Embarking on a volunteering or interning program in Vietnam is an exciting prospect, made even more thrilling because of the number of options. From teaching English to helping with conservation efforts or medical care in rural areas, you can always find a way to contribute. As you begin making plans for your time in Asia, here are some things to keep in mind about the unique experience of volunteering in Vietnam.
Know Before You Go
Vietnam is a quite populous country in Southeast Asia. In fact, it is the 14th most populated country in the world, with nearly 95 million residents. Bordered by China, Laos, and Cambodia, Vietnam has seen a booming economy and increased tourism since about 2000. Its famous conflict long behind it, the country is now known for its lovely rice fields and the culture of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.
The new economy and interest in tourism mean an increased need for English skills among locals in Vietnam. As the country opens itself to the world, acceptance for international volunteers and their tutoring skills has grown. It’s also true that the boom has left some people behind, and volunteers can help carry vulnerable populations forward through education and medical care. While the Vietnam War may seem like a distant memory, some remnants of the conflict — especially the physical effects of Agent Orange — are still very present and volunteers can help through medical care, charity organizations, and education.
Vietnam has three climate zones. If you’re in the north (including Hanoi), expect chilly and damp conditions in the winter months and a monsoon season that lasts from May to September. Northern Vietnam is characterized by green hills. The monsoon season is similar in the south, where fertile plains mark the landscape, but the temperatures remain relatively warm all year round. In the center of Vietnam, the monsoon season falls between October and April. Central Vietnam is largely comprised of rainforest terrain.
No matter when you’re headed to Vietnam, there are two things you can count on: coffee culture and motorbikes at every turn — literally. About 37 million drivers in Vietnam use a motorbike, in part because car ownership is so expensive. Whether you’re going out for groceries or traveling from town to town, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself on the back of a motorbike weaving through the throngs of other bikes.
Short- and long-term opportunities for volunteering in Vietnam range in duration and style. Most programs are able to accommodate solo travelers, including women, who want an organized and meaningful experience that works for a person traveling alone. Here are some of the most popular options for volunteering in Vietnam.
Plan My Gap Year (PMGY) is a leader in international volunteer opportunities. Plan My Gap Year has work and volunteer programs in 14 countries. The low-cost programs for volunteering in Vietnam through PMGY include grassroots volunteer work, caring for children, teaching English and working at an NGO to tackle issues ranging from human rights to public health. The childcare volunteer program sees volunteers places with NGOs in local centers such as the Morning Star Centre, where you’ll help people up to age 25 with special needs. If you sign up to be an NGO volunteer, you’ll be working in an office, and your tasks may include everything from aiding with fundraising efforts to offering content and design assistance.
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) has placed more than 80,000 volunteers since 2007. The program’s Vietnam opportunities are in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) in Southern Vietnam. The types of volunteer opportunities IVHQ offers include child care, teaching English, medical assistance and food outreach.
The medical program is for medical professionals and pre-med students (at least 18 years old) who are looking to learn more about international healthcare and develop a specialty. You can expect to be placed in a Ho Chi Minh City orthopedic and rehabilitation hospital and to work alongside local doctors and nurses. The teaching English program is specifically aimed at teaching college students who are looking to get a degree in business communication or public relations. IVHQ programs are placed throughout the city, with volunteer dormitory accommodations available. You’ll also get a three-day orientation before your volunteer program begins. Learn more about IVHQ’s Vietnam volunteer abroad opportunities.
Love Volunteers boasts “life-changing intercultural exchanges.” The volunteer work in Vietnam available through Love Volunteers include offering specialist care to babies and children, a medical internship, and teaching English to children and adults. The “Volunteer and Travel” program combines helping others with the exploration of the region. During the week, you’ll provide essential care to vulnerable populations in Ho Chi Minh, such as children and patients with HIV. On the weekends, you can partake in optional excursions or just travel on your own.
Ready to Travel?
Volunteering in Vietnam is a rewarding and life-changing experience. While your time in the country may only last a few months, you will learn lessons that stay with you for the long term and can really make a difference in the lives of local people. Whether your strength lies in content development or nursing, these volunteer organizations can place you in the right program in Vietnam.