Making a difference while traveling the world

About Jessica

I’m Jessica Chang –  a journalist, volunteer, traveler and adventurer. I’m also an addict – hooked on exploring the world through volunteer experiences.

I’ve been a TV reporter for 8 years, but found my niche a few years ago when I got to document volunteers who travel away from home, out of their comfort zone, to help others in need. My first trip – Biloxi, Mississippi in September of 2006 – a year after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. I traveled with a San Diego-based group, called Friends and Family Community Connection, to rebuild homes for hurricane victims. Before that week, the closest I got to construction work was hammering a nail in the wall to hang a picture frame. But I got put to work – hanging dry wall, installing insulation, spreading mud, sawing wood. When I was able to put the tools down, I picked up my video camera to capture the progress of the houses and the emotions of the residents. It was one of the most rewarding stories I’ve ever gotten to tell.

I was lucky enough to take my first international volunteer venture the following year – to Jakarta, Indonesia. Six of us volunteers collected donated digital cameras to give to orphans and underprivileged children at an education center in Jakarta, operated by the International Humanity Foundation. Through the camera lens, the children revealed a side of Jakarta – and of themselves – that broke through the language barrier. They showed me the slums in which they grew up – filled with tin-roofed shacks and mountains of trash. They showed me photos of their families, friends and the important people in their lives. They showed me their aspirations and hopes for a better future. Through my camera lens, I captured the bonds building between the children and us volunteers.

Whether in Biloxi or Jakarta, the people I met there have changed my life. While it’s so easy to get caught up in the stress of work, finances, dating and image, they taught me to focus on what’s really important – family, friendships and home. They showed me how to see the bright side in even the darkest of circumstances. I’ll always remember how the residents of Biloxi called Hurricane Katrina a blessing in disguise, because it brought us to them. I can still see the smiling faces of the children in Jakarta who have barely a roof over their heads, but were so grateful to have us spend time with them.

These are the stories and experiences that, I believe, can break down barriers and build understanding across borders. The more we open our hearts and share our skills with people in different parts of the world, the more perspective we gain in return. I hope you follow me along my journeys and – if you haven’t already – embark on your own journey to see for yourself how a volunteer venture can transform your life.

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Comments on: "About Jessica" (9)

  1. Marlin Hundertmark said:

    Dear Jessica.

    First of all I want to say that I apprechiate your work and I must admit the blog is very interesting for me.

    I would like to introduce myself. My name is Marlin Hundertmark and I am a final year student at the University Applied Sciences in Worms, Germany, (studying for a Bachelor of Arts in Tourism and Travel Management).

    As part of my course I am currently writing on my thesis on “volunteer tourism” (in German).

    In this paper I will give an overview of “voluntourism” as a tool for sustainable development in tourism, based on developing countries.

    The trend shows that consumers want to have “active” tourism products and there is a common desire to do something meaningful and ecologically-worthwhile during their holidays.

    My work shows in which way volunteer tourism has been established in the travel market. Moreover, the objective of the work is to investigate whether policies on eco and ethical tourism are implemented and sustained economic success has achieved by volunteer programmes.

    I would be grateful if you would spare a few moments to help me with my research. I have compiled a short questionnaire for you and hope you will be willing to give me your thoughts and opinions.
    I would like to send it via mail, just give my your email address. That would be fantastistic!

    Hope you can help me.
    Thank you, in advance, for your efforts!

    Yours sincerely,

    Marlin Hundertmark

  2. I’m thrilled to hear you are following your heart and your passion and I look forward to watching your journey and how you are touching and helping people along the way. We are fortunate to have found our niches. As part of my mission of telling the “Good Sports Story” and to “Perpetuate the Positive”… I wish you well with a big virtual hug and hope the world greets you with the same smile with which you greet the world. Jane.

  3. i don’t know how to speak english correctly but you still understand me what i say and encourage me
    to study english i hope some day i shall speak english perfectly thank for your kind i will follow you Jessica.
    vary important don’t forget my picture that i told you i will show it for my sister thank again
    good luck to you and have a nice day. bye

  4. Rebecca Woodland said:

    Hi Jessica,
    So glad I met you in Ho Chi Minh City! I love your blog. You have captured so many of my own emotions, experiences, and memories. I’m back in Hawaii now, but I left my heart in Vietnam… I often think of Phat, Nghia, and the other children who touched my life at the orphanage. I will be back in HCMC next summer, and I can hardly wait to see them (and hug them) again!

    I am so happy that you had the opportunity to visit Maison Chance and the amazing, talented, determined people who live, learn, and work there. I wonder what I can do there as a short-term volunteer?

    Keep up the good work, Jessica. You are helping to open people’s eyes to the beauty and opportunity surrounding even the most dire situations and circumstances. Please keep in touch.

    Blessings and Aloha,
    Rebecca Woodland

    • Hi Rebecca,

      So great to hear from you! I’m sorry for the late reply. Thank you for reading my blog and for your comments. I’m glad to know these words will help keep our memories of those children somewhat fresh.

      That’s so great you get to go back and see the kids again next summer! Do you plan to go back every year? I’d love to go back and see them again. In the meantime, I’m trying to see if we can get a ramp or elevator installed at the orphanage, so the children from upstairs can get downstairs easily for a change of scenery and more room to play. I’m working with one of the physical therapists who work there and a volunteer who lives in Ho Chi Minh City and Washington D.C. to make that happen. Please keep your fingers crossed and let me know if you’d like to help with this!

      Please keep in touch, Rebecca. I’m so happy to know people like you who continuously give their time and compassion to others around the world who so desperately need it.

      Jessica

  5. Hi Jessica,

    Thanks for your reply! Yes, I plan to go back to the orphanage every year. My husband teaches in HCMC every summer so volunteering is a great opportunity for me to do something meaningful and worthwhile (and fun!) while he’s working. Besides, I have fallen in love with the country and its people. It is an ongoing learning experience, and I’m always surprised at what I learn!

    How are you progressing in your efforts to get a ramp or elevator installed at the orphanage? That is such a great project, and I’m sure it has it’s challenges because it is always more difficult and costly to retro-fit an old existing structure. How can I help?

    The Maison Chance design (wide, gently sloping ramps) is ideal, but that may require more space than is available with the existing orphanage buildings and grounds. Hmmm… The Vietnamese are quite creative and resourceful; there has to be a workable solution. The children and staff will all benefit greatly.

    So where is your next volunteer (ad)venture? I’m staying home for a few months, working with Operation Christmas Child (samaritanspurse.org/occ). It’s a world-wide children’s Christmas charity that reaches kids in “unreachable” places.

    Happy Thanksgiving!
    Rebecca Woodland

  6. Hello Jessica,

    I would love to interview you about your experience for a school project. It’s regarding slums in Jakarta, exactly the place you have been too. If it is alright, please get back to me. 🙂 Thank you!

  7. Brian Longwe said:

    Hello Jessica,
    Its really challenging to learn of your traveles but above all, the many lives you touch along the way. I must say that you are doing a noble job.

    Well Iam a Pastor based in Zambia and I would appreciate if you could get in touch with me so that I enlighten you of the challenging needs in this part of the world.

    Keep Well,

    Brian Longwe.

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