Episode #
014

Active Volunteering in Cambodia and Beyond with Dave Richter

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Episode Summary

What better way to appreciate what you have than giving back to those who are in need? It is true that we find happiness and contentment in helping others reach their dreams, may it be as simple as rebuilding their houses or as grand as traveling the world. It is innate to us as humans to have this urge to be of service to others. That is exactly what David Richter did, as is still doing to this point. Being one of the board members of Tabitha Foundation, a foundation that helps enable Cambodia’s poorest of the poor to recognize and develop inherent skills that will allow them to live a respected and dignified life.

In this episode of The New Nomad, David joins Andrew Jernigan and Allen Koski in sharing what it really means to give back to the world. Working with their hands in building houses and educating people, our three travelers with big hearts spared no detail in regaling their experience in Cambodia and other places too. This is a The New Nomad episode that would really inspire you to take a step back and appreciate the basics that you have that other people consider luxury.

From the episode

Tabitha Foundation, consider giving today.

What You'll Learn

Timestamps

[2:16] The stakeholders and stockholders

[5:24] How lucky we indeed are

[10:34] Children know no race

[16:38] When a spear hits a shield

[19:15] If you’ve got something on your bucket list, get going

[21:30] Inspiring people to go on an adventure

Show Transcript

Allen  

Welcome to The New Nomad, we have a really interesting guest today. David Richter, a person, I've actually been fortunate enough to travel to Cambodia with a person who's had a varied travel experience. Someone who also supports people who are going overseas and traveling, as he provides really excellent benefits and health care advice, but but also somebody who's done some great amount of volunteering through the Tabitha Foundation, which we'll have him talk about. But before we talk to David, today, let's talk to my co-host, Andrew Jernigan. And, Andrew, I know, there's been a lot of conversation recently about this accelerating trend, as employees are asking more of their employers on social justice. And then of course, not just employers, their friends, their family, etc. And I know this is an area that you're very passionate about, and I'm sure we're gonna hear from David today that he's passionate about all of us trying to make the world a little better place.

Andrew  

Yeah, thanks, Allen. This is this is exciting, because global impact to local impact takes place by people, people that care. So it is, it's great to get this chance to dialogue on it. As I've lived around the world. I've been involved in local groups of expats, whether it be inter nations, in their local service clubs, or the American society in Rio, you name it.  Different places, to where we mobilize people to actually volunteer, write checks, and encourage others to also so it's, as generations change in the mentality towards giving shifts, a lot of times people are thinking, Okay, I can't afford to give personally, I can volunteer your time. What's what do you think is as we face the generational changes? What what are your thoughts there?

Allen  

Well, it's interesting to me, because if you look exactly you kind of you touched upon it, I tend to see that baby boomers tend to be more amenable to writing checks. And the younger generation seems to be more amenable to volunteering time. Now, that could be a deeper economic conversation for another podcast, as one group might be stakeholders, and the other ones may be stockholders. But it's it is quite an interesting change on that. The one thing that I thought was interesting, and then we'll bring Dave into the conversation is when he got a group of us together to go to Cambodia and build houses. It was a varied group. And I think there was a group of us. And I would say this on the older end, that this was one of the first physical volunteering efforts we did. And then there was a younger group, a younger cohort, who had done this quite frequently. And it really opened my eyes up to this, you know, the difference between writing a check, and actually giving your time and effort. So, David, welcome to the new Nomad. We're happy to have you here. And and I would love your comments, you know, you you took us to a group of us to Cambodia, and you've taken different groups, some of the different learnings that you've had culturally about actually, not only yourself but shepherding groups to doing the right thing and meeting people in local situations.

