by Daniel Jun, Greenheart Travel Scholarship Winner Volunteering in Vietnam
It has already been four weeks since I arrived to Vietnam. I have already established my go- to shops, restaurants, and jogging spots. My schedule is set and my bedtime is 10:30 pm on weekdays, which my roommate and I follow to the dot. I wake up at 7:00 am, eat cereal and toast for breakfast, and then head off to work either to CSDS or the autistic center.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I volunteer at the Center for Sustainable Development Studies (CSDS), the Vietnamese NGO that is affiliated with Greenheart Travel. In addition to working with foreign volunteers and teachers, CSDS also works on several projects to bring about sustainable development changes. Some of the current projects are: developing eco-tourism in a rural community to provide a source of income for the local people; building a new school for children living in the mountains and providing vocational training to people with disabilities. Currently, it is proposal season and the CSDS team is working on proposals for grant money to support ongoing and new projects. From 9am – 4pm, I spend most of my time reading and editing the proposals written in English. This isn’t nearly as boring as it sounds. The environment is really lax and the team, a group of 7, is fun to work with. I also spend time working on a video for the CSDS website, and will visit some of the project sites in the rural, mountainous regions of Vietnam – really looking forward to that.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I work at a center for autistic children called the Lucky Cat. Most of the kids are around 2-3 years of age and have some form of autism. At the center, I spend most of my time playing with the children.
This includes activities such as coloring and building fences for animals.
From 10:00 – 10:30 am, we have exercise which consists of stretches and walking around the room.
Next is lunchtime and the teachers, including myself, are paired up with the younger children to feed. My kid’s name is Khan and he’s one of my favorites and he has the biggest head to body ratio that I have ever seen. He’s always very resilient, never cries, and is always talking or singing to himself.
But, he’s always incredibly strong for a 2 year old (I swear, he’s nearly as strong as me) and sometimes I have to wrestle the spoon away from him when he’s playing with his food and not eating. Usually, I get him to finish half his meal then have to have another teacher tag in to finish the job.
After lunch, there is always a 2 hr nap break. This is not only at my center, but for all the schools in Vietnam (till middle school, I think). All the children and teachers go to sleep on mats, but I usually just read or browse the net.
From 3-4 pm, I have individual lessons with the one English speaking child, Miguel, who is from Angola. Because of the language barrier, I can only do individual lessons with Miguel and not the other children.
These lessons are pretty simple and involve the child matching pictures and identifying body parts. Miguel is pretty good at naming parts of the body, but has trouble understanding their function. For example, when asked, “what do we smell with,” he doesn’t respond with “the nose.” But, he’s a great kid and adds some variety to my routine at the center, which at times can get boring (especially since no one speaks English).