Natalie Felton - General Care Projects in Vietnam
I have recently finished my 3 months volunteering in Vietnam at a care placement and am currently on my gap year and will be starting university in September to study children’s nursing. I chose Vietnam as I have always been interested in the Asian culture and I knew that Vietnam has a lot of interesting history. I also decided to go for 3 months as it was the only travelling I would be doing in my year out and I hoped that in this time I would be able to make a difference at my placement.
My first impressions of Hanoi
I arrived in Hanoi not knowing what to expect at all! It took me a little while to get used to the change in culture and the differences in climate. Before my induction I was quite apprehensive about my new surroundings as I did not know where anything was in the area but this feeling quickly disappeared when my house mates returned from their trip and I had my induction.
In the induction I got some information on what to expect at my placement, problems I might face such as home sickness and ways to help and a short language lesson. We then went to the centre of Hanoi and I learnt the most important skill - how to cross the road! Hanoi is very much louder and busier than where I live in England but I really enjoyed this change in pace of life.
My volunteer accommodation
I lived in one of the three volunteer houses in Hanoi with some of the other volunteers who come from all around the world. I really enjoyed this aspect of my time in Vietnam as we all got to know each other really well and learn about each other’s culture and got to practice our foreign accents! The city centre was only a 10 minute taxi ride away and my accommodation was only a 5 minute walk from my placement which was really handy as in Vietnam the schools have a 3 hour lunch break to eat and sleep so in that time I could come home easily and also see some of the tourist sites in Hanoi.
Starting my care placement
I worked at the Hope Centre in a class with 11 children aged between 3 and 7, 10 of the children have autism all of different severities and 1 child has downs syndrome. When I first arrived at the Hope Centre I was pleased to see that the classrooms were clean, the teachers had many resources to use with the children and that the children are really cared for.
The day to day work varies with each volunteer at the Hope Centre depending on what class you are in but my day went as follows: I started work between 8:30 and 9:00am working one on one with a child doing activities such as puzzles, playing with a ball, constructing with building blocks and colouring. This continues until 10am, and then we pack away the toys so the children can play with each other and run around for 30 minutes. During this time I played with the children, chasing them, playing catch and trying to make them laugh! This was one of my favourite parts of the day as you really get to know all the children and get to have fun with them.
Next we sit the children down again to feed them their lunch; once they have eaten we lay out mats for them to sleep on. The children and the teachers sleep for 3 hours, from 11:00 to 2:00pm. At the start I found this long break in the day strange but eventually you get used to it and even start to need to sleep during the time as well!
I returned to the Hope Centre at 2pm to wake up the children and give them milk - most of the children are able to drink from the cartons by themselves but others need a little help. The next part of the afternoon will vary each day but it usually consists of group activities involving all of the children. For example, one time we sat in a circle and rolled a ball to each other or the teachers will use their resources to teach the children new words. During the afternoon session my role was to aid the teachers by taking children to the toilet, putting them back in their seats and helping with the activity they have set up. The afternoon session ends at 4pm, at which time I tidied up and helped put the children’s shoes on so they were ready to go home.
Travelling around Vietnam and Asia
As I was in Vietnam for 3 months it gave me many weekends to visit other parts of the country. I was slightly worried before I left that I would not have anyone to travel with at the weekends; however I went on all of the trips with other volunteers and met some really nice people, who I would now consider good friends. New volunteers were arriving all the time so there was plenty of new people to meet and to travel with.
I mainly travelled at weekends but a couple of times I took a Friday and a Monday off work to make the trip longer. Flights around Asia can be expensive but I do not regret spending the money as I was not sure when I would next get the chance to come to this part of the world so I wanted to make the most of my time.
I also had 2 weeks off as I was here for 3 months, but I only took one week in order to go to Thailand. My sister came over from England and we spent 5 days on Koh Samui and then 2 days in Bangkok. I really enjoyed this trip and I am glad I had the time off to have a break from work and from Hanoi to relax, ready to come back refreshed and eager to start work again.
Difficulties and challenges
At first I found it hard being so far from home and the change in culture was difficult but after time this feeling went away. I found that talking to the other volunteers helped as I found out most of them had been through the same and knowing they had overcome this, I knew I would too.
At the start I found it hard to understand how I could help. I found it frustrating that I could not communicate with the teachers effectively and that sometimes the children would not listen. However, over time the communication with the children improved as I found other ways to interact with them through songs, changing my body language when they did something wrong and just getting to know the children, learning their likes and dislikes.
At the end of my time in Vietnam I was sad to leave, I got to know the children and staff at the placement really well and it was strange knowing I would not see them again. I have made many good friends in Hanoi who come from all over the world so now I will just have to go to their countries to see them again! I am very glad I chose to volunteer in Vietnam for 3 months and I cannot think of a more fun or worthwhile way I could have spent my time.
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.