My experience with CSDS (the NGO with which I was placed by Greenheart International) in Hanoi, Vietnam was wonderfully fulfilling though all-too-short. Were it not for my job and desire to return to my wife, children, and grandchildren, I would like to have spent more time being of service to the students who are being helped so ably by CSDS.
My volunteer work with CSDS was positive in every respect. In my opinion, a well-run institution, whether a business, a charity, an NGO, or any other type of organization, begins with capable, committed, effective leadership, and at CSDS that leadership begins with Que, the Vice Director, with whom I interacted most frequently, and Phuong, the Director. They run a very focused and well directed program.
While I can't speak directly about the work that other volunteers did in hospitals helping physically disabled children or those with learning deficits, I can say that the volunteers with whom I spoke who worked in these areas found the work extremely satisfying and unquestionably helpful to the hospitalized young people.
My volunteer work involved the teaching of English as a second language. I have some background in this area since I volunteer my time at home to teach English to Spanish-speaking residents living near me. My knowledge of Spanish helps me to fulfill this task. But I have no knowledge of Vietnamese other than the Vietnamese language lesson I was given courtesy of CSDS. And yet, I really believe that I became an effective teacher of English to my CSDS students and was really able to connect with them and advance their knowledge of English. This belief may have far less to do with any abilities I may have and far more to do with the support and structure of the CSDS program.
First of all, CSDS provided a native speaker of Vietnamese to nearly every class I taught. These native speakers are called local supporters, and they help the volunteers when the concept being discussed can be explained in greater detail by using Vietnamese. We used Vietnamese sparingly because, after all, these were English classes, but the few times such assistance was necessary, it was very helpful to have. Second, I need to say that I have a physical disability which is slowly becoming more severe as I age, and this condition makes standing up and walking for long periods of time rather problematic for me. CSDS helped me tremendously by having another volunteer come to the classes with me, and she did all the writing on the board while we were both engaged in the lesson. The students also gained the perspective of an American speaker of English as well as that of a European for whom English is a second language.
Next, partly as a aid to me as a volunteer, Que had two of her office staffers accompany me to my first two classes. These staffers helped to answer questions and translated the few times that was necessary. I should mention that these same CSDS staff people were actively involved in my orientation process regarding house rules at the CSDS residence, the layout of the house, recommendations as to what to do and tour while in Hanoi, and the like. As a personal accommodation to me, the CSDS staff allowed me to move to a room on a lower floor to limit the numbers of steps I'd have to walk each day. I did not ask for such a move. Rather, the staff anticipated my needs and suggested the move themselves.
That room was quite comfortable and more than adequate for my needs. And the food prepared for me and the other volunteers each day was nothing short of delicious. Plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables each day, along with meats, poultry, or fish, and of course, rice, made for a nutritious and healthful diet.
Beyond the organization and the logistics of my stay at CSDS, the most important thing, and the reason I traveled to Vietnam, was to be of service to some young people of that beautiful country by helping them to improve their English skills, and perhaps enabling them to increase their employment opportunities in their chosen fields or professions upon graduation. And in my small way during my short stay in Vietnam and with the help of an extremely efficiently run and effective organization like CSDS, I think I was able to be of service and to make a difference in the lives of some of these young people. By the end of my stay in Hanoi, I really think I was connecting with the students. The classes went well, and there was lots of enthusiastic participation and engagement on the part of the students. They were increasing their abilities and skills in English which is precisely the reason I volunteered for this work.
In fact, now that I am back home, I continue to write to several of the students who want to continue to dialog with me and have me critique their written English. I am happy to do just that and will continue to assist these students as long as they wish to do so.
This review may have turned out to be far longer than your readers need to learn of my experience with CSDS. My experience was excellent and could not have been improved upon. I am so grateful to Greenheart for arranging for me to do my volunteer work with CSDS because that organization is so well run and fulfills its mission so effectively. My only hope is that Greenheart will consider sending even more Americans to participate with CSDS in fulfilling its good work in Vietnam. Que once said that the volunteers from Greenheart have been exceptional and adept and skilled in fulfilling their volunteer responsibilities, and I sincerely hope that other Americans will have the same opportunity to serve students in Vietnam through this quality organization as I did.