I love everything about Hanoi. Having lived like a local while volunteering in Hanoi, I fell in love with the culture, the food, the people, and the way of life. Mobile street vendors are a charming part of Vietnamese culture, and are abundant in Hanoi – you can get any anything, anytime, and anywhere. Vendors on foot and bicycles frequent the streets of Hanoi to sell flowers, sugar cane juice, and fresh produce, to name a few. I’ve even seen balloon vendors – that is, a person walking down the street with dozens of inflatable balloons strung from their limbs…truly a sight to see amongst all of the city chaos.
Bona fide travellers long to experience a destination like the locals. Taking a few tours and visiting main attractions just isn’t enough, and often leaves a huge void due to the absence of a true cultural experience. So how can one attain this “true cultural experience”? By volunteering! Working together with the locals grants a volunteer with the unique understanding of a culture – something that is very difficult to gain as a visitor looking in. Read more
I must admit that it feels very odd to be working a full-time job in Vietnam, and even more so to be branching out of the profession that I am accustomed to. Prior to my departure, I was aware that I would be working with a public health organization and doing a lot of proposal/project writing, but I had no idea about the organization itself. On my first day, led by my trusty Volunteer Coordinator, I walked up to a company called Viethealth. I walked inside, removed my shoes as per Vietnamese custom, and was greeted by my Placement Coordinator. I still couldn’t get over the fact that I was barefoot in my place of work. I chuckled to myself as I envisioned the staff at my office from home walking around barefoot.
I was taken by the Office Coordinator to tour the facility. We headed down the stairs to the bottom floor where I saw a child trying to run across the floor to chase after a ball. She was unfortunately suffering from a physical disability that seemed to have dramatically reduced her mobility, leaving her with one leg dragging behind her body. Once I took my focus off of her, I noticed several other children with physical disabilities, each working with a therapist on specific mobility tasks to try and overcome their physical challenges. Although I had worked with similar patients in the past, it was a bit overwhelming to see so many children with debilitating conditions in once place. There was a bit of an uplifting moment when I noticed how spirited these children were. They all had smiles on there faces, and expressed plenty of affection towards their therapist as they tried to play. After speaking with the Coordinator, I realized that many of these children were born with birth defects because of parental exposure to Agent Orange, the herbicide used by the US military that eventually caused approximately 500,000 birth defects. Many children with disabilities in Vietnam simply fell through the cracks in the system, and have never received any care for their special needs.
It’s unfortunate that there are so many individuals with special needs in Vietnam who haven’t even been identified in the public education and healthcare sectors. Unlike North America, where there is a huge support system for any individual requiring special education or physical support, there is a serious lack of funding here which make special programs hard to find.
I was taken up to the office afterwards, where I could get better acquainted with the organization’s work. As my luck had it, I was given a project on my first day which allowed me to dive into the environmental and public health problems of Vietnam.
I’m sure this will be a new and exciting learning experience for me!