David  

Thanks, Allen and Andrew for having me on. I it's it's an interesting, it's an interesting question. And I've certainly have learned a lot. I think the the it's interesting, the way that I got started with the Tabitha foundation. I have worked in in Beijing, working for Asia emergency assistance. And one of the physicians that that supported us was an Australian doctor, and he had adopted a Cambodian child. He and I sort of parted ways. And I got reconnected with him in 2005. And I said, so what's new? He says, um, I'm building houses in Cambodia. And what I heard was, Do you want to come? He didn't say that, but I heard it. And I said, and can I bring my wife and my kids? And he said, of course. And so off we went. And for me, that was really life changing to watch my 12 year old and 10 year old in Cambodia, in a remote village, building houses, and I was it was really remarkable.

So I came back to the states reached out to the organization to Janne Ritskes, who runs down with the asked if I could lead trips. She said, of course, she said, Why don't you join the board? I joined the board. So I've been on the board for the past 16 years. And I've been leading trips ever since. And I think the the thing that is so amazing is to the people that I've met, and again, it's the conversation that I have some people say, Oh my god, you went to kind of Cambodia Why would you do that? And other people say can I come and then It's the, it's the, it's the community of Can I come people that that I like to surround myself with.

The other thing is, and I don't want to dive into politics too much, but I also wanted, I felt that I wanted to Cambodians to meet normal Americans. And I wanted to bring young Americans overseas to see how a lot of the rest of the world lives. That is not all wrapped around, you know, Xbox and iPods and all that kind of stuff. So the two met and I started recruiting people to come. And the was really interested in that first group I brought, I spoke with someone in the Seattle Times, and she wrote up a little story about the trip that we were going to that I was trying to put together, a bunch of people reached out to me immediately. I was on TV locally, I like this is incredible.

Allen  

yeah

David  

Yeah. But it was, it's the universal experience of us showing up in the village. And the villagers don't quite know what to make of us. We don't quite know what to make them we don't build the houses, what are we going to do, but at the end of the trip, the and we do the the orientation with Tabitha beforehand. So we learn about the killing fields and the Khmer Rouge, we meet the people. The second day, we go back to the village, the villagers are all excited to see us because they see that we we came, we even came back a second day.

Allen  

Yeah,

David  

The houses are going up. The handover ceremony, we were the houses are complete, and we give the blankets to the families and they move in. It's just, it's just heartwarming. And then the debrief with the team afterwards the what everyone has learned and seen. And, and the the part of it is we make a promise a year in advance that we're going to go build these houses. And at the end of that year, we show up and we deliver on that promise. And I think it's just a, it's such a, I don't know it for me. I'm proud of myself for doing it. But I'm also just really proud and thankful for the people that have supported me, it's really been great well,

Allen  

As somebody who joined you on what I think is a life changing event, because you know, people couldn't go on a trip and visit the city and go to the museums. But until you get out there and meet the people, and then you do something that makes you feel like you made a contribution. And and you're right Dave, you know, not to get political, you know, for an American traveling to Vietnam and Cambodia that had family members that fought in the Vietnam War. And see the people greet you with no animosity and open arms, and you greet them. And you leave, they're saying, you know what a wonderful, wonderful place and people it does change you.

And, you know, also say this, you as somebody who organizes is, you have a lot of things on your plate, you have these folks coming that you don't want us to get sick, you don't want us to get hurt, you know, you've got to plan and take care of a lot of things, we got to make sure that the sheet metal is where it's going to be for the houses. I know you have a lot of things on your plate. But for us what what I think we take away from there is just a feeling like you made a connection in your soul right from day one to day three. You can see the difference in day one, it's kind of we're doing our own thing. People are kind of Who are these folks. And by day two, you were starting to work together. And by day three, we're all in this together. Did you get that feeling also, Dave?

