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|Year by year, more and more international volunteers come to Vietnam to share their knowledge|
Since beginning work at Ky Anh Centre for Disabled Children in 2012, Australian volunteer Peng Sim Eng, is currently in her third tour as an education specialist. She had previously taken on roles such as an education support specialist as well as the position of education curriculum development officer at the centre.
According to Eng, Vietnam was an unexpected choice. “When my husband and I wanted to go back into social work, we just wanted to come to Southeast Asia. We then discovered Australian Volunteers International (AVI) recruiting volunteers in Vietnam. We found Vietnam very attractive. The volunteer work itself related to work with disabled children which was also appropriate for me as I had six years of teaching experience in Australia. Teaching disabled students in Ky Anh Centre opened up a new world for me as well as a lot of opportunities. This is a good time for me,” Eng said.
Despite her enthusiasm, the job was challenging for Eng due to the nation’s inadequate resources in special education. Although there are some trained teachers, it is extremely hard to evaluate and provide the standard of services that meet the needs of disabled children.
In addition, disabled children are usually neglected with many believing them to be incapable of learning. Changing stereotypes that are deeply ingrained into the mindset of people is a huge obstacle in Peng’s work.
“Currently, we have students from 18 months up to 18 years of age who have a range of disabilities. What we need to do is not teach all of them the same way, but to classify them by ability and then to provide appropriate teaching methods for each group. There are lots of challenges, but to see the smiles on their faces is a great achievement for us.” Peng said.
Perhaps that is the reason why Eng has been with Ky Anh Centre for six years, although she acknowledged that her current job is very different from what she envisioned before setting out from Australia.
LOVE INSPIRED VOLUNTEERS
Sarah Day, another volunteer, has been on an 18-month assignment with the Rehabilitation Department at Danang University of Medical Technology and Pharmacy since March. She is volunteering as a speech pathology advisor to support the development of the pilot Bachelor of Rehabilitation, Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) curriculum in Vietnam.
Day supports the implementation of a long-term project that includes the development of both undergraduate and post-graduate curriculum and a syllabus for SALT, across four universities within the country.
This is her second volunteer session in Vietnam, after previously completing a 12-month volunteer programme at the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine in Ho Chi Minh City. Discussing her current position, Day felt that her mission is not yet over and she wanted to stay to contribute more to the SALT curriculum because it would take a replacement at least six months to build the necessary relationships with relevant partners, which would shorten their time that could be spent doing other meaningful tasks.
Aside from work, another important factor that links her to the country is love. This is not merely a stopover destination but the second home of her family. Despite various difficulties such as the fact that her children cannot attend a local school and have to study via the Internet, income problems, and challenges travelling as she does not have a licence, Day insists that she wants to remain in Vietnam for years to come.
“We would love to continue to stay in the country after we finish volunteering. We really want to stay involved as there is still so much work to be done in this sector. My goal is to continue to support and contribute more to Vietnam. I will continue to discuss with my partner whether there are any opportunities for me to continue working after this project. We absolutely love this country. Sometimes I tell my youngest, who has just turned five, that he has spent more time in Vietnam than in Australia, so I can call him Vietnamese now,” Day said happily.
Eng and Day are just two of many international volunteers who have devoted their time to volunteering in recent years.
According to the United Nations volunteers programme, the number of international volunteers to Vietnam at present is three times as than those in 1990 when it officially opened office in the country.
Currently, Japan and Australia are the two leading countries in terms of international organisations and volunteers. Although the volunteers come from across the world, their common desire is to share their knowledge and contribute to changing the face of the country for the better.
Since 1973, over 1,000 Australians have volunteered in Vietnam. The nation is now the fifth largest recipient of volunteers under the AVI programme, with more than 40 Australians joining the programme annually. Australian volunteers work in diverse fields such as education, training, community development, the private sector, agriculture, gender equality, and health.
Their contributions have assisted partner organisations across the country to build their capacity to effectively deliver development objectives.
“I am proud of Australian volunteers, not only because they have contributed to the success of Vietnamese organisations, but also to Vietnamese development in general. They are great ambassadors who create strong people-to-people links between Australia and Vietnam,” Craig Chittick, Australian Ambassador in Vietnam, said.
Starting from three volunteers coming to Vietnam to teach Japanese in 1995, the Japanese Volunteer Programme has sent 630 volunteers to work across 41 cities and provinces nationwide in the past 23 years.
All volunteers are carefully selected before participating in the programme and have a professional background and experience in their field. They are assigned to key areas such as human resources, industrial development, health and social welfare, agricultural development, and teaching Japanese.
According to Nguyen Thi Thuy Huong, chief representative of France Volontaires, the number of long-time (average stay of 12-36 months) volunteers from France is approximately 70 persons, while short-time ones can reach more than 1,000 volunteers. Only in 2017, the French government sent more than 100 long-time and 1,400 short-time volunteers to the country.
No matter their origin, volunteers often maintain good relationships with Vietnamese colleagues and friends after returning home. They act as ambassadors for their homeland and serve to strengthen the connection between their home country and Vietnam.