I volunteered with Idex  on their Ho Chi Minh program. I happened to be the only one volunteering at the time. This is a fledgling program so I suppose word hasn’t spread yet. Also, it was Vietnamese New Year so a lot of the volunteer programs were closed for the holidays… I must give credit where credit is due, the staff (Cuc & Sohan) were extremely accommodating in finding me programs and making sure I wasn’t lonely or bored.

To begin with, the volunteer house is amazing! Ho Chi Minh sprawls across several districts and the house is on the outskirts in Quan Thu Duc. This is good because HCM is manic, polluted and draining. On the other hand, the city centre is amazingly cosmopolitan and is just a bus ride away if you want to hang out there. The house has four floors (and a lift!) and is bright, spacious, modern, clean and cool. The showers are amazing, the living area is comfortable and inviting and there are all the movie channels available on the TV. The neighbourhood is quite an affluent area which is mainly made up of young Vietnamese families. Foreigners are a novelty, but the locals are very friendly and welcoming. I was even invited to street parties and karaoke!

I worked firstly in La Vang Love orphanage on the child care/ teaching program. I was with Sr. Sequon, a handful of children and a long term resident with special needs. The children are sweet and gorgeous but challenging as they are very boisterous and speak no English. The youngest (2 – 3 years)  have had no experience of school yet. The orphanage has little to no resources so I made some games and worksheets for them. I taught them basic English; body parts, some greetings, colours, numbers, nursery rhymes and  we made lanterns for the new year. This is a brand new program to Idex, and a lot of work over a longer volunteer stint would need to be done in order to set up an English plan to work off and to source books and supplies. Unfortunately, the government are pulling funding and the children will be rehomed.

The second program I worked on was in the elderly home. I had some trepidation after my experience in Pashapati elderly home in Kathmandu. Fortunately, this home was quite the opposite and my fears were unfounded. There was a wonderful atmosphere here, in pleasant surroundings, with independent and lucid elderly women. They were strong too, and organised, and every day would sort through scrap wood to make bundles of fire wood and bag them for the huge ovens and stoves needed to provide meals for all the residents. There was a general laid back and happy vibe, the women have their own space and listen to music, read, have their hobbies or go to the home’s chapel. I helped with cleaning, feeding, chatting, making bundles of cotton buds to sell at market and also with the wood gathering. The Sisters who run it are very warm, inviting and fussed over me. Their gratitude is really touching. Everywhere I went someone would offer me food, and everyday I was invited to join the Sisters for a traditional lunch. The sisters themselves range in age from mid twenties up. The chats were brilliant, surreal and quite unexpected! Giggling nuns is new to me. To be honest, I would have liked to stay longer and set up a basic English language class or gentle aerobics/ yoga or an art class. It is an inspiring program, where you know your efforts and presence are appreciated and make even a small difference in brightening someone’s day.

Thinking about volunteering with Idex? Been to Vietnam? Feel free to leave comments or questions!