David  

Absolutely. And I think it's interesting, you know, we don't speak Khmer and the people we build for don't speak English. But by the end of the end of the three days, we're certainly communicating. And there's that, you know, the day one, people don't quite look in the eye, day two, they're smiling at day three, like they're not hugging people, but they, you know, that they touch your arm, they, you know, they're they're trying to make a connection. And I yeah, for me, it's it's amazing. And so, each of my kids have been four times. And it's amazing what that launched their lives. You know, my daughter ended up working in Botswana, my son was in China. I mean, it's really colored the way that that they've chosen to move on with their own lives, which is great. So that's very fulfilling a lot, a lot of good work to be done out there. So

Andrew  

there is Dave, as I hear that, and as I hear your passion for introducing this experience to other people from across the generations, what is it that actually fueled that for you? Was it something in your upbringing, what what gave you this global outlook?

David  

You know, Andrew, thank you for that question. It's it for me it started When I was very young, I was I was six years old when my dad took a job in the Peace Corps. And he was a project evaluator and traveled around the world evaluating projects. And he would come home with frankincense and myrrh, from Afghanistan in a semi us Massai spear from Tanzania, Guinean stools from Ghana. So we got all of this stuff around the house. And at the end of two years, he was assigned to be the deputy director of the program in Kenya. And so we moved to Nairobi. And so I was eight years old. And I arrived in this just a wonderland of, you know, wonderful people, the, you know, animals, game parks, everything. And then we would go out to visit Peace Corps projects way out in the sticks. And the, you know, Africans would gather around me and my brother in particular, my brother was, so I was he was six, with little blond haired, crew cuts, and the Africans love to like just palm our heads, like it was just, they would just rub their, their fingers through her hair, and, and laugh. I mean, it was it was so joyful. And it was interesting, because that could have been scary, you know, if if it but they were so clearly enamored with these little white monkeys that it showed up, that I was just, it was so great, so warm, the experiences were great. I had great friends in school, I had a marble collection. And when I when our expat assignment was up, I split up my marbles amongst my best friends, you know, who were Kenyans and Indians and Pakistani, and it's just, it was a real treat.

And so that, that, that opened the door, you know, opened my eyes to the to the world outside. And so when I went to college, I tried to study African history and politics, nothing was offered. I ended up in Chinese studies, and, and luckily enough for me, graduated in 79. we normalize relations with China later that year. And I was a student in at NACA University in Tianjin in let summer of 1980. So one of the first Americans into China after the revolution, and we just had our 40 year anniversary, a bunch of us got together, and there's a real treat, but that, you know, the experience of being in China, and so very interesting contrast. In Africa, anywhere we went, if we stopped in the middle of nowhere, a large crowd would come and gather and rub our heads. In China in 1980, when we would stop on the street, hundreds of people would gather, but they looked at us, like we were aliens, it didn't know what we were all. But invariably, and I was wearing shorts and a T shirt, because it was hot. Invariably, an old man would come out of the crowd, and rub the hair on my arm, and maybe touch the hair on my head. And then once we get we get a little bit freaked out, and we would hop on our bikes, and we want to go to China today. I mean, they've they've leapfrog a couple centuries, you know, and, you know, tech capital of the world. It's It's really amazing. But I've continued to go to China over the years and actually studied in Taiwan for a couple years. And one of the Andrew, you were talking about expat groups that do things together. When I was in Taiwan, I ran every Sunday with the Hash House Harriers,

Andrew  

and Ah, yes, okay,

David  

what a treat that was, and we would always find, you know, it was up for the run leader to find an interesting place to run. So we ran in the mountains, we ran through town, we ran through rice paddies. And we always ended up in an interesting spot. Sometimes we pull into a dumpling restaurant and order 500 dumplings, you know, and you could order 500 dumplings, and out they'd come. And that was it was a real treat some of the some of those really, really fun memories from those times.

