The Gift that Keeps on Giving
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The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Bob and Julie Girsch make giving back to Laotian schoolchildren an ongoing commitment

When Bob Girsch turned 70, his wife Julie told him she wanted to throw him a party. But Bob had a different idea about how he'd like to celebrate: a trip for just the two of them to someplace they'd never been.

As long-time OAT travelers, the Bonita, Florida, couple turned to the OAT website for ideas for their next destination. "We'd been to China but never to the smaller nations in Asia," Bob reveals. "A number of our friends had visited Vietnam and spoken highly of it." Based on that recommendation, they chose the Ancient Kingdoms: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia adventure for their tenth OAT trip.

It was a trip "full of excitement," as Bob describes the January 2011 adventure. Among its many highlights, a standout was the small group's visit to Kia Luang Village in Laos. After a ride into the mountains along gravel roads, the group arrived at the village school to find a group of children dressed in their school uniforms awaiting them. The children took the hands of the travelers and gave them each a bouquet of flowers, then led them into the one-room schoolhouse for a short presentation. "It was a very warm experience," Bob recalls.

As veteran OAT travelers, the couple had brought along gifts for the children. But instead of the usual crayons, pencils, and coloring books, the Girsches presented them with balloons. "At that, even the teachers lost their decorum," Bob laughs. "Everyone was playing with the balloons. It was really delightful."

The Girsches decided, however, that they wanted to give a gift with more lasting impact—especially after their tour continued into the community, where they found entire families crowded into grass huts with animals, motorcycles, and more. "It's so different from what we experience in the United States," Bob says. "My wife and I were very moved."

Acting on their desire to help, the Girsches contacted Grand Circle Foundation upon their return home. When they confirmed that 100% of their donation would go to the cause they chose, they committed to making an ongoing gift "for the betterment of the school and to provide for the start of a better life for the children," as Bob puts it.

To date, the couple has made quarterly donations totaling $3,000 to the school. With those funds, a water filter was purchased and installed at the school last year. Thanks to the Girsches' generosity, students and teachers enjoy clean drinking water, without having to bring it from home, and the school also shares the clean water with the village.

Upon reserving their third adventure, OAT travelers become members of the Sir Edmund Hillary Club, and Bob encourages fellow team members to "share their blessings and graces with others who don't have those advantages." It's wise advice from a couple who truly knows the meaning of a gift that keeps on giving.

Featured in our March/April 2013 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.