How to volunteer

Why volunteer?

Help others. “Never see a need without doing something about it.” – Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop

Benefit from giving. “It is one of the beautiful compensations in this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do the basic research

Do a bit of background reading e.g. Lonely Planet’s volunteering tips  http://www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-tips-and-articles/77716.

Be careful of groups seeking up-front fees. Here’s a good article on pitfalls of “voluntourism”  http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/hanoi-around/travel-tips-and-articles/77716.

Who should volunteer?

All volunteers are welcome. There are as many ways of volunteering as there are volunteers.  While people with professional medical and therapy skills are welcomed, there are many Aussie student groups that come each year to volunteer for a few days or a week.

How do people volunteer?

To volunteer for a day, a week or a year, please just email your request to donations@hporphanage.asn.au.

For this initial inquiry, please explain your situation, including: your current location, likely time of travel, contact details and your contact person in case of emergency. We will then discuss your volunteering project with you and forward your inquiry to local communities in need, usually adding a translation into Vietnamese. We essentially offer you a “matchmaking” service, matching your travel plan with a community in need of a volunteer.

For spontaneous visits (between a single day and a week) we will provide you with an interpreter. Naturally, for longer volunteering periods there are additional protocols (such as a police check).

How are volunteers accommodated?

Most prefer the freedom of staying in nearby budget hotel accommodation while volunteering. A few orphanages can provide accommodation. Visitors are treated as guests. Generally, accommodation is modern, with comfortable beds and western style ensuites. Rooms are very clean.

How much does volunteering cost?

Volunteering costs $0. (That’s why it’s called “volunteering”.)

How much does food and accommodation cost?

We suggest you allow $30/day for food and accommodation. Of course, if people accommodate and feed you, then they would expect a foreigner to repay costs with a donation (say $30/day). We suggest to not give cash as a donation. A purchase of something useful is more fun to do and safer. Our interpreter can help you to organise a suitable donation.

How much does an interpreter cost?

Some of our interpreters are cash-poor students, others may be sacrificing income from well-paid jobs to help you (up to $40 per day). Interpreters can transport you to an orphanage or village to meet people and to assist you throughout your volunteering experience. We suggest you compensate your interpreter for their time and costs. If you are staying with a family then buying a gift for them would be normal cultural practice.

What and how much should I donate?

Not sure what to donate? How about arranging and paying for:

  • Group outing with staff, for a delicious meal out in the street. Kids love novel foods such as fried chicken, but any good meal would is great.
  • Bus trip with staff. In summer kids love going to the beach.
  • Clowning around in a comic costume.
  • Hiring a karaoke machine. Kids love to make sounds into a microphone with music background.

There is a tradition and expectation in Vietnam for visitors to give a cash gift without conditions when visiting the poor. But don’t give cash. We don’t want to encourage  embezzlement or theft.

Instead of cash, the protocol we suggest you follow is to make an in-kind gift for the orphanage when you leave, arranging through your interpreter to identify and purchase something required by the orphanage. Typically, your donation would be to fill a local need that was identified during your visit. It may be, for example, purchase of school study materials, school fees, an item of farm machinery or livestock.

Toys, children’s books and clothing are all manufactured in Vietnam and are inexpensive in local markets and shops. You do not need to bring such items from Australia. Even a lot of medical supplies can be purchased locally. We suggest you don’t need to add gifts from Australia to your luggage. All you really need to bring is friendship and purchasing power.

Not sure how much to donate? Please be realistic, unlike the volunteer who stayed at a 5-star luxury hotel. Our interpreter gave up his own earnings of $40 per day to take our volunteer around. After occupying the interp’s time for 3 days, the volunteer offered a meager $20 donation to the orphanage.

We are also happy to partner with you dollar-for-dollar to co-fund worthy educational, medical or community projects. But these must have a detailed cost plan, staged funding, affordable budget and achievable goals.

What do volunteers do?

We advise volunteers to come pre-prepared with a few group activities. These could be a song, a dance, some games and a few simple English language or computer lessons. Imitative group activities (e.g. the chicken dance) are very popular in Asia. For a stay longer than a week, just email us for a volunteer program arranged with the orphanage, tailored to your individual skills/experience.

Guests and volunteers create extra work for communities. But they also enrich local social life, providing a welcome distraction from the struggles of subsistence. Friendship and help are always welcome.

