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Something to keep in mind next time you're getting your wanderlust on.

I left Canada to travel the world for a year. A generation earlier, my father escaped Vietnam in a small boat. Don’t take your freedom of mobility for granted.

In August of 1983, at the height of the international humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, my father leapt onto a boat headed for the Gulf of Thailand — an escape he had already attempted 10 times before.

"If we’d stopped, they would shoot," my dad told my sisters and me, referring to the cảnh sát, or police. We looked at my mother, incredulous. She was nodding emphatically.


This tenth time, my father was lucky. Their boat managed to evade the Việt Cộng at every checkpoint; soon, they were out at sea. For two days, my father waited in the open waters that had already swallowed the lives of those brave enough to go before him. But again, he was lucky. Their crew was spotted by the knightly Chevalier, and the Frenchmen brought my father to safety at the Singaporean shore.

My father waited in a camp while Western deities deliberated his fate. Switzerland staked a claim, but he didn’t accept their offer; English was already difficult enough to learn, let alone German or French. Eventually, he was flown across the world and dropped off in Toronto, a cold, foreign city he would try his best to make his new home.

Like my father, I, too, have crossed continents and traveled far from home. At 20, filled with wanderlust, I embarked on a trip around the world. I visited a friend in Israel, toured ancient temple ruins in Myanmar, interpreted for doctors in Vietnam, interned at an NGO in Phnom Penh, partied in Siem Reap, partied some more in Koh Phangan, bathed in the Ganges river, practiced yoga at an ashram in Rishikesh, and taught English to monks in exile in Dharamshala. I went to many places far and foreign. I met new people, ate new foods, and learned new things.

But the circumstances that led to my travel, as opposed to my father’s, could not be more different.

My father, a Vietnamese army doctor turned political dissident, crossed the Pacific Ocean because he had no choice. My father traveled to escape a regime where enemies and academics were sent to ruthless "reeducation" (i.e. prison) camps. He had to leave behind his homeland, a country where kids walking home from school, including my mother growing up, knew to run into neighbors’ homes and hide under their beds when Cobra choppers and jet fighters and banana helicopters arrived overhead; rockets and grenades and explosives were about to be next.

Just one generation later, I had a powerful Canadian passport in my pocket and disposable income at hand. My travel was a choice.

One morning last year, I woke up and opened my laptop to see that an acquaintance — let’s call her Elizabeth — had posted on Facebook to encourage her virtual friends to seize the day and travel the world. Elizabeth, a recent American University graduate and a former sorority sister, was still high off a "transformative" trip to Indonesia earlier that year, a trip that mainly entailed hopping from one island to another, drinking cheap cocktails, and riding on exotic elephants (or at least, that’s what I gathered from her pictures). Life-changing indeed.

No one contested her point of view; an outpouring of likes and comments validated Elizabeth’s motivational status update. Even I found myself nodding my head in agreement. Change the world, and it’ll change you!

It’s so easy to forget that others may have had to make immense sacrifices to do something you’ve come to see not only as a rite of passage, but indeed, a right in itself.

Is travel a right? In the strictest legal sense of the word, I suppose you could argue "yes." The right to mobility is enshrined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which asserts that "everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." In the United States, the freedom of movement is protected in the United States Constitution, and in the 1958 Kent v. Dulles decision, Justice William O. Douglas opined, "Travel abroad, like travel within the country … may be as close to the heart of the individual as the choice of what he eats, or wears, or reads. Freedom of movement is basic in our scheme of values."

Everyone should have the right to travel, but, of course, that doesn’t hold up to reality.

For one, not everyone can afford it. My eight-month trip was paid for by two years of disposable income saved from my part-time campus job. Halfway through, I managed to squander all my own money, but I was lucky; my parents swooped in to finance the rest of my journey of self-discovery. Because of them, I was able to continue living my life-transforming, resume-padding life abroad. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

In any case, our carefully curated Instagram grids, full of lush Airbnb homes and landscapes with the ever-trendy "fade" filter applied, seldom mention how much the plane ticket to Byron Bay cost or who’s financing our Alternative Break to Myanmar (yes, my parents paid for that too). Instead, we use hashtags like #blessed, #wanderlust, and #35mmfilm and call it a day.

There’s also the opportunity cost of traveling. I wasn’t in a rush to start earning money, but many college students are. Over 70% of all "gappers" come from families whose parents have an estimated annual parental income of over $100,000. Case in point: At my ultra-altruistic, ultra-worldly, ultra-expensive alma mater, the average student’s family income is $107,753.

Besides the cost of travel, remember that this "right" is granted only to those who own an actual passport — and the nationality associated with your passport can determine whether foreign borders will invite you in or shut you out.

For many, the notion of traveling probably conjures up images of white sand beaches, modern skyscrapers, or pastel-colored colonial architecture as well as feelings of leisure, self-discovery, adventure, and hope.

But for millions of others, traveling comes with the credible fears of embarrassment, rejection, and even death.

According to various accounts, an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Vietnamese boat people drowned at sea by the time the United Nations resettlement efforts ended in 1996. My father and his siblings were among the luckiest to have, quite literally, made it out alive.

