Volunteer Review: Naomi V., Occupational Therapy in Vietnam
For as long as I can remember, I have always known I needed to travel and volunteer. I have always been strongly driven to travel and use what skills and resources I have to make a real difference in other people’s lives. Volunteering in Vietnam with children with disabilities at the Thuy An Rehabilitation Centre, using my training as an Occupational Therapy student, provided the perfect opportunity for this.
Projects Abroad were supportive and helpful right from the start. This was my first time entering a completely new country on a solo trip. I knew absolutely no one upon arriving, but felt welcomed by Projects Abroad and quickly developed friendships with the staff and other volunteers. Projects Abroad were also very good with helping me navigate some unfortunate issues with my visa. The team is all so friendly (and has a great sense of humor!), and of course, our interpreter ‘Tronie’ was absolutely fantastic.
My Occupational Therapy Project
I chose this particular project, because it seemed to be the option that would give me the most opportunity to practice my OT skills.
Right from day one, I was met with a diverse range of experiences that often challenged and confronted me, but also opened my mind and helped me grow as a professional and as a person. I was given the opportunity to work independently with some kids. I had freedom to use my own clinical reasoning and experiment with therapy approaches and activities. I’ve built on my clinical skills of working independently, building rapport with children, non-verbal communication, gross motor therapy, and personal resilience.
Working at Thuy An gave me a profoundly deep sense of purpose because even if I wasn’t always doing very ‘OT’ things, I still felt I was making a difference. Because the kids get such little therapy and needed intervention in so many different aspects, I found it hard to decide what to prioritize. However, I realized that even just me being there, giving support and care to these kids and playing with them, made a huge difference to their lives.
It was so hard to say goodbye to the kids at the end. Four weeks was definitely not long enough to spend here – it was only just long enough to begin to understand how best I could use my time and resources.
My free time
Overall, one of the things I most value about this experience was the sense of community between all the volunteers. It was truly incredible to spend this time meeting new people from all over the world. We bonded and created memories during new and exciting experiences, including shared weekend trips, regular social events run by Projects Abroad, and even just exploring Hanoi.
I also really enjoyed participating in two community service days with the other volunteers, where we installed a concrete ramp on a pathway, and rails in bathrooms to improve their accessibility.
Top tips for future volunteers
- Learn as much Vietnamese as you can! It will really make such a massive difference. Make yourself some flash cards for important phrases – I found this to be very effective.
- Share as much knowledge and training with the therapists as you can. Most are very keen to learn and this will have a prolonged positive impact after you have left.
- Read up on the notes for each child you are treating in the Global Impact Database as early as you can, and if there are not comprehensive background notes, please spend some time collecting information and updating this in the database for future volunteers!
My overall experience
Finally, I truly believe that this trip has been one of the most worthwhile things I have done in my life so far. I did some independent traveling at the end of my trip, and I honestly think that volunteering gave me a much more valuable, interesting, and culturally rich experience. I know I will volunteer again, in different countries too, but I will also come back to Thuy An eventually.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.