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Volunteering as a family in Vietnam
by Michael Brown
Our story actually started several months before we left the shores of Australia. My wife (Charlotte) and I along with our three children Henry (5),Thomas (3), and Oscar (1) wanted to travel from Beijing by train down through China across the Vietnamese Boarder and down through Vietnam, finally reaching Ho Chi Minh, then flying back to Australia. The timeframe we had available for this journey was three months. It was not long after this initial conceptual plan that Charlotte and I thought we might like to help with underprivileged children in Vietnam in some way while we were travelling. This would give each of us much more meaning to our trip, it would help our children understand the different ways and some of the hardships people lived with, and finally we hoped it would be the start of further assistance to the people and organisations we worked with in the future.
Neither Charlotte nor I had never done this before, so Charlotte researched on the internet and found many organisations offering the ability to help orphaned and underprivileged children. The problem was that these organisations tended to command a large sum of money for the privilege and did not cater for the needs of our children while we were helping. (This was a primary necessity for us, we wanted our children to be apart of what we were doing). Finally after searching numerous sites we came across the Degenhardt foundation and read many of the incredible stories people had to say about helping children all over Vietnam. After correspondence with Joy Degenhardt we decided we would stay in Hoi An for an extended period of time (six weeks). This was one of the locations the foundation was working in to set up a toy library for underprivileged children. The stay corresponded pretty much with the middle of our travel.
When we arrived in Hoi An we immediately got started with the project. There was a room available to house the toys but required a fair bit of work stripping the walls of mould and crumbling plaster, sealing the walls filling the holes and then repainting. This provided a clean and fresh facility for the toys to be stored and a nice location where the children could play with the toys.
The time to complete this task was about one week. Once the room was finished we had to wait for the toys to be released by the officials. While we were waiting Charlotte and I organised to do craft work in the morning (Charlotte) and computer training and helping with their English homework in the afternoon (Michael). By splitting up our tasks there was always one of us available to stay behind if one or more of our kids wanted to do something different.
Initially the attendance to the sessions was light (about 2-4 kids) but this soon swelled to over 20 when the local children talked to their friends. Charlotte would facilitate the making of play doh sculptures, origami, painting posters, and making Xmas cards. This time was fun for Charlotte and for the local children. Our children made friends and played, and the local children made plenty of craft items with materials that would be taken for granted in a country like Australia but considered a luxury in Vietnam. The afternoon sessions were a little more subdued and many of the children would learn how to use excel or word, or just practice on their English pronunciation.
The local kids found out about Thomas’s birthday and asked if they could help him celebrate it. We bought a cake, and even though many of them were poor they all came with a small home made present or card to wish Thomas well. Everyone was so generous.
We had also made contact with the Hoi An orphanage while we were here and spent a few days with our children playing and singing with some of the smaller kids at the orphanage. The Tet festival was also coming up which is a major celebration for the whole country and Charlotte and I were both very excited to be able to buy new clothes for all the children in the orphanage to celebrate this time. We will never forget the look of happiness in their faces.
I know many people will ask us when we get back to Australia about are experience while working / helping in Vietnam. To all of them I could not recommend strongly enough, how wonderful it felt to be able to help these people, how exciting it was for our entire family and how memorable it will be for many years to come. We have made many new friends and are already thinking how we can help in the future.
If anyone would like to know more or ask us questions please feel free to email Charlotte or Michael Brown on email@example.com
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by Don Funk