Backpacking Inspiration: LifeStart Foundation

By: Safa Zaki

Many people go backpacking around the world. But rarely, does someone start an entire charity because of an experience had during their backpacking journey.

Yet this is exactly what happened to Karen Leonard, who started Lifestart Foundation in Vietnam after a backpacking trip in the region. The Lifestart website tells the story: “Several years ago while backpacking in Vietnam, Karen met a young street kid and they had an instant connection. He introduced Karen to his world; his fellow street kid-friends and their families. It wasn’t long before Karen was supporting a number of these street kids by encouraging them back to school and paying their education costs. After returning home from her first trip and deeply affected by the plight of these people, Karen made a commitment that she would return to Vietnam and support this young boy along with a few others.”

What started as individual donations on trips to Vietnam turned into Lifestart Foundation in 2000, a registered not-for-profit charity in both Austrialia and Vietnam that helps disadvantaged Vietnamese people and their families to become self-sufficient. The Foundation applies a holistic approach to helping those in need through proven working programs and initiatives which are designed to effect a generational change.

The LifeStart team works to create sustainable and ongoing income streams for the disadvantaged via education and vocational training schemes. Those with complex disabilities are given improved opportunities through the Lifestart Foundation Workshop and the Lifestart Foundation Free Disability Community Centre. Assistance also comes in the form of safe accommodation, transportation, medical support and dental treatment.

Photographers Without Borders has two photographers, Lisa Kretschmann and Kimmie James, heading to Vietnam next month to photograph the important work of the LifeStart Foundation. Be sure to check out PWB’s blog for the photographs to come!

Photo courtesy of Lifestart Foundation website, 

Photo courtesy of Lifestart Foundation website, 

To donate to Lisa and Kimmie's projects, please visit and

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