As the hot summer season sets in, most young people are thinking about activities like lounging poolside, hosting backyard barbecues and sneaking away to tropical getaways. But for Gilroy resident Aimee D’Hondt, that isn’t necessarily the case.
She’s getting ready to go on a two-year missionary trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she’ll be working with ministries as well as with Burmese refugees who have fled their country to escape a brutal dictatorship and a long-running civil war.
D’Hondt, 23, said she was first inspired to help Burmese refugees on an 11-month missionary trip she took last year, where she visited 11 different countries.
“When I was in Malaysia, I was there for a month, and I truly got to know these kids and families that had been through a war, and I really grew a heart for them and wanted to help,” she said.
It was on that trip where she first encountered Free Burma Rangers, an organization dedicated to assisting individuals and families in and out of Burma, also known as The Republic of the Union of Myanmar. For this upcoming trip, D’Hondt will be working closely with the organization, helping refugees who have experienced things like war, genocide, slavery and prostitution.
D’Hondt said that although the work is rewarding, it can also be hectic and unpredictable.
“A lot of times it’s working on the fly, being prepared for anything. We really want to be there and help out with the needs that they have, instead of having our own agenda. So sometimes, we don’t really know exactly what their needs are, until we arrive,” D’Hondt said.
A 2010 graduate from Cal Poly State University, D’Hondt already has several missionary trips under her belt.
Growing up, attending West Hills Community Church in Morgan Hill, she said she knew a lot of friends and family that volunteered abroad and loved hearing their stories.
D’Hondt’s mother, Cheryl Hack of Gilroy, said that although she’ll miss her daughter, she’s very proud of her decision.
“Aimee is a really gregarious person. She is always happy and high energy. She’s very easy-going, but hard-working at the same time,” Hack said.
Hack said she has always tried to teach compassion and selflessness to her six children, four of whom actively participate in volunteer and missionary work.
“I think it’s really important that kids learn to give back. We’ve always had more than we needed, and then we went through an experience where we lost quite a bit… We got involved in a program feeding the homeless, and I think that was a huge turning point in their lives, where they saw that one person can make a change.”
D’Hondt is busying herself working with Adventure in Missions, a nonprofit ministry, based out of Atlanta, Georgia and is also preparing for a brief, one-week mission to Haiti.
She is also actively trying to raise funds to help make her trip possible. Donations can be made on her blog, aimeedhondt.theworldrace.org, where she also shares stories about her recent and past travels.
The money Aimee is raising will help her with her flight costs, living expenses and acquiring supplies to help the communities she’ll be working with.
Last month, she held a fundraiser at the Chevy’s in Gilroy. Fifteen percent of all the dinner proceeds went to her cause.
D’Hondt, who is fluent in French and Spanish, says she’s been learning Thai, as well as Burmese and other dialects, and plans on continuing to learn while she’s over there.
But she says the language barrier is the least of her worries, because the most important thing she’s learned during her travels is that actions speak louder than words.
“You can build trust with people sometimes, even when you don’t have language… I think it’s really important because you can be saying one thing and your actions can be conveying a completely different message. To be able to learn how to really express yourself with your actions can be really powerful,” she said.