I have been in Hanoi for around 3 weeks now and have been working in the CED office for just over 2 weeks. Hanoi as a city is unreal! I have absolutely loved my time here, the busyness, the local people and the overall atmosphere of the city.
As a 27-year-old “mature student” who has recently graduated with a BSc Hons in psychology, I decided to come to South East Asia to volunteer in Vietnam, Cambodia and Bali where I will spend a month in each country. As a psychology student, I have a huge interest in understanding how others think and behave, and I want to make a positive difference in others’ lives. Therefore, my reasons for volunteering was to explore and understand other cultures and to really try to have an impact in the lives of those I would be working alongside in my projects.
I opted for an NGO project in Vietnam. I have never worked in an office before and quite honestly, I have never wanted to work in an office. But, I told myself these projects were all going to be a learning experience for me and I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. The more I read about NGO projects and the work in which they involve I knew it was going to be an experience I was going to enjoy. When I arrived at my volunteer house, I was told I would be working at the Center for Education and Development. This to me was good news, as I am very interested in the education system as I used to be a teaching assistant. Although not much was explained to me about CED (and the Wi-Fi wasn’t great so I couldn’t do much research myself) or how they worked as an organisation I was excited to get started.
When I arrived at CED, I was greeted by staff and introduced to everyone. I was given my seat at the desk and given my login details and it was explained what I would be doing for the morning. As a confident woman with lots of work experience, I was happy to proceed with the tasks asked of me. However, as there is an obvious language barrier I can understand why some volunteers may find it a very daunting environment to be in.
I have really enjoyed proof reading the work of my colleagues as this gave me a chance to understand some of the work that CED are involved in. It also showed me just how much work goes into these projects in order to provide for others and Vietnam in general. In regards to scholarships it is truly so lovely to read how grateful and appreciative the students who receive them are. I think every volunteer should get tasks to proof read work, especially for the first few days to better understand CED as an organisation. To me, it is also very interesting to read how some people interpret and write in an English manner.
As the weeks went by, I was given more complex tasks… now I can see why they advise you to have a degree if you decide to go on the NGO project. However, with this I was able to put into practice the skills I learnt in university, as I was researching and contributing ideas to research proposals. I was asked to work and help on a project that CED are involved with which surrounds a voluntary partnership agreement between the EU and Vietnam on Forest law enforcement, governance, and trade called VPA/FLEGT. This was very challenging for me, as I had never heard of it and therefore had no knowledge on the topic. I did my research and still found it difficult. However, I never felt pressured to complete these tasks in a certain period and I always knew if I didn’t understand I could ask someone.
I was also asked to contribute to teaching English, twice a week for an hour. Again, this was different for me as I have only ever worked and taught school students. In addition, my colleagues already have a wide vocabulary in English so I always asked them what topics they would like to cover in each lesson, and then I would go and structure some sort of lesson plan. I have loved finding ways to make the lessons appropriate and fun. I really hope the staff come away from each lesson feeling like they have learnt something. It has also been lovely hearing about their way of life and culture.
Overall, my experience at CED has been challenging, but I’ve loved all of it. I’ve learnt a lot in general and also about myself. I hope the staff at CED has enjoyed having me work in the office with them J
Any advice I would give to the next volunteer would be to do a bit of research into the NGO you are going to be working for, I wish I had a bit more knowledge before I started. Don’t be afraid to ask for work to do, sometimes people in the office are so busy with their own work they don’t always have work for you to complete. If you don’t understand the task, speak up, or give it your best shot anyway, take your time. Unless stated there is no real pressure. Everyone is just happy to have your input and help. Enjoy yourself. Learn something from every day, even if it’s learning something new about yourself.
Nicola Rowe – England.