One Voice for LaosOne Voice for Laos
One Voice for Laos
July 29, 2012
Travel Beyond Your Comfort Zone!


Report from Rachel Castellano, three days after leaving the Deak Kum Pa Orphanage.

Although it was three days ago, I can't shake the feeling I had leaving the Deak Kum Pa orphanage. We spent the day painting the finishing touches on our mural, playing soccer with the athletes, and desperately trying to finally connect with the baby at the orphanage, named Sunday.

Personally, I didn't want to discuss the fact that I might never see this mural or these beautiful faces again.

Despite the fact that I've promised myself that I will return to this part of the world, it felt as if I was leaving behind something I'd invested a lot of myself in.

The first sign I got that we had made an impact on these deserving kids' lives was when Villavong (one of the teenage girls who speaks English well) expressed how much she would miss me.

Because the orphanage always has volunteers from around the world coming and helping, and then leaving, I figured that us leaving wouldn't impact them.


Surprisingly, I was very wrong.

After playing soccer for long enough to feel light-headed and sick from the heat, I went to sit with the girls in the shade. As I
approached, they looked at each other and then disappeared.

Baffled, but content, I sat down and began talking with an Australian woman who was also volunteering.

When Yeng, Villavong, and Malia (or Palia or Balia I'm never really sure) returned, they started tying bracelets around my wrists. Since I couldn't see them while they were tying the knots, I figured these were bracelets like ones I had seen in the art room.

However, when they stepped away I saw they were much more personal.

I still haven't figured out when they had the time to make them, since we had spent every day of the last week with them.

One of the bracelets read "Rachel I love you and miss you." Another read "I love you Rachle you very prety". The other had light blue hearts around the whole thing.

I felt immensely grateful and appreciative of this tiny gesture. Khamsing also gave us all bracelets and Konelee gave us each a card. On each card he did a little watercolor painting and on the inside was a different personal message for everyone.

Although their culture doesn't involve hugging, I could still feel their sadness, as well as their appreciation as we left.

I think we spent just enough time there to create some sort of relationship with most of the kids there. Whether it was a relationship that was just comfortable enough to smile at each other, or one where we learned personal things about each
other, they were all worth more than I am able to put into words.

Everyone told me this trip would be a life-changing experience. I believed them but I didn't fully understand what that meant until now.

I urge each and every one person that reads this, TRAVEL! I don't mean travel to Europe and live in a first-class city (although that is very enjoyable).

Travel to somewhere outside of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to make connections with people whose experiences have been completely opposite yours. This will allow you to not only understand the world better, but understand yourself in a whole new way.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:15 PM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2012
You Are Invited to the July 31st Presentation at the KTD Monastery in Woodstock

4 Teens and orphans classic.jpgA big THANK YOU to the KTD Monastery in Woodstock for hosting a presentation of the returning ONE VOICE FOR LAOS crew on Tuesday, July 31. Here is what the fine folks at KTD have said in their promotional materials about the event:

"Enjoy a free multimedia presentation by Ulster County teenagers and two adults upon their return from volunteer service in the Deak Kum Pa Orphanage in Luang Prabang, Laos.

The group's service in Laos is the culmination of sixteen (16) months of awareness building and fundraising in the Hudson Valley.

On Tuesday, July 31 Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD) Monastery will celebrate the outstanding work of One Voice for Laos.

Buddhist teachings are grounded in bodhichitta -- the aspiration to develop kindness and compassion in order to deliver all beings from suffering.

KTD monastery therefore welcomes and encourages exemplary youth such as One Voice for Laos teens who give selflessly of their time and talent to compassionately improve the quality of lives of others.

4:45 pm: Free guided tour of the Tibetan Buddhist monastery
5:30 pm: Teens for Change Photography Show
6:00 pm: Vegetarian Buffet ($10)
7:30 pm: Multimedia Presentation

One Voice for Laos Multimedia Presentation

* Documentary film: Garland Berenzy
* Video Interviews: Lauren Tischler
* Presentation and Q & A: Isabelle LaMotte, Jesse Pouget Ditkoff, Caleb Rudge, Rachel Castellano, Hudson Talbott and Evelyne Pouget

To Register: and click on "One Voice for Laos"
Pamela Boyce Simms: 845.679.5906, ext. 1121

OneVoice Crew.jpg

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:28 AM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2012
Thirsty for Right Use of Resources


Report from Laos by Caleb Rudge

Spending time outside in Asia this time of year can't help but make someone thirsty. Due to all my sweating, I'm parched. I'm going through more water bottles than I thought existed on Earth.