Allen  

Well, you know, you brought up some that I thought was really interesting, because if you're, you know, tenure visiting these places, is it it kind of surreal to you, that when you look at how some of these countries have changed in 40 years, you had you have these personal relationships, yet 40 years, it could be a quantum leap, where, while you mentioned Afghanistan, Afghanistan 40 years ago, is quite a bit different than the Afghanistan we find today. China. So when you kind of reflect on your friendships and the people you've met, you know, and you look wistfully sometimes back at those at those times. Do you also look happily like 40 years ago in Cambodia was not probably anywhere near as good as it is today, progress being made. Conversely, 40 years ago in Afghanistan may have been bad What's your gut feeling? And then when you think back as a multicultural person, and the friends that you've met there,

David  

you know, it's interesting. The, I think back to the early days in China, where there were almost no cars on the road, you know, everyone was riding bicycles, which is almost cliche, but it's true. I lived in Beijing 85 and 86, working for the US China Business Council. And I would, the end of the day, I would, we lived in the in the Peking Beijing hotel, and I would run from the hotel down at Tiananmen Square and back, just, um, I would find a bicycle that was riding at about the pace I wanted to run, and I just run behind them. Well, people come in the other way, you know, we're, like, always surprised to see this foreigner running down the street. And so they'd be looking like, you know what's going on. And invariably, the guy would then turn around and see me chasing him I wasn't chasing. But it was, it was just, I don't know, it was fun. It was a way that I was playing. But I think back very fondly to those days when Beijing it was crowded, but we could go anywhere we wanted, we, my boss actually was able to rent an apartment at the Summer Palace, which is crazy. I mean, that Summer Palace was where the Emperor would go to live. And we as Westerners were able to the crazy. In China, there's a term for contradiction, its mouth when it's when a spear hits a shield. That's like a contradiction. And, and so the contradiction of foreigners living in the Summer Palace is just sort of, how could they How did that happen?

You know. So I think I think that very fondly to those days, but that my first summer in China, I lost 25 pounds, because there was literally no food to eat. And so China has progressed, the lives of the Chinese has improved dramatically. Some minorities are suffering, for sure. But for the most part, their lives are better. So as as reminiscent as I am of those cool times when I was like a rock star walking down the street. The Chinese have things much better right now.

Allen  

Well, I mean, the interesting thing, and this, this why I kind of bring the question up, is to those who are listening, who are thinking, should I travel to a certain spot. And if things are good, take advantage of it, because it may change. I mean, I went to Ukraine. And then immediately thereafter, we've we've had a lot of issues there. Conversely, if there's a place you want to see, that's on your list, which might not be a place to travel to today, that might change to bide your time. And but I think the message I've taken from from you is, you know, if you see an opportunity to visit somewhere, and the time is right, it's a lot of times it's best to strike, because the time may only be right now. And it sounds like you hit a couple of those.

David  

Yes and no. So when when we left Kenya as a family, it was 1967. And we were going to go to Egypt in Israel. But the 67 War broke out, so we didn't go. So we went to Lebanon instead. And then we were in Beirut, I think I'm so thankful that we saw Lebanon at a time when it was peaceful. And the when I first started my company, Richter International, I've now merged with Gallagher. And when I first started Richter International, since I was making this break, what I wanted to do was go to Timbuktu to sort of restart my life is like go to the end of the earth, and start all over again. And I was planning on doing this and things happen. And so when I was ready to go, there was a coup in Mali, and, and you couldn't go to Timbuktu anymore. And so it's still on my bucket list. But I think you're absolutely right now when if if you've got if you've got something on your bucket list, get going because it mean if it's safe to go, and today with COVID and, you know, political concerns and and all that kind of stuff. Yeah, this is the tough time. But um, I bought my tickets to Bhutan. I'm going to Bhutan next next March. And yeah.

