Local trio goes deep into Asia to help out at an orphanage

‘Life-changing experience’

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Say you’re about to graduate from high school; what do you want to do with the rest of your life?

For some kids, the route is already mapped out. For others, not even close, and for them, Aerin Gauthier of Slave Lake has a suggestion. Hook up with a non-profit organization doing good work in Mexico, or Haiti; raise some money, go out there with other kids from here, there and everywhere and help build a house or a school or a medical clinic or a playground. See how different life is in other parts of the world and how much people there appreciate small things. Also see how happy they can be with so little, and compare that with the lifestyle you are familiar with. Make friendships that will last a lifetime, with idealistic, motivated people.

“It’s intense,” says Gauthier, who at age 19 (just about 20) is already a veteran of three or four such ‘builds’ in foreign countries with a Canadian non-profit outfit called ‘Live Different.’ “It’s life-changing.”

Gauthier and her mom Georgie, along with friend Alana Kuhn, recently returned from a Live Different project in Thailand. They helped out at an orphanage for 11 days, making connections, engaging with the kids, did some building and fixing and having their eyes opened.

“What a great experience,” says Georgie, who owns The Fix Coffee Bar & Bakery in downtown Slave Lake. She says she found herself asking herself: “How do I not know this? We are so sheltered and pampered.”

The trio presented a slide show to the Rotary Club of Slave Lake last week. One question they got was about what it’s like for a young person coming back home after such an intense, life-changing experience. The answer is it can be quite tough.

“I was a wreck the first time I came home,” said Aerin. “It took me a long time before I stopped feeling guilty.”

The good thing about Live Different, she said, is it provides a support group, and does lots of “de-briefing” during the sessions. And of course offers more such experiences to look forward to. Participating in more ‘builds’ seems to have become part of Aerin’s lifestyle. This Christmas, the whole family is booked on one in Mexico.

How a high-school kid gets the idea to do such a thing is an interesting question. In Aerin’s case, “It was a lot of little things,” she says. One was hearing about Live Different from a fellow student. Another important factor, she says, was teacher Scott Allan, who had done an internship with Live Different. And then there was a growing desire to travel “and to do good for someone. I watched a ton of documentaries.”

The idea of travelling to strange lands was intimidating at first, Aerin says. But being able to go with a group organized by a reputable outfit made it easier, and once there, all sorts of doors opened. One of them leads to a possible career as a teacher of English. She is working on her certification to be able to do that. Learning the Spanish language is also on her ‘to do’ list.

Anyone interested in Live Different programs can find out all they need to know on the organization’s website. LiveDifferent.com.

Aerin Gauthier, Alana Kuhn and Georgie Gauthier (l. to r.) learning how to cook, Thai-style.

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