I know it might sound cliché, but I just arrived back from a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And it all started with 3 weeks volunteering in Vietnam.
The Ho Chi Minh Community Involvement project starts off with four days of Culture Week, a fantastic opportunity to get to know the other volunteers we would be living with for the next three weeks. This involved language and culture classes, a tour of the city and its major historical sites, cooking class and Vietnamese towel folding class (the last two of which caused a LOT of laughter!). Then we all started work.
The work was amazing. I was in a day care for children with disabilities, which is part of the Ho Chi Minh Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation hospital. There I was treated as an equal by the staff, who let me do physio exercises with the children and assist with their rehabilitation. In the short time that I was there, I taught a little boy with cerebral palsy to stand up independently and began to teach him to walk. There are no words that can describe the feelings of reward I got from that. We also played games, did arts and crafts and basically helped to make the children’s day more exciting for them. It was heaps of fun.
The programme was flexible in that we could do part of our placement in the day care and part of it in the school, which allowed for variety and it meant that if volunteers wanted to try something different, the staff were willing to accommodate this. Despite travelling together, my friend and I did different placements and both thoroughly enjoyed the work.
Looking back on my time volunteering in Vietnam, I would say the most valuable things were the sense of reward and overwhelming sense of gratitude at my own life, after working with people who have so little. You are able to make an immense difference in a short space of time, as well as gain memories and experiences which will be with you for life. Even though you go there to do something for others, you end up getting a lot more back than you will ever expect!