A 2011 graduate of Southwest Open High School is expanding his horizons on a quest to the other side of the world to volunteer.
Dashell Meredith-Wilson, 20, is now a student at Southwest Colorado Community College with plans for a bachelor’s degree in English and writing.
For two months, Meredith-Wilson will teach English to young students in the remote Chiang Rai province of Thailand and then in Ho-Chi-Minh, Vietnam as a member of The International Volunteer Headquarters.
“Northern Thailand is a jungle environment, very poor and not very modern,” Meredith-Wilson says of his upcoming trip. “I’m not sure what to expect. But I’ll be teaching English to 10-to-12-year-olds with other international volunteers.”
A life-changing experience triggered a sense of volunteer duty for the Cortez local.
While working in Big Bend National Park, he roomed with co-workers from the Philippines.
“They were the nicest people and invited me to come and stay with their family in the Philippine city of Dagupan. I took them up on the offer and had an amazing experience,” he said.
The incredibly friendly and outgoing people of the country toward a stranger was a stark contrast to the more reserved, guarded culture of America, he said.
But it was the widespread poverty he witnessed that changed his outlook on life.
“What got me is how it affected the children,” he said “It was really hard to see. The poverty was everywhere and is something I never thought about before, or ever had to deal with.”
Back in Cortez, Meredith-Wilson began considering how he could make a contribution that fit with his newly found love of traveling abroad.
He remembered that a former teacher at SWOS, Chad Wheelus, had taken a sabbatical under the same program, and called him for advice.
“He was very helpful and encouraging, and had a good experience, so I felt it was a good opportunity for me to contribute, try and give back,” Meredith-Wilson said.
He said the Philippines trip prepared him for culture shock — no hot water, elephants used for regular travel, exotic languages — but there is still some apprehension, a basic tenet of adventure.
“I am still working out how I will teach the classes. I’m not sure what level the kids are at, if there will be a translator, or how many of them there will be. But the organization is very supportive sending information, so I’m learning as fast as I can.”
Meredith-Wilson will be working and staying in a dormitory with other volunteers from France, Bangladesh, New Zealand and Australia.
The International Volunteer Headquarters program is one of the most affordable, he said, and partners with local groups within Thailand and Vietnam.
Total costs, including airfare were about $3,000 for eight weeks, an ideal way to experiencing a new culture while also volunteering.
As part of the trip, he will stay for a week or more living with the indigenous Hill Tribes, and also plans to visit his friends in the Philippines and travel for an additional month.
“I have no idea how it is going to play out,” Meredith-Wilson says. “Teaching English is either going to be really easy, or really hard.”
Meredith-Wilson plans to send occasional updates and photos of his experience abroad to the Cortez Journal.