Gurjinder Sidhu - General Care Projects in Vietnam
I have just returned from six week trip to Vietnam having taken part in a Care placement, living and working at the International Friendship Village.
First impressions of Vietnam
The first thing that hit me about Vietnam (after the humidity and heat!) was the colour. There is so much greenery everywhere and they will turn even the smallest of spaces into a paddy field. If anyone has been to India before coming here is very similar in terms of how busy and noisy it is.
One of the things that takes some getting used to is the staring. Vietnamese people in general are very quietly curious about foreign people and will show this by staring at you. It was quite unnerving at first but you get used to.
One of the things I enjoyed the most was learning how to cross the roads. I realise that sounds ridiculous but you do have to totally rethink your normal method and pluck up some serious courage. There will be motorcycles and cars coming straight at you but you have to ignore them and carry on. A steady pace is the key to survival.
My Teaching placement
The village is made of houses, a hospital, classrooms and an organic garden and vegetable patch. There are about 130 children here at the moment. They all receive an education as well as vocational training in order to provide them with the means to earn a living for themselves and their families.
I acted as a Teaching Assistant, helping the children with their general class work such as teaching maths and other activities such as arts and crafts. At the start of the placement I spent a few days just observing how the village operates, how the children are taught and getting to grips with the key Vietnamese phrases and the kids’ names.
Once I had gotten used to how an average day works and the teacher and kids got used to me, I found I had more responsibilities such as setting work, leading the class and marking the work too. It also helps to take some initiative, if you find you’re bored or don’t like doing something, prepare an alternative or find something else you could be doing for the village.
The timetable for the day is very strange compared to back at home. The children have a huge three and a half hour break to eat and sleep which means that you do too. It was quite strange at first but now I love my daytime naps.
The village is usually very busy and there are frequent visitors from all over the world. Since I have been here I have been interviewed for Vietnamese news and attended an international conference for the 50th Anniversary of Agent Orange.
Basically it is an amazing place and my best advice to anyone coming here is just to throw yourself into it. The experience is totally what you make it.
Travelling in my free time
During my time at the placement I managed to visit the Perfume Pagoda, Sapa and Ha Long Bay on my weekends.
Sapa was definitely an experience. We had to take a sleeper train to get there and ours took three hours longer then anticipated to get there and back. It all adds to the fun though. Sapa is vastly different from everything else you will see in Vietnam. It’s interesting to check out some of the minority tribes that live there and just to be out of the busy city and breathing some fresh air for a while.
We also spent a Saturday fixing up a hospital as part of a ‘Dirty Weekend’ organised by Projects Abroad. A group of volunteers got together and we cleaned up, put up curtains and painted a huge mural on the wall for the children. It was a lot of fun.
After my placement I travelled south. My first stop was Hue. I only had a day here but I managed to check out one of the Emperor Tu Doc’s tomb, two pagodas, the Citadel, Forbidden Purple City and Ho Chi Minh’s childhood home. After all that I also managed a few hours on what I thought was the best beach I found in Vietnam. There were no other tourists there. It was totally untouched and perfect.
I travelled for ten days in all and my trip was full of exploration and new sights and sounds.
Overall I would definitely recommend Vietnam. There is so much to see and do and you can see a lot of it quickly if you don’t have much time. I will always have great memories of my time there; I met some incredible people and did some amazing things. I just wish I could have stayed for longer.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.