Katherine Angus - High School Specials, Care & Community in Vietnam
Choosing my project
I decided to volunteer with Projects Abroad on the High School Special in Vietnam as I was keen to experience a country as a volunteer rather than as a tourist. I had also been told that it was a beautiful and vibrant country.
Arriving in Vietnam, I was warmly welcomed by a Projects Abroad representative, who told me more about my placement on our journey from the airport. The following day, our project supervisors took the other volunteers and I around Hanoi. It is such a beautiful and lively city, although trying to cross the road there is one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. However, by the end of the trip it had become second nature!
On the first evening, a few of us went out to the supermarket. It was then that I knew I had chosen the right country. We were followed by local children waving and shouting ‘hello’ excitedly– I felt so at home.
My Care project
My project was based at The Friendship Village in Hanoi, and I couldn’t have wished for a better place in which to spend my time. The Friendship Village was set up for victims of Agent Orange, but also provides support for war veterans. The residents range in age. This was great as a volunteer as it meant you could get to know so many different people through different activities.
We worked in the skills class where residents are taught practical skills, such as cooking. We also helped the residents with class work, which was so rewarding. As our accommodation was also in the Village, it meant we could spend a lot of extra time with the residents. This was often my favorite part of the day, as we could just play with the kids who had come from class. There was a real sense of community in the village and we were immediately accepted. When walking into one classroom, a young boy ran over to hug each one of us! All of the residents look out for one another, and it is so heart-warming to see.
We also painted one of the houses and planted flowers outside the classrooms. At one point, whilst we were gardening, some of the kids came out and got involved. It was great fun! The Village residents are great - they have such amazing, fun personalities. The feeling of being recognized by a child, taken by the hand and lead to a classroom to sit and play is one I will never forget. Despite speaking minimal Vietnamese, I still felt like I really got a sense of each person’s character there. I really felt I connected with so many of them.
Another memory I have is of a heavy rainstorm one afternoon. My normal reaction to poor weather would be disappointment. However, the kids at the Village taught me to look on things with a totally different outlook. Within minutes they were all outside running and playing in the rain, and soon enough we were all soaking! They have such a positive outlook on life, despite the fact some of them face tremendous challenges.
Traveling in Vietnam at the weekends
We would often go and explore Hanoi after work. We visited wonderful local restaurants, water puppet shows and explored the markets, all the time taking in the unfamiliar sounds and sights of the city.
At the weekend our supervisor took us to Ha Long Bay, one of the most idyllic places I have ever been. We were lucky enough to be able to go kayaking in the bay and this is an experience I won’t forget - it was unbelievably beautiful! The following day we visited the Museum of Ethnology to learn more about Vietnam’s many ethnic groups and the way in which they lived. This was a really interesting insight into traditional culture.
My volunteering experience
There are honestly too many memories and unforgettable experiences from my trip to Vietnam to write about them all - I could never do it justice! My only regret is that I didn’t go for longer! The whole experience has changed the way I see things, as well as increasing my confidence and independence.
I have made amazing friends from all over the world, from my fellow volunteers to the residents of the Village. Projects Abroad helped me from the beginning and gave me lots of helpful advice. I felt I could speak to them whilst I was in Vietnam if there was ever an issue.
I miss Vietnam and The Friendship Village. I really hope to return soon.
Read more about the Care & Community High School Special in Vietnam