"We were young, healthy and really didn't need much of anything. So we decided to travel, and as we added plans to our bucket list, it just became real," Garrett Gee tells PEOPLE
One year after Garrett and Jessica Gee sold everything they owned at a yard sale to travel the world with their two small children as "The Bucket List Family," the Provo, Utah, couple is still at it – only now their adventures have taken on a humanitarian twist.
During a recent trip to Nepal, when the Gees learned about the horrors of human sex slave trafficking in South Asia, they decided to start a campaign with the educational nonprofit, Effect.org, to raise awareness and funds to open a school to give illiterate girls and young women an education and lessen their vulnerability to traffickers.
“Schools are a powerful solution to traffickers, who will target young girls from poor villages and promise them opportunities like education, jobs or even love,” Jessica, 29, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “As soon as they are taken away from their homes and across the border, they are beaten, drugged and turned into sex slaves. It was gut-wrenching and depressing to learn this is happening.”
Through their fundraiser, the Gees have raised almost $50,000 to build an Effect school and now they are considering other altruistic projects to take on during their world travels.
Since they were first interviewed by PEOPLE last year, the Gees have volunteered as teachers in Bali, campaigned to get shoes and clothing for orphaned children in Turks and Caicos, and have given blind people the gift of LASIK surgery.
“Selfless service has always come more naturally to Jessica than to me,” Garrett, 25, tells PEOPLE. “But after the first few stops, I began to see just how much happiness and good our service was bringing into the lives of others, as well as our own. It was addicting and I feel now like I’ve been converted into the goodness of service, big and small.”
In 2015 when Garrett sold his mobile scanning app to Snapchat for $54 million, he and Jessica decided to stash the money in savings, sell all of their belongings and live off the proceeds while checking off a bucket list with their two children, Dorothy, now 3, and Manilla, 1.
“A new house and cars didn’t feel right – we didn’t need that stuff,” he told PEOPLE. “We were young, healthy and really didn’t need much of anything. So we decided to travel, and as we added plans to our bucket list, it just became real.”
Since then, the Gees have visited 25 countries from Antigua to New Zealand, and they’re currently in the Czech Republic, where they plan to mentor Eastern European students in web development, online marketing and app design.
Along the way, they’ve each crossed personal wishes off their bucket lists as well. Garrett went diving with hammerhead sharks in the Bahamas, Jessica watched a giant leatherback turtle come to shore and lay her eggs on a beach in Dominica, Dorothy went to “mermaid school” in Anguill, and Manilla played with giant soap bubbles in Prague.
“Time will tell what kind of long-term effects these travels have on our children,” Jessica tells PEOPLE. “It’s definitely not normal for a 1-year-old to have 25 passport stamps.”
“Every time we get in a taxi,” she says, “our daughter asks if we are going to the airport. But I’m surprised at just how much I’ve enjoyed living out of a suitcase. I don’t miss all the stuff we sold when we left home. The experiences that replaced the stuff are so much more valuable.”
“It’s scary to leave everything behind and do something totally new and unknown,” adds Garrett, “but every time in life that I’ve stepped outside my comfort zone, something incredible has happened. Most of all, I’m grateful for the amount of quality time I’ve been able to spend with my wife and children.”
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In Nepal, he and Jessica were so stunned to learn about young women being kidnapped and forced into sex slavery, “that we had to wait a full week after we left Nepal before we could even talk about it,” says Jessica.
“We tried to make a video for the fundraiser and couldn’t get out two sentences without breaking down in tears,” she tells PEOPLE. “We’re extremely motivated to get this school open and give more young people a chance.”
While she and Garrett will soon be taking their “bucket list” to Austria, Hungary, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, “we’ll continue to look for causes to raise awareness,” she says. “Whether it’s a anonymous small act of kindness or a large humanitarian project, doing what we can has meant the world and more to us.”