Special needs teacher Rebecca Hobbins embarked on a month-long volunteer project in Vietnam.
Global Volunteer Network (GVN), who support local community organisations in developing countries, organised a teaching programme and work with orphans and disabled Vietnamese.
Q. What made you take off and leave your familiar surroundings behind?
Having carried out some voluntary work in my local community, I decided I’d like a new challenge. I’m ESL (English as a Second Language) qualified so sharing my skills in a new country was an obvious step. I thought it would be a great adventure and an opportunity to meet other volunteers who’d worked in interesting, far-flung places. GVN offered me a one month placement in Vietnam which wasn’t too daunting – the perfect taster before committing to something more long term.
Q. And in that month, what did you learn?
It was great working with the local Vietnamese people and, unlike taking a holiday, I got to understand their customs and culture. I even learnt some Vietnamese sign language which was fascinating! I worked with a diverse range of people who taught me new skills and introduced me to teaching activities that I now apply back home.
I don’t think I realised how influential my short trip would be – both on a practical level and in terms of my approach to life and general outlook.
Q. What were your best bits?
How long have you got?! The wonderful people I met are top of the list. The lack of routine was refreshing too – no two days were the same. I loved working with the babies and teaching was so rewarding. Sightseeing and amazing food have to be in the mix too, not to mention the great friends I’ve made.
Q. And the worst – surely there were some?
The weather! We experienced an incredibly wet September: it rained for 10 days straight and, at the end of the month, we experienced Typhoon Ketsana. To cram another best bit in, I was amazed by the community spirit behind the rebuild effort. Everyone pulled together and it was truly inspirational.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to try voluntary work?
Use the opportunity to visit a country you’ve always been interested in; somewhere you couldn’t really do justice to on your holidays. There are plenty of options out there, so choose a time length that suits you and work you’re interested in.
I’d always plan a project through an organisation and I strongly recommend you do your research so that you can feel certain the placement is credible and useful. Contact past volunteers who will be able to tell you what to expect and give you first hand advice. Then, just have an amazing time: enjoy all the smiles and wonderful people you meet.