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Mallory Dugan - Occupational Therapy in Vietnam

A Vietnamese child receives therapy treatment from a volunteer

As a 20-year-old university student, I knew that gaining Occupational Therapy experience in a different country was going to be an amazing experience. I knew I wanted to travel over my school’s winter break, so I looked up internship opportunities online, and came across Projects Abroad. I chose the beautiful country of Vietnam and made it a mission of mine to get myself there; and so I did!

It was a long 23-hour journey from America to Vietnam but I had finally made it! With tired eyes, I searched for a sign with my name being held up amongst the many others in the airport. I found it, introduced myself to the friendly staff, exchanged my money, got a sim card and I was on my way! It was night-time when I arrived so the traffic was not bad yet but I knew tomorrow and the next two weeks were going to be very exciting.

My accommodation in Vietnam

A volunteer helps provide occupational therapy treatment in Vietnam

I spent my two weeks in a house with other volunteers located in an alley in the Ba Dinh District in Central Hanoi. It was within walking distance to the Projects Abroad Vietnam office, shops and much more. It was also about a 10-minute taxi ride from Old Quarter, which is the main tourist area with shops, marketplaces, and tourist information centres.

The house had other volunteers staying in it as well who were from all parts of the world. Some were leaving a day after I arrived and more volunteers were coming the day after I had arrived. There were also two cooks who worked for Projects Abroad to make breakfast, lunch to take to your placement, and dinner. Every day, we walked out of the ally towards the office to take our taxi to our placement.

My Occupational Therapy placement

My Occupational Therapy placement was at The Friendship Village in Hanoi. The Friendship Village is an international project caring for disabled children (2nd and 3rd generation Agent Orange victims and kids suffering from mental development delay). It also houses Vietnam War veterans who need treatment as well. The village offered physiotherapy, acupuncture, educational classes, occupational therapy and many other therapeutic options.

Occupational therapy is not well known in Vietnam. In the Village there was no head occupational therapist, so instead the volunteers (like myself) worked alongside the physiotherapists. There were defiantly language barriers, along with some of the patients being mute. The types of disabilities were not those that I was used to; however, it was an amazing learning experience. They varied from Cerebral Palsy to scoliosis, deafness, paralysis and much more. They loved to smile, work hard, play games, as well as laugh at my attempt to count to 10 in Vietnamese (I got it eventually)!

Vietnamese culture

A volunteer with children and staff at a rehabilitation facility in Vietnam

At first, I was very intimidated by the bustling traffic, honking, people in the streets and I spoke little to no Vietnamese. However, the traffic was a type of organized chaos that seemed to work, the food I found to be amazing, and everything made sense after a few days. You can take either a motorbike or taxi just about anywhere. For lunch, I decided what I wanted to eat depending on if I was in the mood for rice or noodles.

Then, on the weekend was the night market in the centre of Old Quarter. This is where there are small shops lined up in the middle of the streets. All traffic is stopped around the bay on the weekends, which is where there are games, dances and music on the streets. It was a lot of fun to immerse myself in the culture. Of course, this was only in Hanoi. In other cities there is much more to do!

Projects Abroad staff support

The Projects Abroad staff were amazing. From the moment Projects Abroad sparked my interest, to the moment I set foot off the plane, and my whole time in Vietnam, I had so many staff members to turn to. I was given an introduction folder with the country’s culture information, travel information, placement and accommodation information and maps. Although I was only there for two weeks, I had a meeting in the office to make sure everything was going smoothly. I recommend Projects Abroad to anyone who has a heart for helping others and desire to learn about other cultures around the world.

Mallory Dugan

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