What I love about IVHQ is that they offer an affordable alternative to your typical vacation for young professionals. While most of my friends take a week off to head to the beach, I was able to learn a new language, interact with a different culture and make friends from all over the world. I had never been to Asia, or travelled alone before and IVHQ offered me the support and opportunity to do so. Next time you are thinking about how to spend your vacation days-- consider taking the adventure of volunteering abroad in a new country. Now for the category by category break down:
The program I worked on was called “Feeding the Homeless.” Every morning we would leave the local school where we were living around 7 a.m. and take a bus to the soup kitchen (although rice kitchen might be a more apt term). I was fortunate enough to have the chance to work with another volunteer who had been there for 7 weeks already. It was obvious the kind of relationship someone who had volunteered for longer through the program was able to make. On his last day the local staff baked a cake and threw a going away party for him!
IVHQ works with a local provider to run their programs. The onsite staff, Anna and Leigh, were very supportive and always around if I had a question. I had a staff member meet me at the airport (along with a few other volunteers) and make sure we got to our housing. Once at our housing they gave us a map of the surrounding area, made us lunch and gave a couple of tips for crossing the road (harder than you might think when no one obeys the traffic lights!). Overall there was enough support for me to feel safe, but also the freedom to explore on my own and be more independent if I wanted.
Full disclosure, IVHQ waived my fees for volunteering in Ho Chi Minh as part of the Go Overseas paid PAID vacation program. However, when talking to the other volunteers they noted that they had chosen IVHQ because it was much cheaper than other volunteer programs. Besides housing we also got meal tickets (3x day) and entry into Independence Palace, The Vietnam War Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels during culture week.
This is a fairly subjective category but I would say it is hard not to have a good time in Ho Chi Minh. There are about four different programs going on through IVHQ which means there are lots of other international volunteers around to make plans with. Leigh (one of the program staff) recommended loads of fun weekend trips (I went to Mui Ne-- a definite must!). The project itself was more rewarding than fun. We worked hard -- chopping vegetables, setting tables, washing dishes, etc. -- but the local staff and people we got to interact with while serving made it all worthwhile. One of my favorite parts was actually the culture week where we got to explore the city, learn the language and make some authentic dishes. I think the more you know about a culture the more you can appreciate it. Another highlight was a dinner that Leigh put together where all the volunteers got to meet local students who were learning english. We all had a blast trying to communicate in broken Vietnamese/English and the night ended in singing and dancing.
We lived a bit on the outskirts of town but there was never a time I felt unsafe. We all stayed in bunks with 6 - 8 other volunteers and they locked the gates at night after 11. As long as you use common sense (not carrying around valuables, let friends know where you’re going, etc). you should be perfectly fine!
This was my first time in Asia, and a developing country. Volunteering with IVHQ was a great way to travel on my own, learn about the culture, and meet other people. As I mentioned earlier, I also highly recommend it as an alternative to your typical vacation for a working professional. Getting out of the country and traveling alone gave me a chance to get outside of my comfort zone in a way its really hard to do in "real life". Feel free to email me at any time if you want to learn more about my trip! firstname.lastname@example.org