January 2010
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Volunteering in Vietnam

The Gia Rai

One of the main reasons I came to Vietnam was to try to develop a little perspective after my divorce….and in order to do that I need to be able to appreciate all the luxuries that are afforded to me.  When I say luxuries….I don’t mean material things like cars, TVs, video games, fancy clothes, etc…I mean just having a roof over my head, being able to eat whenever I’m hungry, having more than 1 pair of clothes that I can change into when I’m dirty, etc.

There are poor and hungry people in the United States too…I see them everyday….but the poor in VN are on a totally different level.  I have seen 80-something year old women who can’t even stand up straight pulling big bags of trash, sweeping the streets, selling lottery tickets, etc.  Most of us can’t even comprehend the hardships that they endure.   And there are A LOT of people in Vietnam like that…..they are so common in fact that they can seem invisible to the people around them.  I don’t ever want it to get to the point where I get used to seeing people suffering and become immune to it.

I just learned about a group (Ngan Hac Giay Volunteer Org)  going to Chu Prong and Duc Co to help to Gia Rai ethnic minority there suffering from leprosy.  It’s only 3 days…2 days really since it’s about 600 km away and will take half a day to drive to/return from.  I was offered the opportunity to go with this diverse group of people (local Vietnamese, overseas volunteers, doctors, etc.) at the end of January….and jumped at the chance.   The Gia Rai ethnic community live in VN  but are more akin to the aborigines in Australia.  There are only about 330,000 Gai Ria people in Vietnam today.  They live in the mountains and don’t have any of the amenities that most of us are used to.  We will be handing out donations, and even helping in the fields…teaching them how to plant crops and tend to farm animals.  Yes…I will probably have to poop in the woods :).  The woman that introduced me to one of the volunteers kept asking me if I was sure I wanted to go because it was going to be really hard work.  But if these people can deal with their hardships throughout their lives….I think I can survive for 3 days.

As I said…there are many many people in unfortunate circumstances in Vietnam.  You don’t have to travel all the way to Gia Rai to see and help them.  Volunteer at an orphanage to teach English….it will be something to put on your resume….and if you intend to come to Vietnam to teach English anyways….it would probably be a great way to practice your teaching/classroom skills.  You aren’t automatically a good teacher just because you can speak the language and can use proper grammar….teaching is a skill that is honed through time and experience.  After I return from Gia Rai, I will be looking at some local orphanages that I can volunteer at.  If anyone wants to join me please send me an email via the “Contact” link on the front page.

Being in and experiencing Vietnam is not just about living in the big cities and going to the tourist hot spots.  If you truly want to know what Vietnam is all about you need to see how the locals live…especially the poor and the disabled.  I hope that this trip will be a major turning point in my life.  I want to learn from these people….find out what gives them the will and determination to live their lives even through all the suffering that they endure.

TD

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6 comments to Volunteering in Vietnam

  • dkd

    If all the world were mandated to spend 3 hours much less 3 days to see how the other half lives, wouldn’t we all be in a better place? We will await to hear your lessons from the Gia Rai people upon your return!

  • Benny

    Be well and do good work, ODGNUT. I am very proud of you. Bring some old newspapers with you for reading material, and then for toilet tissue. Just crumple the paper before the “rough” wipe.

    Luxuries can be a bowl of rice for a hungry person, or it can be a small “Made in China” blanket for a homeless person in Indianapolis or Gary, Indiana. Think about it, you can only wear one pair of pants at a any given time. That pair can be Old Navy or Dolce & Gabbana. So, what’s luxury, friend? It lasting luxury when a Gia Rai has enough to eat for one month. Let me know if can help. I cannot quit my job, and join the Peace Corps or you, but you’re there and you can certainly represent us in doing good work.

    • odgnut

      Thanks for the kind words Benny. There is plenty of toilet paper in Vietnam nowadays. One of the first orders of business for me when I arrived was to go to the nearby Sieu thi (supermarket) and buy a bunch of toilet paper and paper towels. I will definitely take paper with me when I go on my trip.

  • one word: congratulations!!
    i was looking for volunteering/contributing options in southern Vietnam myself and stumbled upon your blog. You are doing a very good thing, a thing that has to be promoted since we know it can be rewarding for everybody.

    see our website charitytravel.blogspot.com for more information and affiliate options,

    cheers from Saigon

    kamiel

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