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  • Writer's pictureIsidora Katanic

This was Volunteering in Vietnam

Weeks have passed since I returned home from Vietnam, however, only now I’m writing about my journey. As sad as I was to leave the children at the orphanage in Vietnam, as happy as I was to return home after 1 month of volunteering abroad to appreciate even more what I have back home. Little did I know that I would not return to “my normal routine” and that not long after my return the whole world turned upside down due to the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19. That aside, I would like to tell you about the weeks before about my journey to Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Flying into Ho Chi Minh City itself, was already a truly amazing experience. In the evening I flew from Indonesia into Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon. Looking out of my airplane window at the enormous city, I was so energized and motivated for this next journey to begin after I finished my volunteering time in Indonesia. I was also a little nervous for the unknown again, to be “all alone” in a city with a population of nearly 14 million people. Yet how small and minuscule I felt looking down out of my window, I told myself repeatedly in my head “you might be tiny, but you are here to make a big difference.” As the airplane was descending, my excitement was rising for what turned out to be the most incredible experience of my life.

"I told myself repeatedly in my head: you might be tiny, but you are here to make a big difference"
View from the airplane arriving into Ho Chi Minh City

Volunteering at an Orphanage for Children with Disabilities

Goooood morning Vietnam! Early morning my program manager “T” came to pick us up from my local host family I was living with, sharing a room together with two other volunteers on the program. We drove out of town (well still IN the city, but more into an outer area) to the orphanage. Glaring out of the car window during the drive, I was wondering how these children live, what they eat, what they wear, what their background stories are, what their level of English is, what they do throughout the day and how I would become a part of all of that. One thing I knew for sure, is that I would spread my joy and knowledge and dedicate all my time and energy to the kids. I was uncertain how we would communicate with each other due to the language barrier, but I was prepared to communicate with visuals, and hand and feet if we wouldn't be able to communicate in English.

You don’t need to speak the same language to understand each other

It’s true. And this for me was the perfect proof of what is possible with love and caring for each other. We didn’t speak the same language, I didn’t speak Vietnamese, they didn’t speak English. Some of the kids were deaf or deaf-mute, and so in all ways we found creative possibilities to communicate with each other. There was something huge which was always there and that was that I felt a deep and intense love for these kids. Where I thought I would be in Vietnam to “spread the love” I wasn’t expecting to receive a million times as much love back.

Pictures say more than words

I went through so many intense emotions during my volunteering experience, and instead of writing about it I would like to walk you through a series of photos with short descriptions:

The orphanage has 1 little class room, where I teach the kids in the morning from all ages in one group. We practice the alphabet, English words, sing English songs and color together.

Do you remember this crocodile? I found it in a toys shop in Ho Chi Minh City and bought it for the kids. They loved it, although some kids were a little afraid and then other kids showed them it was not scary at all.

One of their favorite songs: head, shoulders, knees and toes
As everyday at the orphanage, closely surrounded by the kids <3

After we are done with morning classes, we have outdoor space in front of the class room where the kids can play. One of my favorite days was when I brought a bubble machine, the kids were running around trying to catch the bubbles and it was beautiful to see them so active and happy.

Together with the program team, we got a few bikes for the kids so that they can learn how to bike. It was funny to see how the man from the little local bike shop delivered multiple bikes stacked up like pancakes on his scooter.

All kids eat together for breakfast, lunch and dinner, where the nuns who take care of the children cook traditional Vietnamese meals for them every day. The very little ones sometimes need a little bit of help :-)

Their first McDonalds experience

On my last day, I wanted to do something memorable for the kids. When I was a kid myself, I just loved to go to McDonalds for a happy meal. Getting 50 children with special needs to a McDonalds in the city unfortunately wasn't possible on a short notice with so little care takers. So instead, I went to a McDonalds in the city, and I sat down with the manager to place a large order of 50 Happy Meals delivered to the orphanage on my last day.

And of course, with a Happy Meal, comes also a fun toy! The whole experience from ordering the happy meals, eating together with the kids and seeing them play so nicely together was truly special and memorable.

Saying Good Bye

With my entire family living across different countries as a result of the Yugoslav war in the 90s, since ever I can remember I grew up with "too many goodbyes." Yet never will I get used to them. Saying good bye to these beautiful orphans, felt like saying good bye to my own family. It was very hard for me, and I felt it was hard for them too. I promised this isn't a good bye, this is just an "until I see you again hug" like I always say to my family too. One thing is for sure, when the world turns back to normal after COVID-19 I will definitely plan a trip back to Vietnam to see the kids again I have included deeply in my heart.

weekend time = culture time

Weekends were free to enjoy the Vietnamese culture, the amazing food, the buzzing markets, to relax and to prepare the lessons. Here are a few impressions of how I spent my free time.

Dinner at home with my host family, self-made spring rolls!
I also visited the Microsoft office in Ho Chi Minh City

Thank you for reading my blog post about my 1-month volunteering journey to Indonesia & Vietnam. In case you have any questions about my experiences or would like to volunteer yourself, feel free to reach out to me.


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