Shortly after arriving in Canada, my penniless father (a doctor in Vietnam) went job hunting. An old family friend in Vietnam had told him to answer "yes" to every question in every interview. A pizzeria owner asked him if he knew how to make pizza, and my father, who had never seen a pizza before in his life, enthusiastically answered "yes." He was hired and, needless to say, fired a couple days later. My mother, also a doctor back in Vietnam, humbly spent her first couple of years in Toronto working in an electronics factory.

When my mother and her family arrived in Toronto as sponsored immigrants, they were reunited with their siblings, who had weathered the trip by boat six years earlier. The family of seven spent the years shortly thereafter sharing a two bedroom apartment.

While the teenage kids passed their days in high school classrooms, the adults worked their way toward becoming doctors, pharmacists, and engineers again. Although most of their education and retraining was supported by scholarships and loans from the Canadian government, everyone worked long hours and extra shifts at factories and restaurants in order to make ends meet. At their jobs, they endured not only laborious pain, but constant discrimination as well.

As a medical resident, my mother was examining a young boy’s ear when his mother angrily eyed her and pulled her son away. The boy’s mother asked for the doctor, even after my mother had already introduced herself as the doctor. The woman then exclaimed that she wanted another doctor, and kept insisting until the attending physician — an older white man — came into the room and to my mother’s defense.

But my mother knew not to cause a scene and remained silent. In fact, my mother’s had a lot of practice with staying quiet and obedient; the sassy, mouthy woman I know now had learned very quickly back then to keep her head down and her mouth shut when the white folks volleyed racial insults at her from across the factory assembly hall.

Welcome to Canada, they said.

My parents came to Canada with nothing but the clothes they wore on their backs; when I traveled, not only did I carry a fancy Osprey backpack and a snazzy Nikon camera, but also access to Canadian embassies as well as the comfort of knowing that when I was bored with "finding myself," I could always come home.

My father, on the other hand, relinquished his Vietnamese citizenship when he traveled to Canada. He believed in his heart that leaving meant saying goodbye to home forever.

With my perfect English and universally recognized North American accent, doors opened up to me on my travels that would have remained closed for others. “She’s American,” locals would exclaim to each other, wide-eyed, when I opened my mouth to speak. At first, I would try to tell them that I’m actually a Canadian studying in the United States, but it all got too confusing; anyway they didn’t really care about Canada, so after a while I just stopped trying.

Everywhere I went, people seemed to be obsessed with America.

I discovered that being treated like royalty isn’t uncommon when you’re a “Westerner” traveling abroad. Conversely, my parents’ accounts of hardship, discrimination, and sacrifice aren’t unusual for non-Western immigrants and refugees.

The next time you embark on a big adventure, remember that you carry much more than what’s in your bags. Remember that in your wallet, you carry the dollar, against which most other currencies in the world are matched. Your thin passports represent how lucky you are to travel visa-free to 166 countries. Your voice projects a widely recognized version of the world’s most universal language.

In light of today’s unfolding refugee crisis, remember that not everyone has your freedom of mobility.

This story first appeared on The Development Set and is reprinted here with permission. This is a shortened version of the original piece.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

What you look like in a selfie camera isn't really what you look like in real life.

We've all done it: You snap a selfie, look at it, say, "OMG is my nose swollen?" then try again from a different angle. "Wait, now my forehead looks weird. And what's up with my chin?" You keep trying various angles and distances, trying to get a picture that looks like how you remember yourself looking. Whether you finally land on one or not, you walk away from the experience wondering which photo actually looks like the "real" you.

I do this, even as a 40-something-year-old who is quite comfortable with the face I see in the mirror. So, it makes me cringe imagining a tween or teen, who likely take a lot more selfies than I do, questioning their facial features based on those snapshots. When I'm wondering why my facial features look weird in selfies it's because I know my face well enough to know that's not what it looks like. However, when a young person whose face is changing rapidly sees their facial features distorted in a photo, they may come to all kinds of wrong conclusions about what they actually look like.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Dan Fischer takes people's lost loved ones out surfing for "one last wave."

Dan Fischer understands grief. He also has some idea of how to cope with it—and how to help others through it as well.

Fischer has experienced tremendous loss in the past few years, losing both his father and his best friend. As a surfer, he's a believer in what he calls "the transformative power of the ocean." Originally from Montreal, Canada, Fischer has found healing riding the waves off Newport, Rhode Island, where he's lived for the past seven years.

Now he wants to share that healing power of the waves with others.

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The airplane graveyard that 3 families call home is the subject of a stunning photo series.

From the skies to the ground, these airplanes continue to serve a purpose.

This article originally appeared on 09.18.15


What happens to airplanes after they're no longer fit to roam the skies?


An abandoned 747 rests in a Bangkok lot. Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images.

Decommissioned planes are often stripped and sold for parts, with the remains finding a new home in what is sometimes referred to as an "airplane boneyard" or "graveyard." Around the world, these graveyards exist; they're made up of large, empty lots and tons of scrap metal.

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