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.