By Rimsha Syed
Jade Owhadi was in high school when she learned about Agent Orange (AO) from her French-Vietnamese grandmother. Deeply troubled and moved, she began to dedicate her time to humanitarian work, eventually pursuing a lifetime of grassroots community aid combined with education.
“We live in a world filled with injustice and suffering, therefore if there is something I can do to change that and alleviate some of that pain others face, I believe it is my duty to do so,” she said.
In 2014, Jade took a trip to Vietnam where she met with the Agent Orange victims in a hospital in Ho Chi Minh. Agent Orange is a herbicide widely used by the U.S. military as part of its systematic warfare program; the U.S. attack, codenamed Operation Ranch Hand, disseminated over 20 million gallons of defoliant chemicals over Vietnam, Cambodia, and Loas from 1961 to 1971. Jade said that the longstanding health issues plaguing the lives of innocent people abroad and the agony of orphaned children brought her one step closer to her purpose.
“On that day, I knew my work in humanitarian aid was only beginning. I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in International Humanitarian Affairs, and started researching small organizations and individuals throughout the world in need of assistance and began working for various nonprofits throughout the world as a volunteer,” she said.
Jade’s upbringing allowed her to become adept with various cultures, ways of living, economic disparities, and so forth. Checking her own privilege and reflecting on the responsibility of uplifting and supporting communities shattered by institutional oppression, Jade acknowledges the power of empathy and compassion.
“I tend to focus my humanitarian missions on providing education to those in need. Right now, I work as an online French teacher for Proximity Learning, and ESL teacher for children and adults in China, Japan, and Taiwan at ITutorGroup and UUAbc. This is how I finance a majority of my humanitarian trips,” she said.
To Jade, being an educator is more about being a role model and less about the distribution of materials. Allowing students to open up is beneficial to their well-being as well as their academic success; to show students their existence is valued is the biggest gift of a teacher.
“I love teaching a foreign language because it exposes kids to a whole new world they may not be familiar with,” she said. “Each child has different needs, and I treat each child as an individual.”
Aside from teaching, Jade has orchestrated non-profit work in Mexico, Sierra Leone, and Cameroon. She spent a few years providing assistance to street kids in Phomh Penh, Daughters of Cambodia, an NGO for victims of sex trafficking. Social media is another platform equipped to share her experiences in an attempt to raise awareness and educate others on social issues or injustices faced by marginalized groups.
“Through my methods of teaching, I make sure I incorporate the values of empathy, compassion, and humanity,” she said. “I think it’s important for people to learn to put themselves in other people’s shoes at a young age, and realize that sometimes, their choice of words or actions can be extremely hurtful towards others.”
Part of Jade’s teaching methods includes a scheduled journaling session at the end of each class that asks students to answer a certain prompt or simply share their innermost thoughts. This reflective period has mediated personal bonds to students around the globe who’d otherwise miss out on such validation.
“This is actually how I was able to help a lot of my students last year who were affected by the hurricane and were in need of assistance. I make sure I take the time to respond to each student individually so they understand I value their opinion and input,” she said.
Jade believes education is a force
that can be used to combat global abuse and discrimination. Working with Proximity Learning has allowed her to maintain a flexible schedule with space to fund humanitarian trips while impacting the lives of thousands.
“None of the humanitarian work I do is paid, therefore I save up the money I make from teaching to go abroad to other countries to provide assistance to those in need. We can all spread a little love to other people in need,” she said.