Andrew  

Well, Dave, I've heard several things that stuck out one you ran and Emergency Assistance Center in China. currently open clinics in China that specialized in travel medicine and ex-pat care. You have worked in international benefits, you know, the full gamut of duty of care and benefits there be I could go, I could keep going because there's so much experience that you bring into this dialogue, where we're we're fascinated by the the social impact through Tabitha Foundation and the other aspects of of your integrity. But can you speak on travel advice, what you would some of the things that you would bring into these people that are, that are part of this tribe listening as expats or managers of expats, or those thinking, I want to work from anywhere. What does that look like for me? I don't have to wait till I'm 60 to move to Portugal, I can do it now and keep working with my job. You know, what are some of those top things you you'd say to that person with, from those perspectives from those lenses.

David  

So I, so for me, the the richness of the experiences that I've had, either living or traveling overseas are immense. And so I, I wouldn't give them up for anything. So I think my advice and in fact, when I was running, so I ran a call center in in Beijing, and then it came back to the states that open one in Seattle, and, and then we acquired this was Asia emergency assistance, we acquired international SOS, close Seattle, everything moved to Philly. And a lot of the people that worked for us in Seattle chose to do other things. One of them rode a boat from Skagway, Alaska, down to Seattle, another one walked the length of Chile with with his girlfriend, who then became his wife at the end of the walk. And a lot of this was inspired by the talks that we would have, you know, in the break room about adventures that I had had when I was their age. And so I really felt it was just so cool to watch this. These young people go off and and and take the the adventures that they did you know, one Brazilian girl took her Chinese friend to Brazil, you know, it was just it was great stuff. And so I think, and that was in 1999 2000, so about 20 years ago.

So it's kind of a little generational difference. But we're in that same, we're in a period now where people can work remotely. And I would say, go for it. If if there's a way that you can work that out with your company. And then I'm not selling insurance on this call. But I mean, insurance is an important piece of it. And so you need to figure out the answer there. I also think that the the 24 hour medical security assistance piece, like if you get sick, who are you going to call and how are they going to help you out. And I think particularly during COVID, it's very important to have that that worked out in advance. But I would say this is the this is the time to do it. My son did was in China working for three years, he got a full right Fulbright and worked in Spain for a year. He's now an Oxford, he's has certainly heeded my call, and his love off doing his thing. And my daughter who you know, worked in Botswana for a year. And then and then in Namibia after that, you know, both of them have taken this to heart. So

Allen  

well, you know, Dave, you touched about something again, that comes to mind is, so when you and I first started to travel Andrew to I mean, even China, I remember, I didn't have a phone that worked. I had to go to the hotel, always get the special little card that the person would write out so I could get to the location. And what I what I'm kind of saying to the group that's listening to you today is if you have any doubts about going somewhere, the technology, we all can put in your phone to protect you and direct you to care, maybe evacuate you, geo position you, give you information, etc. is frankly so far beyond what we had. I I almost I mean, even think about when you're driving a car. I mean, I remember driving a car in Europe, in the old days, when you had a gret get a map. And nowadays, you put it into your phone, so please people out there, you know, there's so many tools to help make this easier for you than ever before. And I think David is that the thing that I would say that maybe he's one of the biggest differences of traveling today, as much as you might think you have to rough it. If you've got an active phone in your pocket. You probably have a lot more technology than you need provided. You got things set up before you went

Andrew  

difficulty here, they'll edit this out. Yep. So, um, so it is, you know, those things that come to mind with that question, especially his language and culture acquisition, you know, studying before you go a little bit beyond where you're going to stay in what you want to eat and the sights to see. But also the aspects of Okay, what are the fo pas? What are the what are the things that you should and shouldn't do before a trip?

Allen  

Well, and you know, you know, back to Dave's conversation, I mean, certainly purchasing a travel, medical or some sort of support, making sure that you have secure VPN, make sure your phone will work overseas, maybe some geo positioning areas there, too. I mean, it's, it's really a tremendous amount of technology out there. It's kind of like going to the moon, you know, in a more modern, you know, I think about what you have on that phone today, geo positionally, is so different.

So Dave, with all this, all the areas and travels that you've had, if you could share with our listeners, maybe an overlooked place, person, idea, something that that you feel that they should explore, that might make as much of an impact, as you did inviting me to join you in Cambodia.

