HOW is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in the USA, whose staff consists of all volunteers. Its mission is to provide hope and care to neglected, abandoned, and orphaned children in deprived areas of the world with a specific focus on VietNam.
I had thought about volunteering for years before I actually did anything about it. Even when I think back to how scary that first trip was, I still really wish I had done it years sooner. I hear this exact thing from our HOW volunteers every year. So, I am going to answer as many of the questions I have heard from volunteers as I can here and explain what you can expect from a HOW VIP trip.
The work for volunteers starts long before they arrive in Vietnam. You will need Tetanus, Typhoid and Hepatitis A and B vaccinations for travel in South East Asia. The volunteer programm from start to finish is 11 days so with travel included either side, you will need 2 weeks free and will book your own flights. You will also need a visa to enter Vietnam. Probably the most important though is fundraising, please visit our website for great fundraising ideas here : http://helpinghow.com/get-involved/fundraise/
And the earlier you start the better! We have 100 ideas for fundraising and can provide t-shirts and official charity posters and brochures. Although it sounds like a lot of work, you will have help and advice every step of the way and I promise it is all worth it.
The official title of the volunteer trip is Volunteer Immersion Programme (VIP) and as I said it is an 11 day programme. This is made up of 9 days working and 2 days off. If you have 2 weeks free it means you will give yourself enough time to acclimatise when you arrive. Our trips are in June and July and the weather at this time is hot and humid! We are in a city of almost 7 million people and it is NOISY! Shops open before the sun comes up, motorbikes are constantly going in every direction at all hours of the day, insects and rodents are hard to escape from and the locals seem to eat, play and everything else on the side of the street. It is very hard to paint a picture of Saigon to someone who has never been there but you will fall in love with the city and it's amazing and friendly people - I promise!
HOW volunteers stay in the backpacking area in the city centre. We are in a clean, comfortable and safe hotel, who are also sponsors for HOW, with air-con, TV, WIFI access and a beautiful garden terrace, roof garden. The food in this neighbourhood is fantastic. As we are in the tourist area, all food tastes are catered for. There is Italian, Indian, pub grub, cafes and everything in between. Most restaurants also have a traditional Vietnamese menu. For the days off, we are in the perfect location for taking a tour in the city or beyond. And we are surrounded by pubs and clubs. There are parks near by and lots of shopping. You will never be bored in Saigon!
The VIP trip includes a chance to witness and take part in three of HOW's projects. The first is an HIV/Aids Clinic in the city that we assist in supporting. It is run by a couple (a surgeon and his wife) and their staff of dedicated volunteers. They run the clinic around their own busy working lives and we try our best to support them any way we can. They never turn away a patient whether they can pay for treatment or not and we are honoured to be a part of their amazing work. As a HOW volunteer you will have a chance to visit the clinic and see for yourself the inspirational work being done here. The staff are more than happy to share their stories of the dire HIV situation in this city. As well as a tour of the clinic and meeting patients we are put to work! More often than not we will be rolling cotton wool into balls for use or folding bandages or some other menial task. Because we do this, we free up time for the staff to care for their patients.You will witness the most amazing compassion and empathy here in a way that makes you want to be a better person.
Our second project is raising awareness of EB (Epidermolysis Bullosa) through our partnership with one of the Children's Hospital in the city. We cannot bring volunteers to the hospital but we want everyone to understand a little about the incurable skin disease that is EB and the daily suffering it inflicts on its carriers as well as how we are trying to help the most desperate sufferers in Vietnam. Our face for EB in Vietnam is a teenage boy named Huy who loves to meet new friends and teach them about EB and the effect it has had on his life. As HOW volunteers we get to hang out with Huy and sing and laugh and play. He will leave a mark on your heart that you will never forget.
The last project that HOW volunteers will witness is our work in various orphanages. We have worked in and supported many orphanages in our time in Vietnam. The children all come from very varied backgrounds but each one is full of joy and gratitude and life. We have started a pilot education programme which you will be able to sit in on. You will witness their English and typing classes. We also have art days and we take kids out for a day of fun. The orphanages are always a highlight of our volunteer trip and you will see first hand what a huge change can be made in someones life when you believe in them. No matter how horrific your start in life, education can be the key to picking yourself up and creating a brighter future.
On the days we are working, we travel mostly on motorbikes driven by our interpreters. This is how most locals and tourists get around. You are never going very fast and it is a great way to see the city. Our interpreters are interviewed and hand picked for you from a great group of Vietnamese volunteers called Free Hugs Vietnam. They are local university students who created a group so they could give back to their community. The person you are paired with will become invaluable to you. As well as being a translator and means of transport, your "buddy" will help you understand Vietnamese culture and try to answer any questions you have about their country. You will inevitably become friends. HOW volunteers as a group also become very close as we are sharing a really unique and amazing experience. At the end of each day you will have a chance to share your thoughts and feelings over dinner if you need to. And your Volunteer Manager is always there to speak to. This really is an unforgettable experience and one it is hard to put into words. So come join us next year and see for yourself HOW we can change the world for the better together....
Original Article was written by Kerri Galligan
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