Over the last six years, 24-year-old Thai Hoang Vu has been to 16 countries and completed volunteer work in many of them.
Now Vu is the co-founder and coach of Youth in Action for Sustainable Development Goals, an organization operating in multilpe countries, including Slovenia, Romania, Thailand, and more.
He is also the executive director of the UN’s Our Generation17plus, which aims to encourage and develop youth initiatives in ASEAN countries around sustainable development goals.
Moreover, Vu has recently been voted one of 17 YouthSpeak Ambassadors of a namesake campaign in Vietnam, raising awareness of the current social trends and inspiring youth engagement.
In addition, the dynamic Vu has also participated in several training trips, and fundraised for poor children in remote areas.
Now admired by many youths, at high school he says he was a shy boy afraid to speak his mind.
After graduation, 18-year-old Vu made a decision that changed his attitude, traveling alone to Cambodia.
His parents did not allow him to do so at first, but were finally convinced and agreed to let him go.
With his US$100 spent after a week in Cambodia thanks to couchsurfing, Vu became more confident and learned how to adapt to other countries' culture and cuisine.
After that trip, he started to take part in international volunteer activities and exchanges.
In 2013, Vu was made project coordinator of Intercultural Cazalla, a non- profit organization working in the area of youth, and was sponsored during a 9-month working trip in Spain.
“Living alone in a foreign land, I felt lonesome when I got sick or my mood was down. You’re sick but your colleagues are too busy to take care of you, so you have to go to the hospital alone,” Vu confided. “However, once you get through it, you know you are stronger than you thought.” After finishing work in Spain, Vu decided to travel alone through eight European countries with the 400 euros he had saved from his salary.
“That was the most memorable trip, as I had experiences that I never thought I would have, like sleeping in parks, on the sidewalks, and talking to homeless people,” Vu said. “I was helped by many strangers during this trip. Thanks to that, I know myself and this life a lot better.”
The trips he has taken have brought Vu a new outlook on the world, and led to answers for his own problems which used to result in feelings of depression.
“People let me stay in their homes, gave me free rides, and were willing to give me a hand when I was in trouble,” Vu said. “I started to believe in people again, that’s when I knew I had to work more and share more.”
Thanks to the trips, Vu realized that people live with ups and downs, and counted himself luckier than most people.
He also came up with solutions for his depression.
“People wonder why I like to do work without pay, and though my work schedule is very tense for someone who also has a serious stomach problem, I think to live is to do so with passion, not for material value.”
“I used to do exhausting work without being paid, but I have never felt regret,” Vu added, saying his parents now completely support him. “I see my life as very happy and ‘rich,' even though my pocket is often empty.”
One of the most memorable events that Vu took part in was when he led 20 Western students on a volunteer task in a rural district of Ho Chi Minh City.
“We had to cross the forest, dredge, and take care of people,” he remembered. “That experience made me stronger.”