Dropping out of university in 2012, 25-year-old Rayyan Haries from Selangor, took some time off to ponder upon life by taking a solo backpacking trip to Thailand. Always had a love for travel which was cultivated from the annual trips with his parents and three siblings, Rayyan decided to do it alone this time to look for a new direction to take in life.

 A group photo before taking off from Bihar, India to Kathmandu, Nepal. The team goes through the Raxaul-Birgunj entry and the supplies went through the other entry.

A group photo before taking off from Bihar, India to Kathmandu, Nepal. The team goes through the Raxaul-Birgunj entry and the supplies went through the other entry.

A few other trips followed that first one, which saw him share his experiences on his blog, The Cute Traveler, garnering 20,000 followers along the way. Hence, a travel blogger was born.

Travelling and searching for the purpose in life saw Rayyan volunteer at an animal sanctuary, Lassie Langkawi, for six months in 2013.

Rayyan (kneeling) working with other volunteers at a site in Tacloban, Philippines for a rebuilding project.

Rayyan (kneeling) working with other volunteers at a site in Tacloban, Philippines for a rebuilding project.

He said, “It was my first volunteer experience and it was not easy at all. I had to pull my weight at the sanctuary in between juggling my blog which funded my volunteer work. At times, I was informed that they couldn’t host me and I had to look for alternative accommodation on short notice. Nevertheless, it was an eye-opening experience and I met so many amazing people who inspired me to do even more.”

From Langkawi, Rayyan headed to Leyte Island after answering the call for volunteers in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. For two months, Rayyan and other volunteers from around the world helped with cleaning up the area to enable displaced locals to get their life back on track again.

Rayyan brushing teeth after being late to the work site. He was a team leader and they had to demolish the building in the background.

Rayyan brushing teeth after being late to the work site. He was a team leader and they had to demolish the building in the background.

After Leyte Island, Rayyan continued with his disaster response work, again with All Hands Volunteers, on the island of Bohol, Philippines, which was hit by a devastating 8.2-magnitude earthquake some months ago. This time, besides demolition work and cleaning up the debris, the volunteers also built a school.

Said Rayyan, “It was a tough process but I am so proud to be part of the team. I had the chance to return after the school opened. It was an emotional moment. I had tears in my eyes knowing that the children and their teachers no longer had to worry about studying in a damaged building.”

These experiences only spurred Rayyan to do more and so, he went to India to volunteer as a teacher and medical assistant in rural West Bengal. As international coordinator for Ecoteer, he helped with a project partnering a local non-governmental organisation, Uma Nivas.

Rayyan was invited to a school Christmas ceremony after working at the school earlier on in Leyte, Philippines.

Rayyan was invited to a school Christmas ceremony after working at the school earlier on in Leyte, Philippines.

Recalling his time there, Rayyan said, “It so happened that while I was in India, Nepal was struck with an earthquake. I activated The Volunteer Cook Project Nepal and my team and I drove all the way from India to Nepal with relief aids. We were still there when the second massive earthquake struck the country.”

While Rayyan self-funds his volunteer work through earnings from his blog, which is now also his platform to promote volunteerism, and by taking up part-time jobs, for The Volunteer Cook Project, he has to raise funds from the public.

The Volunteer Cook which Rayyan founded began as volunteer cooking sessions for fellow volunteers at their camps. After leaving the disaster response projects, he developed it further by kick-starting smaller projects wherever he volunteered. To date, The Volunteer Cook Project has also touched lives in Australia, where the homeless in Melbourne CBD were provided with food and care bags, as well as in central Java in Jogjakarta where along with his students and lecturers at a college he was volunteering at, they fed the homeless and distributed care bags.

Sledging the remnants of a school to clear debris for rebuilding in Leyte, Philippines.

Sledging the remnants of a school to clear debris for rebuilding in Leyte, Philippines.

At the moment, Rayyan is desperately raising funds to take the project to Lesvos, Greece in early October to respond to the dire refugee crisis happening on the island. According to Rayyan, they plan to stay throughout the winter season to provide warm, hearty meals for refugees arriving on the island. He said, “It may sound surprising but it only costs €0,50 per meal. We started the #Give50Cent campaign so that people can donate €0,50 (less than RM2.50) towards the cause. Food is hope and we want to give hope to these war refugees.

“We are planning to open a kitchen in Molyvos in Lesvos that would provide two meals a day for six days a week, with no obligation to the receiver. We hope our little help will strengthen them to continue with their journey. Our mission is simple but it would mean a lot to them.”

Note: An edited version of this article [When one door closes, another opens] was published on 12th September, 2015, in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.

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