Saying I like to travel is an understatement…traveling brings a level of excitement that I would not get by just sitting at home. One of my most favorite places to visit is Vietnam. Since 2008, I have visited 6 times, with the latest trip in early 2016. I have good reasons for the frequent visits, primarily that I have a decent amount of family that live in Southern Vietnam.
The intention of this post is not to detail all the fun things to see/visit/do while in Vietnam (watch for later posts!!!), but to detail the experiences I had volunteering while vacationing.
How It Started
A few months before my fourth trip to Vietnam in 2013, I came across a SF Bay area based non-profit that focused on community & child development in Vietnam, named BeCause for Hope. Each year, they organize charity missions to Vietnam to support various projects (clean water, school building, bridge constructions, etc.). While they did have a couple missions planned in 2013, the timing did not work for me to join their mission. However, BeCause for Hope was able to get me in touch with another non-profit based in Vietnam, named Anh Duong Foundation.
Coincidentally, the Foundation had an office that was relatively close to where my relatives live in Vietnam. When I contacted Anh Duong Foundation, they were absolutely ecstatic that I wanted to volunteer with them. Through a few email exchanges, we were able to plan an open house at a Primary-Secondary school for the Deaf & Blind. The volunteers were only myself and my mother, so it was going to be an intimate group.
Fast-forward to the Vietnam visit, my mother & I had just arrived in Vi Thanh city (about 120-miles south of Saigon) where the school was located. From the outside, it looked like any other Vietnamese school.
When we arrived, the Anh Duong representative & the school principal were already there to greet us. Again, they were so excited to see my mother and I…to this day, I still wonder why they were so excited!
The plan was to 1) tour the school, 2) eat lunch with the students, 3) open house celebration! The school itself only had 40 students ranging from ages 6-18, but these students mostly consisted of hear-impaired and a few visually-impaired kids. The students were mostly from the Hau Giang province, which is where Vi Thanh city is located in. However, there were dormitories for the students to stay during the school year.
In Vietnam, the country is not as developed in knowing how to care for special needs children, in comparison to Western countries like the USA. For many of the Vi Thanh students, their families just drop the kids off and do not see their kids until the school year is completed. It is not to say that their families do not want the kids, but there is a deeper learning curve for the families to understand how to live and care for children with special needs.
In my perspective though, it seemed like the students really enjoyed staying at the school…they get to hang out with the friends, room/board is provided, & the support staff is on point! That’s another thing, the faculty loved what they were doing and loved the students even more!
After the school tour, it was then lunch time. I have never seen students so disciplined during a meal! All 40 students helped set-up, clean-up, & organize the meal. The meal itself was amazing! It consisted of curried pork, hot pot, sauteed veggies, the works!
I asked the Anh Duong rep if the kids ate meals like this everyday & she chuckled and said, “No, just today because you are paying!” When we were organizing the volunteer day, we setup a budget since a few things needed to be purchased (meals, games for open house, snacks, etc) which I was happy to donate the funds.
After lunch, the moment the students have been waiting for – OPEN HOUSE! This pretty much means a carnival like atmosphere with a lot of games, prizes, music, & face painting of course.
One of the things I remember the principal telling me was the low amount of funds the school receives from the government. The school receives only a small amount that does not cover all the operating costs; the rest is covered by fundraising efforts & tuition. Due to the financial situation, Open Houses very rarely occur which is why I was so happy to contribute.
For many students in the USA, it is almost expected for their schools to organize fun events throughout the academic year, while for many of these Vietnamese students, this was their first carnival experience!
Pay It Forward
Though it appears it was just all games volunteering, my mother & I put in a lot of manpower during the whole day which was highly fulfilling. Also, this was not a one-time experience for us, we have visited the school multiple times in the last few years. Plus, through my video-making skills, Anh Duong requested my help in creating informational videos for their organization, which you can see here:
If possible – When you are on vacation, try taking an hour or two, to volunteer somewhere at the destination. The vacation becomes a greater and more fulfilling experience!
Make Today > Yesterday