Just Volunteers has no approved projects in Vietnam but we are in touch with an impressive young woman who runs an English Club for local young people in her Hmong community in north east Vietnam. We introduced Edie and she became the first foreign volunteer to spend time in the village helping with the club. Here are her thoughts.
We are happy to introduce interested volunteers although we cannot vouch for the project directly.
My time volunteering in NH (Northeast Vietnam)
Edie with friends/students from the village
The Wake Up …. English Club is a small club in the north of Vietnam, helping local ethnic minority children to learn English. It is not one of Just Volunteers’ projects, but after being put in contact with the club’s founder, SG, by Josephine, I decided to give it a go and spend a month there, despite no other foreign volunteers having been in the past! Now my placement there is over, I’m able to look back and realise that although there were a lot of challenging points, all in all it was an incredible, unique experience that I’m grateful to have had.
English class for the little ones
NH is a six hour bus trip north of Hanoi. It’s a very small town – I’m not sure of the population, but there is no supermarket, if that’s a reliable indicator of size! Being so isolated, there are very few people who know any English, and most of them have little to no experience with foreigners. So, as you can imagine, I was quite the celebrity. I don’t remember one instance that I went out without being stared at, waved at or spoken to. People were generally friendly though, despite my very low level of Vietnamese meaning I couldn’t really communicate with anyone. I enjoyed the local food, and there was heaps of fruit available as well, and it was all so cheap! I would normally buy noodles or soup for breakfast, for just 10, 000 Vietnamese dong, which is about 44 US cents.
The classroom doubles as the volunteers’ bedroom in the evenings
The English club has about 40 students, and this number is growing. At the local schools, children do get taught English but their teachers can’t actually speak good English themselves, and so when S opened the club last year, she had to start with the very basics, even for secondary students who had been learning the language for years. Nothing deters S though – she is the most passionate and motivated woman I’ve ever met. She is so committed to helping her students improve their English because she knows what a powerful tool it will be for their futures. Most of the kids I talked to were very sheltered and were happy to find a job in NH after they finish school, but a few of them talked about wanting to travel, wanting to go to university, one secondary student shyly told me she wants to study in Australia. Although the English club is just a small community set-up, it’s really going to help the students a lot, and it’s an opportunity they would never find elsewhere in NH.
S and her daughter take Edie out for the day
Similarly, S inviting volunteers to the club also helps students expand their horizons and learn about what life is like outside of NH. While I was there, I tried to help as much as I could with improving the children’s confidence levels and pretty much just getting them speaking English as much as possible. There would be a class of little kids every evening, and they loved singing and playing games so we did a lot of that, as well as working on their pronunciation. They were all so keen to learn, despite their limited attention spans, and I’m going to miss them belting out “HEADS SHOULDERS KNEES AND TOES” every night! The older students were also very keen to learn but a lot more shy, and any question I asked resulted in a lengthy consultation with the other students in Vietnamese about the best way to answer.
I had a lot of down time in NH during the week while the students were at school, and that was a bit tedious as there wasn’t much for me to do in the town, and there weren’t many people I could make friends with because of the language barrier. Despite this, I loved the English teaching and the time somehow flew. Before I knew it, it was time to catch the bus back to Hanoi. Staying in NH was incredibly eye-opening, and I know how lucky I am to have been able to experience a place so exceedingly different from my own country. I hope S’s English club will continue to grow and expand, because it is truly a life-changer for the community.