(In the picture: Fiona arrives in Vietnam…by bike?)
I thought that by arriving in Vietnam in February I would escape the cold UK winter but was a bit surprised to find the evenings cold and even some rain! However when the sun did come out it was lovely to get warm. It was great to meet up with friends from SJ Vietnam again and they were very excited about having their first UK group coming to Vietnam.
The group volunteered for two weeks at a school in Hai Duong City, which is about 50km away from Hanoi in the north of Vietnam. We all arrived at the end of the Vietnamese ‘Tet’ festival which is like the UK’s Christmas holidays so the school was very quiet the first day. This was quite nice as it allowed us all to acclimatize to our new surroundings and get to know where everything was.
(Above: a street view in Hay Duong City)
Our quiet was soon over when all the school children came back and we were all a bit overwhelmed by our welcome. The Hai Duong Children’s centre has around 1000 children, with over half of them living at the school in the orphanage and the rest of the children have some type of disability linked to the ‘Agent Orange’ bombings during the Vietnam war in the 1970’s. It was thought that over 50,000 children have disabilities linked to these bombings in Hai Duong area alone.
(Below: Fiona with one of the Children in the orphanage)
Our group, which consisted of two teachers, one support worker and five students, was raring to go and all got really involved in the life of the school. Our day was divided into three slots. We would spent one slot in with the baby orphans helping to feed and playing with the babies (who were just lovely), the second slot, teaching English to the children and the 3rd slot doing environmental work around the school, like painting the railings etc. The work was tough but very rewarding too.
Our accommodation was in the school and we slept on bunk beds with no mattress under mosquito nets. All the children also sleep on the bunk beds but just on grass mats. We ate local food which was rice, meat and tofu and no knives and forks to be found so we all got good with chop sticks.
The project was a real success and the group had a great time. They did find the living conditions tough and living in a noisy school quite challenging but it gave them an amazing experience that would stay with them for a very long time.
Our partners in Vietnam really believe in volunteering and cultural exchange. It is wonderful to see a country that has suffered so much in its recent past putting so much energy into being so positive, it really was inspiring. If you want a challenging and fulfilling experience then volunteering in a Vietnamese orphanage is a real must. Fiona J
(Fiona Callender, Volunteer Programme Manager, February 2009 Vietnam)
(In the pictures: the volunteers teaching and with local hosts in Vietnam)