Posted by: viaprograms | May 17, 2010

VIA Volunteers Administer Community Service Project in Vietnam

In October, we received an email from Lillian, VIA’s Vietnam Coordinator, stating that VIA will sponsor a student community service project. Anh-Thu, another VIA volunteer, had already been thinking about working with students on community needs assessment/service project design at our post, Tra Vinh University (TVU), so we were both excited VIA was holding this competition. With instructions in hand, we held our first meeting with students to discuss the project. After some encouragement, the students started discussing where they thought we could benefit their community. Ideas ranged from helping at a Khmer Pagoda to arranging for wheel chairs for those with disabilities. The students decided they wanted to focus on people with disabilities and children. We had some great ideas from the students, but it was clear it was time for the next step of making actual site visits to those in need and engage with them to see how we could help.

Our first visit was to the orphanage in Chau Thanh District, Tra Vinh Province. The six students committed to the project were Kel, Hien, Tam, Chi, Dien and Ratte. The students were familiar with the orphanage because we previously had a large Halloween party there. When we arrived, the children came running to say hello and ask for rides on our bicycles. Our first 30 minutes or so were spent playing with the children. It’s very difficult not to connect with the children almost immediately. Their smiles, laughs and energy are contagious. Everyone was in a great mood and having fun, but we had to get down to business.

At first the students were shy and wanted to only act as translators for me and Anh-Thu. However, after the conversation got started, the students became more comfortable taking the lead. After some discussion, the students determined the greatest need at the orphanage was funding for vocational training/education when the children turn 18 and could no longer be under the care of the orphanage. Ms. Tam spoke about her worries for the children, and you could see the care and concern in her eyes. She is essentially the mother to over 40 children, and no mother wants to send their children into the world unprepared for the challenges they will face. The students left the meeting energized. Anh-Thu and I were happy and impressed with the students’ professionalism and leadership. We planned on more visits, to talk to not only staff but also the teenagers of the orphanage, who would soon need to start to think about life after the orphanage. The teenagers were intimidated, however the students were able to relate to them and make them feel more comfortable speaking to us.

The next step was determining the costs associated with vocational training. Each student was given a different vocation to research. We also had to consider costs for housing, food, uniforms and other miscellaneous expenses that could arise during training. Afterwards, the students worked together on the proposal, showing great teamwork. During the few weeks of putting the proposal together, we were able to see growth in the students’ confidence in doing tasks they were once intimidated by. They were enthusiastic for the opportunity not to only help their community but to also make Tra Vinh University proud.

-Justin Stevenson, Vietnam volunteer 2009-2010

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