Luckily, water bottles are readily available. They have to be, otherwise everyone would be either dehydrated or sick.

The tap water in Luang Prabang and Laos is not potable for foreigners. The water is undrinkable for many reasons.

drnkwtr1.jpgIt is contaminated from sewage, industrial chemicals, and bacteria. The government doesn't have the resources or the expertise to create the infrastructure necessary to make the water safe and easily attainable.

In the United States, we Americans take for granted that water will be cheap and clean.

On the east coast, especially, we have more clean water than we know what to do with. The availability of drinkable water can be linked to the affluence most of us our surrounded by. Many of us have pools, hot tubs, and sprinklers to have greener lawns. Nations with vast sums of water have a resource that is necessary for human survival. As Americans we need to conserve the resource that is both necessary and profitable.

Being in Asia has forced me to recognize that I don't ever want to live in a country where I can only drink out of a water bottle.

Water bottles are plastic. They both deplete our reserves of oil and contribute to pollution when they are created and when they are disposed of (even recycling uses a tremendous amount of energy).

Plastic isn't great for human health either. Water, being the universal solvent, often breaks down some of the plastic while in storage.

That means that when drinking bottled water, one is also drinking a little bit of plastic -- a known carcinogen.

If you have tap water, be happy, be proud, and be humbled. You will probably live a longer and healthier life than most of the people in the world.

Next time you buy a bottle of water, remember that you probably could have just brought one from home. We need to plan ahead. When you bring a bottle of water from home, you are planning for the short term and the long term. You are saving a couple of dollars while simultaneously slowing down the accumulation of C02 in the atmosphere.

We all have to do our own part in making the world a better place.

Simple awareness can make a big difference. Water, being essential to human survival, seems like a good place to start.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:26 PM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2012
Orphans Without Bright Smiles



On Monday, we traveled three hours by van to the north of Laos. Our
destination was an orphanage that we knew was much worse off than the one we had been working at for the past week in Luang Prabang.

When we arrived, the kids didn't have the same bright smiles on their faces like the kids at Deak Kum Pa. We could tell that they weren't used to outsiders coming to lend a hand and we knew that it would take some work for them to be able to open up to us.

We brought them shampoo, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and came back the next day with fresh food and toys.

A lot of kids that end up in orphanages in Laos aren't actually orphans, but their parents can't afford to take care of them. During the summer the kids who can go home and visit their families do.

The 15 kids we met have families to go home to during the summer break, but instead they are forced to stay at the orphanage for an extra month and a half to protect it.

At first, we weren't quite sure what this entailed, but we soon learned that the kids had to watch the orphanage at night in order to make sure no one stole their food or anything else from the grounds.

This means that the boys, some who look as young as seven years old, are expected to fight off thieves who may be armed. I still can't wrap my mind around this.

We also learned that during this month and a half they only get two meals of white rice a day -- meanwhile there are chickens and turkeys on the grounds that the teachers own, but the students don't have access to.

The condition these kids live in is disturbing to me.

Tonight we will meet with Andrew Brown and make him aware of the conditions at this orphanage.

I really really hope that there is something he can do to help these kids.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:36 AM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2012
This Sums Up the Entire Trip to Laos

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:21 AM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2012
Jesse Ditkoff Appointed Ambassador to Laos!

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:14 PM | Comments (0)

What Caleb Is Learning About Communication



Words are so powerful. This week I learned how to communicate with and without them.

Most of the orphans Rachel, Jesse, Isabelle, and I came in contact with had a very basic grasp of the English language. In turn, we didn't even have simple Laotian vocabulary under our belts. We realized that in order to get our ideas across we would have to do two things -- gauge the orphans comprehension, as well as try and learn enough Laos to get basic instructions across.

