Tri-City volunteer group marks 10 years with new mission

When Micah Smith of Richland thinks about why he does humanitarian work in foreign countries, he thinks of 15-year-old Nha, an orphan in northern Vietnam.

Four years ago, she lived alone in a little shanty in the mountains. Her mother was dead -- struck by lightning -- and her father had disappeared.

The Center of Hope, started by the Global Gateway Network, a Tri-City-based nonprofit founded by Smith, took in Nha, along with 70 other children in the past decade.

Smith couldn't bring back Nha's parents, but that didn't stop him and other volunteers from changing her life for the good.

She smiles and laughs again, Smith said.

The network has two other orphanages: the House of Hope in Thailand and the Mercy Home in Myanmar.

July 17 was the 10th anniversary for the network, which has sent volunteers to more than 10 countries for construction and welfare projects, helping thousands of people, Smith said.

But their work is not done.

On Aug. 15, a group of 10 volunteers led by Joanne Erickson, a network board member, and her husband, Marv, will travel to Thailand to build homes for a tribe of coffee growers.

The Ahka Tribe lives in the mountainous region called the Golden Triangle, where Thailand borders Myanmar and Laos.

The tribe struggles to make a living in the region because of opium and methamphetamine drug trafficking, but Smith hopes the houses will provide some stability.

Smith also purchases green coffee beans from the tribe to bring back to the United States. He roasts the beans himself and sells them through sevenseedsroasters.com.

A 12-ounce package of coffee costs $13 plus shipping, according to the website, and 10 percent of the proceeds go to the tribe, Smith said.

When not roasting coffee or organizing trips, Smith travels with volunteers.

His next trip is in November, when 27 volunteers will travel to Jerusalem to run a soup kitchen for Jewish families fleeing less-tolerant countries.

"A lot of Jewish people are resettling in Israel. Sometimes they only arrive with a suitcase," Smith said.

In January, Smith and volunteers will travel to northwest India to drill wells in remote villages.

"It's a very dry, arid, mountainous, rough area. Some of these people carry water all day," Smith said.

During the visit, Smith hopes to drill three wells, but the length of the monsoon season, during which drilling is impossible, will determine their success.

The network has drilled 13 wells so far, each costing $1,000.

Private donations and more than 100 volunteers support the Global Gateway Network.

"None of this would be possible without this team effort. I appreciate all the people that have given their time and talent to make this happen," he said.

Smith, 56, has organized 60 humanitarian trips and been on 40 since he started in the 1980s.

On most trips, he packs several large duffle bags with toiletries like toothpaste and soap, deflated soccerballs and basketballs and shoes to give the people his organization helps a taste of America.

Their humanitarian work also shows the people that Smith helps the love of Christ, he said.

"The underlying motivation for me is my faith in Christ. I know that is controversial for a lot of people, but that's the truth," he said.

But no matter the motivation, Smith said he is proud of the lives saved and made better by the network.