What travel experiences can volunteers have?

Both on and off the tourist track, festivals such as the lunar New Year (Tet), Easter and Christmas are wonderful times for visitors as well as for villagers. As with your room and meals, hospitality might be offered for free, but we hope that you will be kind to your hosts with a cash gift.

Foreign visitors to developing countries should remove jewelry and watches, pack away their mobile phone/camera, carry only enough cash for that day’s spending, and show respect for local custom by wearing clothes that reasonably cover the skin (e.g. slacks and long-sleeved top, or jeans and T-shirt) .

Places to visit in the local area include people’s family homes, the village café, local markets and village war cemetery. Transport and accommodation can be arranged for you or your group to inspiring destinations.

In Central Vietnam there are the world famous Phong Nha river caves. Nuns run a boutique hotel at the riverside hamlet of Ha loi. From your window, you can watch small barges steam along the river. Then go out each day and see some of the most spectacular caves in the world. Buses travel daily to the ancient Vietnamese capital of Hue City, where uni students can show you through night markets, the ancient royal palaces and the hilltop monastery at Thien An. There is a small French style hotel at Hue where you can have your continental breakfast on a balcony overlooking the town centre.

How to add volunteering to your Vietnam trip

This is the trip planning segment for volunteers. Addresses and phone numbers of our contacts are not available on this web site but are provided when you become a volunteer.

Friends of Vietnam Orphanages Inc is a small fund contributed by family and friends, run by a volunteer from a home office. Our core activity is direct help for poor communities in Vietnam. We are not a tour agency, but happily connect Australian and Vietnamese people, so they can make friendships and learn from each other. Adding volunteering to your Vietnam trip is suitable if you are an independent traveller and a self-starter. Still interested? Then email, or phone my mobile 0403 727 805 if you want to have a preliminary chat about experiencing the real Vietnam.

Preliminaries

If after making your preliminary inquiry you are still up for the challenge, then please email us:

  • A bit about yourself, your situation, skills etc (max 1 A4 page).
  • Your approximate travel plan.
  • Contact details for yourself (phone, address, an emergency contact in Australia).
  • Photo of you at work, or at home with your family.

We will forward your info to the people in Vietnam you are helping. They naturally want to know something about you and your life here, before you visit them.

Pre-Trip Preparations

First you get a standard 30 day single entry tourist visitor visa from Vietnam Embassy.  Canberra’s one is 6 Timbara Crescent, O’Malley, ACT 2606, Telephone 02 6286 6059.

You don’t need to take too much luggage as you can change Australian cash into local currency and buy all toys, gifts, toiletries, clothing etc at local markets in any city or town. ATM withdrawals are convenient if you have a Visa debit card.

Where you stay as a guest of a sisters’ community (convent) you will be extremely well looked after with modern accommodation and meals. As a guest and volunteer it is “free” but we always ask guests to donate, say $30/day, to cover local costs. Or guests can spend the equivalent to buy something useful at local markets for their orphanage.

You should pre-prepare some activities (e.g. bubble blowing, simple songs to music on a flashdrive, simple group dance such as chicken dance, some conversational English lessons based for example on a trip to shop for clothing and fresh produce at the market).

Arrival

You can withdraw some local currency using, say, a Visa debit card at the ATM when you arrive at the airport. We suggest you buy a mobile phone and sim card during the first few days of your stay in Vietnam. After a few days, everything in Vietnam is arranged by mobile phone and it is your main safe contact method with your tourist guides, interpreters etc.

 Routine Travel Precautions

Vietnam is a friendly, safe and hospitable country. But it is poor. So it is best to show respect by dressing modestly and not showing off your jewellery and expensive gear. Please confirm your itinerary and provide an emergency contact person’s details in Australia. If you have any problems when you travel it is best for us to raise it with your emergency contact. Please consider travel insurance.

 Please Provide Us With Feedback

The Journal/Blog section of our website is always open for you to share your photos, progress, impressions, experiences (both positive and negative), and your views on how communities can be further assisted.  On the completion of your trip, all we need from you is some sort of documentation in the form of a text file telling the story of your experiences, any identified local needs and photos of your work. We want to spread the good news!

 

Please email, phone or text if you have any other concerns or queries.