Volunteer in Vietnam for a meaningful, challenging and ultimately rewarding experience in one of Southeast Asia’s most vibrant and enchanting cultures. This beautiful country extends along a narrow and long coast, bordering Cambodia, Laos and China. The landmark cities of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and Hanoi have attracted travelers for decades due to the classic Vietnamese cuisine, friendly people and colorful markets. Volunteering in Vietnam offers volunteers the opportunity to trek the dense jungles and stretching coasts, explore beautiful Halong Bay, and travel the Mekong Delta by boat.
Vietnam is probably best known for the well documented Vietnam War, from 1955 to 1975, which left Vietnam politically divided into two separate parts. Though the aftermath of the war initially left this communist-unified nation politically and economically backward, Vietnam has struggled to regain its position in the world. To achieve this, Vietnam has welcomed a number of volunteers in major sectors such as education, health, environment and youth development and other support programs.
Youth Development and Education Volunteering
Vietnam has state controlled schools, colleges and universities that are equally distributed throughout the country. Though the education system here is holistic, it is not free and therefore parents have to pay for the tuition without any form of public or government assistance. This makes it quite difficult for poor families to access education and as such, there are numerous education programs. These programs are quite affordable and readily available in Ho Chi Minh City. Here volunteers can participate in teaching English language, pronunciation and colloquialisms involved with the language and information technology.
Other programs include caring for disabled children and orphans under the non-governmental organizations, youth education and development programs. Volunteers for education and education support system are received and dispatched throughout the country depending on need. Conversation courses are run at all education levels from high school students, university students and staff working within the orphanages and care centers, to improve their conversational English.
Public health provision in Vietnam is of a satisfactory standard with life expectancy in women being at 76 years, 72 years in men and a very low mortality rate in child birth. Health volunteers are welcomed and appreciated as there is a shortage of nurses, mid-wives and hospital beds due to a lack of funding for hospitals. Most volunteer organizations set up medical camps in various provinces for local residents to access medical clinics, treatment and distribution of funds. Health volunteer work involves the distribution and administering of vaccines and managing the medical camps.
The rate of tuberculosis infection in Vietnam is considered high with as many as 57 local people dying each month. This has intensified volunteer work in distributing medication, hygiene education and vaccination. Also on the rise are HIV and AIDS. Volunteers here not only supply medication but also educate on preventative measures to hinder the spread of AIDS. As with all destinations the correct immunizations must be sought prior to travel. Be aware that some vaccines are in two parts and some may be required up to three months before travel, such as diphtheria and tuberculosis.
Family Rights and Gender Equality
Vietnam marriage and family law passed in the year 2000 gives men and women same the legal rights within marriage. Women can be married at the age of 18 while men can marry at 20. However this is not the case in rural Vietnam where young girls are married at an early age and widowed women are often married off to their late husband's brothers. Volunteer work in gender equality is sought in these areas where volunteers educate and sensitize women on marriage laws as stipulated in the Vietnam constitution.
Vietnamese women are deprived of many opportunities within society including property ownership and inheritance. The volunteers educate women on alternative sources of income and communal ownership of property among themselves. This includes education of trade, enhancement of skills and talents as well as taking part in society's development projects. Vietnamese NGOs working on women's right operate under considerable restrictions, which limits their ability to challenge the government and to speak out against women's right abuses. However, volunteers in gender equality issues can help redress the balance by creating awareness.
In Vietnam through environmental protection agencies of the flora and fauna found here. Vietnam has a unique combination of different types of animal species and plants that need to be preserved and protected.
Ha Long Bay, which is a UNESCO World Heritage recognized site and many other important heritage sites that can be found throughout Vietnam and the six biosphere reserves such as the red river delta, cat Tien and mangrove forests.
Human Rights Advocacy
Sensitizing the Vietnamese community on their rights and the laws as stipulated in the constitution. Provide legal representation to the minority who cannot afford the services.
Planning Your Trip
Popular Volunteer Destinations
- Hanoi: With the high number of NGOs based in Hanoi, volunteering opportunities are as many and varied as the NGOs themselves. Volunteers can work with underprivileged youth and sex-trafficked girls and there is always a need for English teachers, vocational trainers, and mental health workers.
- Sapa: Volunteers can work with the local ethnic minorities in education programs, particularly English language acquisition. Tutors, designers, tour guides, and fundraisers are always needed.
- Ha Long Bay: work Local tour operators need volunteers to ensure the sustainability of this area, both from an environmental and economic perspective. Conservation programs exist on Cat Ba Island and wider Ha Long Bay.
- Da Nang: Participate in conservation/preservation activities related to UNESCO preservation of the Hoi An’s Ancient Town.
- Ho Chi Minh City: Volunteers are needed to assist victims of Agent Orange -- a long-standing issue from the war and still a major problem in Vietnam. Opportunities are available addressing cultural and educational exchanges to promote peace and friendship and address social issues.
Short Term Volunteer Visa
You should apply for your Vietnamese Visa prior to arrival in the country. You can either obtain a 30 day tourist visa from your nearest Vietnamese Embassy or you could alternatively request a Vietnam Visa Approval Letter through an online company and then have your visa processed on arrival at an International airport in Vietnam. The approval letter typically takes 2-3 days to process.
Working and Living in Vietnam
Working in Vietnam is a great privilege to many foreigners. Working visas are often given to foreigners who wish to volunteer there. While volunteering, those with special skills can find employment in the fast growing economy. The pay in public institutions is about $5-$10 an hour with benefits such as free housing and unlimited visa renewal, which are accessible to volunteers.
These benefits make it possible for many volunteers to save money as many expenses are minimized. The private sector pays more at about $6-$15 an hour. Public and private offices, museums and shops in Vietnam open from 7:00am to 5:00pm during the week and 8:00am to 12 noon on Saturdays. Lunch breaks are adhered with workers typically being allocated one hour. Food in Vietnam is cheap and readily available, making Vietnam highly accessible to foreigners working and volunteering here.
Health and Safety of Volunteers in Vietnam
Vaccinations that may be required for travelers spending a prolonged period in Vietnam are; typhoid, hepatitis A, diphtheria, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, rabies, cholera, yellow fever (Certificate of vaccination required if arriving from an infected area), Japanese B encephalitis. Always check with a local healthcare provider. All travelers should ensure their tetanus and polio vaccinations are fully up to date and that any anti-malaria precautions are taken.
Contributed by Julie Bowman