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Volunteering in Vietnam 2010
Everything started last summer, when I traveled for the second time to Vietnam. Back home in Switzerland, I realized that I needed to break out of my normal life and our materialistic world. As I fell in love with Vietnam, I decided to try to find a place for volunteering and help people who have less than me but appreciate everything much more than we do.
I did some researching on different NGO’s in Vietnam to see if I could do volunteer work. I learned about the Degenhardt Foundation and then got in touch with Dawn Degenhardt, Executive Director. She was so enthusiastic about my wanting to go back to Vietnam to volunteer. She guided me as to how I could volunteer and helped me a lot with all kinds of information about Vietnam and then put me in contact with Joy. I was soon in touch with Joy Degenhardt, Director of Vietnam program and we agreed that I could volunteer for the Degenhardt Foundation in Vietnam for six months. Then, in January 2010 after a long preparation, I finally arrived in Saigon. I started working in the Saigon office for a month and then was asked to go to a small island off of Hoi an called “Cu Lao Cham” to teach English. My time in Saigon was very interesting and helpful to see all the work stages, but the chaos in Saigon is overwhelming and was tiring for me. So, I was very happy to move on to my next adventure at the beginning of March to Hoi An and Cu Lao Cham island.
In Hoi An, I started to work at the Degenhardt Foundation Book and Toy Library where I arranged free Art s & Craft classes on Mondays and Tuesdays. The first week, only 8 kids arrived, but after a month we had about 15 children coming and learning how to create their own art with a lot of enthusiasm which was a real pleasure for me to see. I was then introduced to the local government committee on Cu Lao Cham Island where I would teach English on different days of the week. I taught English two days a week in Hoi An and then every Wednesday to Saturday, I took the public boat to Cham Island, where I spent two nights in the small fishing village of Bai Huong. I lived on the island with the local people, called “homestays” during the days I taught English as the public boat only went back to Hoi An once a day. I taught 6 people from the home stays and 17 children at the public school. It was a big challenge as the people didn’t know any English and it was only me with no translator. As hard as it was sometimes, I would never want to miss this experience that was arranged for me from the Degenhardt Foundation staff. The local people opened their homes and heart for me; they treated me like a family member and they tried so hard to learn English.
One day I brought a big box of donated clothes from Marife and Chris from Australia for the children on the island. I was really impressed when I distributed clothes to the children that there was no fighting or jealousy. The kids were just grateful with what they received! When you meet these people and the children, you just have to fall in love with this place. Although the people are poor, have very little, they live day by day in their community helping each other. The life in Bai Huong is so innocent that sometimes it seems sometimes to be unreal!
On Friday I would go to Bai Lang, the bigger village on the other side of the island, where I taught another homestay class and the local government.
Together with the Degenhardt Foundation and the local government of Cu Lao Cham Island, we were able to open a free local community library on Bai Huong on May 29, 2010 with the slogan “Every child has the right to read“. My parents came from Switzerland to visit me in Vietnam. I brought them out to Cu Lao Cham to see my work activities and they were so moved with all the local children that they decided to donate some furniture and books for the library. The opening was a full success and the children started to read the books immediately during the time we are having the grand opening party!
During this wonderful experience I always kept in mind that “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” And I just can say how true it is, because this kind of feeling and experience you have to live it to be able to understand it.
My new dream is to find other volunteers to go to Vietnam to continue the work project teaching English and developing the local library on Cu Lao Cham Island. If you need any information on volunteering in Vietnam, please contact Joy at email@example.com and if you want more information about the island, I am willing to share my experience with you.
I would like to thank Joy and the Degenhardt Foundation for giving me this unique opportunity and for all their support! Thank you!
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Vietnam Photo Journal
by Don Funk