We started where it was easiest -- with the oldest boys and girls that had the most education in English. After developing a relationship, we felt comfortable enough to quiz them about the words we wanted to learn most. Hello: "Saabaidee". Thank you: "Kup Chai". Beautiful: "Nam Li". The list goes on.

After rounding up the orphans with "Ma!" (Come!"), we were then challenged to use mostly sign language to get across our message or instruction.

As long as we didn't speak too fast and slipped in as many smiles as possible, we were mostly successful.

Lots of kids that didn't understand, in the beginning, were eventually able to follow basic commands and respond.

It was encouraging to see that the lack of a common language was not a barrier, but an emulsifier. The mutual goal of being able to communicate and comprehend each others' mother tongue created a polar attraction.

When I mispronounced or misinterpreted an instruction of theirs, the amount of smiles and laughter produced was enough to give a two-year old wrinkles. Thank goodness the orphans were as forgiving as they were hungry for knowledge -- otherwise they would have gotten tired of my western tongue pretty quickly.

With or without words, communication is as necessary as it possible.

I implore anyone and everyone who just read this post to go out of their way and speak with someone they wouldn't otherwise have a reason to. Communicate for the sake of communicating. It's fun. It's educational.

Most importantly, it's part of what makes us human. If you mess up in doing so, at least there is a chance that you'll make someone laugh like a child.


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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:19 PM | Comments (0)

Rachel's Plate Is Full!

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It's common knowledge that eating is a sacred time in the daily life of a Laotian.

That's why I felt an incredible amount of guilt when I had to tell Yeng, one of the girls at the orphanage whose English is really good, that I couldn't eat with her because we were going out to a restaurant.

I understood that the main reason we weren't eating at the orphanage was because we didn't want to eat their food and take the chance of not having enough, but it still felt wrong not to accept their invitation.

However, the girls obviously weren't very offended because the next day they invited us to eat again. This time, our ride wasn't there to pick us up yet, so we agreed.

Isabelle, Jesse, and I, (Caleb was playing soccer), followed them into their dormitory and watched their daily ritual of setting up lunch (breakfast really, because their first meal is in the afternoon).

They took out mats from underneath their beds and set them out on the floor. We were instructed to take off our shoes and put them aside. Then they put the beef, congealed blood (which we didn't try) and noodle dish in the middle next to the sticky rice.

Then it was time to dig in. They were surprisingly generous with the amount of food they offered us, considering it's rare for them to have such a rich meal.

The entire time I was sitting in the circle with two of my best friends
from home, and five new people in my life I would never forget, I couldn't help but feel incredibly honored that they wanted to share this with us.

This was one of the best moments of the trip.


(This photo is from another time we all had a meal together)

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:16 AM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2012
The Circle of Love Is Never Ending

isabelle, rachel circle of hearts.jpg

Isabelle, Rachel, and a circle of their happy students one day before leaving the orphanage. Hearts were opened. English was learned. A good time was had by all. We shall meet again!

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:20 PM | Comments (0)

Goodbye Gifts from Orphans


Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:01 PM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2012
A Brush With Life



I'm having dreams of being chased by an army of wet paintbrushes. I'm drawing feverishly to keep the ravenous brushes sated as they fill in colors, working closer and closer to me.

However, this isn't a dream -- its been my reality for the last three days as we create a mural with the children and youth of Deak Kum Pa Orphanage in Laos.

While Evelyne mixes paint colors furiously,distributing and assigning paint jobs ("You can do these flowers," You can do that monkey"), I'm at the front end drawing images on the wall in blue chalk, designing a mural as I go along.

There's no time to measure, plan, sketch, or work out scale -- it all has to be in the flow, in the moment.

Why? Because they're coming at me! As fast as I can draw, this wonderful little army of painters is always catching up to me!

Every so often I look around and notice that I have an audience watching my every move.

One little guy sticks by me and every time I look at him he gives me two thumbs up, his eyes speaking volumes -- "You can do it, big guy, just keep going".

The mural making has been a remarkable experience of bonding far beyond what we could have done through classroom teaching, which was our original concept.

That "best-laid" plan was scuttled on the first day when we saw that, with the school out, everything here was organic, the only structure being the main meal of the day, and the occasional pick-up soccer game.

