A small group of young adults traveled to Baja California in February 2005 for a weekend of surfing. While there, the team delivered school supplies and toys to a local orphanage and spent quality time with the children.
A seed of service was planted.
Following the memorable trip, friends Josh Brazier and Josh Budinger began organizing large humanitarian projects with the goals of changing the lives of underprivileged kids and inspiring youths to serve their fellow men.
Five years later, more than 650 orphans in Mexico, Brazil and Africa — along with 3,000 young people — are better off. "If you have ever been to an orphanage before, you realize at nighttime they don't have parents to go home to. We really saw a need," Brazier, 29, said.
"At any point in life you can make a difference. You don't have to wait until you are retired or have a bunch of money. Do it while you are young, creative and have energy."
Brazier is the founder/executive director of the Kaiizen Foundation, and Budinger is the co-founder/deputy director. The word "Kaiizen" stems from a Japanese word meaning "constant improvement, or doing a little better each day."
Brazier's idea to help the downtrodden was inspired by experiences he had as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at a refugee camp in Morocco. Seeing death, unsanitary conditions and deportation first hand moved him to want to do something when he returned home.
Following his mission, the Southern California surfer eventually developed the idea of the Kaiizen Foundation.
Since 2005, Kaiizen has organized 45 trips into Mexico, Brazil and Africa with groups of 60 to 75 college-age young people, generally from schools along the Wasatch Front. Kaiizen has raised and used donated funds to build two schools in Swaziland, South Africa, educate eight kids in Brazil, make repairs and improve five orphanages in Mexico and build two homes in Africa.
Volunteers usually contribute around $100 to participate and help plan the four-day weekend trips. They also help raise additional funds needed for each excursion.
Bree Nelson, a 22-year-old executive assistant at Nu Skin, recently participated in a trip to Baja California. The opportunity to assist the orphans — and associate with like-minded people — has changed many lives, she said.
"Becoming friends with the orphans — getting to know them, their needs, helping them learn — the whole experience can change a person's life in an instant," said Nelson, who spearheaded the creation of an orphanage carnival. "When you are there, seeing the life they live, how positive they are, you also realize how much you have."
Brazier, who works as a humanitarian therapist at a residential treatment center for adolescents in Orem, said the key to making each trip work is based on what he calls the three A's.
"Affordable, accessible and appealing," Brazier said. "We take as many college students as we can and give them the best experience possible."
Budinger, who served an LDS mission to Brazil, said one of his best memories came on a Mexican playground where he was trying to push eight kids on a swing set while another child clung to his leg.
"I was running back and forth trying to give them all attention. I picked one up and he gave me a sweet kiss on the cheek," Budinger said. "It was a good reminder of each person's need to be loved. Our projects help a lot with that, but these kids need time and attention; they need someone to hug them."
Another Kaiizen group traveled to an orphanage in Mexico in the second week of February. Kaiizen is also planning trips to India, Cambodia and Peru for later this year. There is more information about future trips and projects on their Web site: www.kaiizen.org.
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