Care, Care & Community in Vietnam by Felicity Elsegood
Why choose Vietnam?
Before I travelled to Vietnam I had no idea what to expect. I had always wanted to travel to Asia and experience a completely different culture to my own and yet within Asia there is so much diversity it was hard to pick where I wanted to see. For me, as I knew a little of Vietnam’s history, I felt that I should start my travels there. Having already decided that my friend and I wanted to enrol on a care project it was time to decide how long we were to be there. Unfortunately because of the ever-looming A-level exam results day we could only spend 2 weeks in Hanoi - but what a 2 weeks it was!
When we arrived in Hanoi it was after midnight and it was pouring down with rain yet stepping off the plane felt like walking into a sauna. We were met by a Projects Abroad representative and another volunteer on our care project and taken to ‘The Friendship Village’- our home for the next 2 weeks. In the dark it was hard to take in my surroundings and exhausted after the journey my friend and I collapsed on the beds and instantly fell asleep.
The next morning we met the Projects Abroad member of Vietnam staff - she was absolutely lovely and helped us if we had any issues. She also knew the ins and outs of Hanoi and showed us around the city, helping us to get our bearings. The first morning was our first taste of the real Vietnam, we had a Vietnamese breakfast to begin with - the coffee was fantastic! We then had our induction where we met the other 3 volunteers on our project. People come from all over the world to volunteer and so not only did we get to experience Vietnamese culture but French, Japanese and Chinese as well!
My Care Placement
The Friendship Village is on the outskirts of Hanoi, a 40 minute taxi ride. It was where we were based for the fortnight and we got to know it and the people living there really well. The village was founded by George Mizo, an American veteran of the Vietnam War who wanted to provide a community for people affected by the Vietnam War, in particular for those affected by Agent Orange. There are many people living in the Friendship Village from small children to adults and so we got to meet a whole range of different people all with differing perspectives which was so interesting.
When we were working in the Friendship Village we did a range of different jobs. Some days we painted the outdoor furniture and the children’s play areas and other days we worked in the children’s classes. For me this was the most rewarding experience as you could see them learn skills and help their education so that they are better prepared for the future. Despite the language barrier (I only knew a few phrases in Vietnamese) I found we were all able to communicate effectively with the children and their teachers and in doing so we really got stuck in. Sometimes we would sit with the children to keep them concentrated on their work; other times we taught a new bit of maths to them or helped with their writing
When we were not working in the Friendship Village we were able to explore a bit of what Vietnam has to offer. Some days we went into Hanoi to experience city life - crossing the road in Hanoi is a journey in itself! The streets are full of motorbikes and mopeds and to cross the road you have to just step out and walk - we were told to keep walking as the traffic would move around us! After the initial shock and terror of facing a road with swarming motorbikes it became second nature and made us feel like we were not quite such a tourist.
At the weekend we visited the famous Ha Long Bay which was fantastic! I didn’t really know what to expect but from getting on the bus and meeting our fabulous tour guide to stepping on the boat and seeing one of the wonders of the world, it was a really spectacular day. If you do visit Vietnam make sure you go!
During the evenings we would often relax in the Friendship Village or go into Hanoi for an authentic Vietnamese meal. Some nights we also taught an English Class which I really enjoyed. I didn’t realise how complicated the English language actually is – we just never stick to any rules!
All in all I had a fantastic time in Vietnam and would really encourage anyone to go. Vietnam has so much to offer and to volunteer on a care project is such a great way to help those who are not as fortunate.