk, from Hawthorndene in South Australia, volunteered with Lisa Crannage at an orphanage in the Philippines in Tacloban City for two weeks. Kathryn wrote to us about her volunteer experience:

Dear Cosmic,

Hi, sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you about our trip. We have only been home a couple of weeks, and it has been so hectic with uni and work.

Once again I had a fantastic time and have memories that I will treasure forever. Our program coordinator Ethel was so friendly and helpful and the team over there, as well as our lovely host family went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable.

Working at the orphanage was another touching experience. The conditions we worked in were not what we had expected, however we are so grateful anyhow. At the beginning it was a huge shock because the children were in very bad health conditions i.e. extreme malnutrition, iron deficiencies, worms, head lice, tuberculosis, chicken pox, scabies etc.

So initially we were so cautious and worried about picking up something. However after a few days we adjusted and were able to help out alot by teaching the children English and math. I was so happy to see them learn and develop their skills because all of them were so far behind.

Our Coordinators were great in that they organised days off for us and took us out of the city to some beaches, and sightseeing around other islands.

I will definitely be volunteering again in the future because it gives me the opportunity to experience another culture in a meaningful way, plus I learn so much and meet some amazing people.

Thanks again Cosmic Volunteers for organising another unforgettable volunteering experience.

Photos from Kathryn Volunteering in the Philippines:

Philippines Kathryn Kirk Host Family

Philippines Kathryn Kirk Smiles

Philippines Kathryn Kirk Beach

Philippines Kathryn Kirk Dinner

Philippines Kathryn Kirk Kids

Jade at Elephant Camp in Thailand

Jade, an 18 year old from from Gig Harbor, Washington, volunteered at an elephant camp in Chiang Mai, Thailand for four weeks. She wrote to us with her feedback:

Did we do enough to prepare you for your experience?

I believe so. I recommend any future volunteers do a little bit of research before they leave, because I wish that I did.

How were your accommodations?

I loved the volunteer group house! Everyone was very nice there and Todd [our Thailand Coordinator] was incredibly fun.

How was your volunteer work?

The elephant camp was AMAZING. Once I settled in I didn’t want to leave! The people were very welcoming and went out of their way to make me comfortable and happy.

How was your local Coordinator?

Todd was beyond my expectations. Scott from Cosmic Volunteers was also so incredibly helpful.

Did you have any illnesses or injuries?

None at all.

What was the best part of the experience?

Having the chance to work with the elephants. I did some first-aid, taught lots of English, and rode elephants everyday. The rides through the jungle were the best.

What was the worst part of the experience?

I think having my money taken was the most negative experience, and it actually wasn’t that bad. I was a little bummed at first, but I figured something to that effect would happen. Scott and Todd handled the situation beyond my expectations.

Would you be willing to email or talk to future volunteers about your experiences?

Absolutely, I would love to.

Any other comments?

I love Thailand and I want to thank you for the chance to go on this trip! I am definitely going to return.

Thailand Elephant Camp Chiang Mai Riding

Singapore Changi Airport

Singapore Changi Airport was named best in show at the World Airport Awards earlier this year, picking up the top gong for the fifth consecutive year.

I mention this because there is a good chance you will change planes at this airport on your way to volunteer in Vietnam or volunteer at an elephant camp in Thailand.

In 2016 a record 58.7 million passengers were lucky enough to experience Singapore Changi Airport  — the world’s greatest airport.

It has a butterfly garden, for starters. Found in Terminal 3, it features flowering plants, a six-metre waterfall and 1,000 butterflies from 40 species.  

The airport now has Singapore’s first premium Japanese farmers’ market. The retail space offers everything from seasonal veggies and fruits to meat products and sake — all brought in from Japan. Some items, including the Egoma tea and a selection of unique sushi and wagyu sake, are new to Singapore.

Terminal 1 has a cactus garden (featuring 40 species and a cocktail bar), a rooftop swimming pool and jacuzzi (from which you can watch planes taking off), a water lily garden, and the Kinetic Rain art installation featuring 1,216 polished copper raindrops.

The Orchid Garden features more than 700 orchids of 30 species grouped by their various colours and shapes, representing the 4 elements of nature – Earth, Water, Fire and Air.

White orchids displayed with floating glass bubbles represent ‘Air’, while rare brown and green orchids displayed with tree root sculptures represent ‘Earth’.  Floral columns simulating giant candles represent ‘Fire’ while clustered blue and violet orchids represent the ‘Water’ element.

Changi Airport Garden

If you have time to spare at Changi Airport, you don’t have to worry about a lack of entertainment. Die-hard movie fans will find the Movie Theatres in Terminals 2 & 3 the best place to spend their time when transiting at Changi Airport.

You can enjoy movies of different genres at both Terminal 2 and Terminal 3. These screenings are available free-of-charge for your viewing pleasure and these entertainment hubs are open 24 hours daily.

There is also an Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 area where you can play the games consoles for free.

The new Xbox Kinect room sports gaming experience. It is based on your movements and actions, including your facial expressions and voice. Just choose table tennis, beach volleyball, track and field events, bowling, boxing or soccer.

At the MTV booth, you can watch your favourite music videos on a 50-inch plasma television with great quality sounds piped directly to your seat.

Changi Airport Departures

Diwali in Philadelphia

International House Philadelphia is hosting a Diwali celebration on October 11 featuring Indian food and sweets, traditional music and dance, and activities including henna, diyas, rangoli, games, and firecrackers.

Diwali is the “Festival of Lights” — the ancient Hindu festival signifying the victory of good over evil by commemorating the return of Lord Rama from his 14-year exile and his vanquishing of the demon-king Ravana. 

International House Philadelphia is the region’s international center for arts, culture, educational and residential activities. Their overall mission is to encourage understanding, respect, and cooperation among the people of all nations.

Diwali Celebration
Wednesday, October 11, 2017 – 7:00pm
International House Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut St.
Tel 215-387-5125 or
Tickets are $15

Toni Hagen Nepal Documentary

As the world gets smaller, it’s rarer and rarer today to find true explorers, those who are the first to visit and map out foreign lands and cultures.

For Nepal, that explorer was Toni Hagen. He was a Swiss geologist who first set foot in Nepal in 1950 as a member of a Swiss foreign aid mission.

These days of course, Nepal and its Himalayas are very popular on the trekking circuit for world travelers. But before Toni and other select early visitors arrived in Nepal in the 1950’s, the country was still “forbidden” to outsiders.

Toni obtained the first trekking permit ever issued to a foreigner traveling in Nepal. Think about that when you receive your own trekking permit there. Amazing.

Altogether, Toni spent over a dozen years in Nepal, walking 14,000 miles, enduring everything from icy blizzards to torrential monsoon rains, while carrying out the first geographical and geological surveys of the country for the Nepalese government and for the United Nations.

Toni plotted sites for hydropower projects like Kulekhani and the Karnali Bend, proposed a east-west electric train artery, ropeways for mountain transport, and advocated rural eco-tourism.

His most famous quote about Nepal though indicates what really impressed him the most about Nepal: “I found the people more important than the rocks.”

Toni, who died in 2003 at the age of 85, documented his work and experiences.

His 1961 book Nepal is still valuable to modern travelers. 

He also filmed a documentary on Nepal between 1950 and 1958.

Toni did narrate one version in English, but that version is hard to find online.

The version I am posting below has a narrator speaking Nepali. Still, the images and scenes from Nepal in the 1950s make it well worth watching.