David  

So I think, you know, Alan, the I mean, Cambodia obviously holds a very, you know, a very special place in my heart. And so and so it's interesting people say, you know, why do you keep going back to Cambodia? Well, because it's a special place in my heart. But what we've tried to do is add on a after-trip trip. So one of my favorites was going to Louangphrabang in Laos, which is a sleepy little town on the Mekong River up in the mountains. It's an old, traditional capital in Laos, but just a world heritage site that has French colonial architecture, and magnificent Buddhist temples. And so you can sip French wine on the Mekong while monks are walking by. And it's just, it's amazing. So that for me, that's a very special spot. And you could do that after a tablet that.

The other place that is very special for me. So Africa has as continues to be very special for me, and, and my wife and daughter and I did a really fun trip to Madagascar. And the the diversity of wildlife there is really amazing. So in the lemurs and chameleons and all of these different species that exist only there are were spectacular. And then another African destination Namibia is just spectacular scenery. scenery, like I've never seen. And, and the so those are my those are my three, but I will I will say I've tried to support some some charities in Africa as well. And I supported a school called the Hammami Children's Center in Nairobi. And I'm so I'm always looking for an opportunity to do something like that with an organization that I know when I'm if I'm giving $1 that $1 is going to end up where it where it's supposed to. And so my daughter and I visited the Hammami school a number of years ago on our way to climb Kilimanjaro together so anyway there's always a try and weave it together what you're trying to do but it's a it's a great big world out there there are so many special places to visit so

Andrew  

well Dave this has been great Can Can you share with the listeners and we'll include it in the show notes as well the the transcription of that but can you share where people can reach you where they can learn more about Tabitha Foundation and the work there in Cambodia, ect? Share with us

David  

sure yeah, so my time available via email. The email is Dave_Richter@AJG.com. The Tabitha foundation is the organization in Cambodia and that's just Tabitha-USA.org usa.org. And I I'd love to talk to people, man. It's you know, We'd love to talk to the people who are hearing this as Do you want to come?

Allen  

There you go. And hopefully, Dave, we can join you. Um, well, I mean, this year is going to be difficult, but hopefully early next year, so I'm planning to try to join you on that. So, really appreciate your time. Really appreciate all your efforts of helping others and it makes a huge difference not only to those folks, but the people who come on this adventure with you. Leave there forever changed. So thanks again. And thank you listeners for listening to us today. We want to remind you The New Nomad's, not just a podcast, it's a community of people, ideas and spirits, helping you take advantage of the location independent lifestyle. We'd love it. If you subscribe to The New Nomad podcast, please review our discussions. Beyond our typical podcast platforms, you can find us at TheNewNomad.net or InsuredNomads.com. But please stay well keep sharing your best adventure with others. And thanks again for joining us today.

Active Volunteering in Cambodia and Beyond with Dave Richter

About the Guest

Dave Richter

In 1967, David Richter, age 10, returned to suburban Westchester County, N.Y., from Kenya, where he had lived for two years while his father served as deputy country director for the Peace Corps. He spent the early 1980’s working in a refugee camp in Phanat Nikom, Thailand, and met hundreds of Cambodian refugees. Hearing their harrowing escape and survival stories was devastating, David supports their cause whenever he learns of an organization that is working to rebuild their country and mend their hearts. David went to Cambodia with his family in 2004 and returned seven times to build houses under the auspices of the Tabitha Foundation, a community development nonprofit based in Phnom Penh. Dave serves on the Tabitha U.S.A. board and, in March, led a 16-member team back to Cambodia. Through this foundation, Dave has been leading groups of volunteer “builders” to Cambodia to build houses for families who can’t afford them (prior experience not required). For the past 7 years, Dave works together with teams of volunteers and he says, “this is an incredibly moving experience – both humbling and exhilarating.”