So the mural was an immediate magnet. We had no idea how enthusiastic the response would be. People, here, are eager to do something, to make something, to feel useful, to create beauty in this exquisitely beautiful land.

A few of the older boys have proven to be wonderfully talented. They are aging out of the orphanage and our hope is to explore how we can help support them as they seek their way in the world as artists.

I've never been more grateful for my own gift. Having an opportunity to use it in this way makes its purpose clear to me now.

Grace is descending on our project with every brush stroke, every laugh, every moment that we're here.




mural 3.jpg


Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:41 AM | Comments (0)

July 07, 2012
Peace, Brothers!


Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:29 PM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2012
The Wisdom of Sitting Bull


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The Joy of Service!

I really like the look in Caleb's eye as he prepares for the morning ritual of making a food offering to the Buddhist monks in Luang Prabang. We are all learning the same lesson -- how to go beyond our petty concerns and be of service to others. No matter where you are -- Laos or Woodstock or Shokan or West Hurley or Boiceville, you can give of yourself today!


Jesse and Evelyne helping out in the kitchen


Hudson and Evelyne with pointy hats


Something good happening in a restaurant.


Little known fact: Both of Evelyne's parents were orphans. And guess where they met? In the orphanage!


Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:58 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2012
The Adventure Continues


Thank God for the pictures to talk for us!

We have been so busy, everyday at the orphanage or on field trips with the orphans. We also had time this morning to go feed the monks, in an early morning ritual with the locals.

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We are trying to maximize our contact with the orphans as much as possible, so morning to night we are buying food at the market with them -- cooking, painting, playing ball, card games, laughing, going swimming with 25 of them yesterday (their first time at these amazing waterfalls!) and lots of English conversations and spontaneous teaching.

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We gave up our well designed plans for spontaneity! Yeah!

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:47 PM | Comments (0)

A Classroom at the Orphanage


Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:26 PM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2012
Isabelle's Report from the Orphanage


Today was our first day at the orphanage! It surpassed every expectation I had.

When we first got there we saw a few small smiling faces poke out
through windows or from doorways. As Andrew had told us, the kids would be a bit shy at first, but they opened up quite quickly.

The kids are all so welcoming and happy to have us there. Everywhere I looked there was a smile to be seen.

We wanted to get into activities right away, and what better way is there to communicate through a language barrier than with games?

We broke out a soccer ball and a volley ball and played around a
bit. Simply passing a soccer ball in a circle quickly turned into a full on soccer game! It was so much fun! The kids were so into it and they had a few laughs at our expense (Caleb falling in a mud puddle, Jesse missing the ball a few times).

After the game some of the older kids showed us around the orphanage. Their English was good enough to have conversations with them which was really great.

Today was a great day, and I can't wait to spend the days to come with these amazing kids!

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)

July 03, 2012
Arrival at the Orphanage!


Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:58 AM | Comments (0)

The Journey Continues








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July 02, 2012
More Cool Photos from Laos

If a picture's worth a thousand words, then this blog posting is worth five thousand. And thanks, again, to everyone -- parents, kids, and other volunteers -- who helped make this journey possible. (Stay tuned! Today was the first day the One Voice crew could go to the orphanage -- so, soon you will be seeing the first photos -- and stories -- from Deak Kum Pa).

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beautiful boat scene.jpg

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Rachel and Isabel eating.jpg

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:10 PM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2012
First Photos from the Laos Trip

Here are some of the first photos from the One Voice for Laos trip. Jesse, Isabel, Caleb, Rachel, Evelyne, and Hudson are now in Luang Prabang, seeing the sights, after a very long flight. They met with Andrew Brown (the orphanage benefactor), last night, and will start working in the orphanage today. More photos coming soon!

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The smiling six.jpg

beautiful river scene.jpg

Monks eating.jpg

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Kids on the path.jpg

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:40 AM | Comments (0)

One Voice Global is a humanitarian aide organization, based in Woodstock. Our mission is to help Hudson Valley teenagers develop the kind of mindset, skills, and abilities they need to become compassionate humanitarians, social activists and global citizens. We accomplish our goal by improving the lives of orphans and other children in need through fundraising projects, cultural exchange, and onsite service visits to the organizations we serve.

Our Mission
Intro Slide Show
The Documentary