With a surprisingly fast recovery, there is almost no trace of the terrible wars that took place in Vietnam except when visiting museums. However, even with a fast-growing economy and ravishing natural settings, the S-shaped country still has a lot of hardship to overcome. If you’re fascinated by the idea of helping less fortunate people in Vietnam and exploring its unique culture, volunteering is the most direct and best way to make sure your aid goes to the right people.
The Vietnam War and the Vietnamese People’s Perception of Americans
Many Americans are intrigued to visit Vietnam but are too afraid of the reception they might get because of the war. They are worried that Vietnamese people may give them a cold shoulder, an earful, or make them feel ashamed.
Vietnamese people do have many reasons to be mad! After all, American soldiers murdered innocent babies, killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers leaving their families in mourning, and contaminated countless women with Agent Orange, which has affected generations of children and isn’t stopping. Even now, when over 40 years have passed and the country has been unified, we can’t really say the same for people’s hearts, especially soldiers and their families who sided with America and inevitably lost in the war.
Heroic Mother Nguyen Thi Nhu
The Vietnam War (or The American War, as it’s referred to by Vietnamese people) left a permanent scar on all participating parties (North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and America), especially those whose psyche has been profoundly shaped by it. But it’s up to us to decide if we want to keep recycling 1975 and hold a grudge for the rest of our lives or to move past that sad chapter.
If there is any country that understands the pain and suffering of war and oppression better than anyone else, it’s Vietnam. This small country has suffered through devastating wars for more than a thousand years over the course of its centuries-old history. The four periods of Chinese Colonization (111 BC – 1427), French Colonialism (1884 – 1945), Japanese Occupation (1941 – 1945), and American involvement (1948 – 1975) have taught the Vietnamese to strive for peace and to not see life through the prism of war.
An American paratrooper skipping rope with Vietnamese children
Vietnamese people are amongst the most forgiving and welcoming people in the world. They have learnt to let go of the past and embrace the future with a healthy degree of optimism. Besides, over 80% of the Vietnamese population was born after 1975 and younger generations do not have memories of wartime.
Why volunteer in Vietnam?
Vietnam has emerged from its turbulent and tragic past to being amongst the fastest developing economies in the world. Over the past decades, Vietnam has held membership in 63 international organizations, including the UN and WTO. It has also maintained relationships with over 650 Non-Governmental Organizations worldwide.
Volunteers teaching English in Vietnam
The once blighted country is doing its best to recover, yet significant obstacles are still present, some of them being:
- The legacy of the Vietnam War – orphans and disabled people
- Risks of rapid urbanization due to the lack of professional managerial skills: uncontrolled immigration, the city’s infrastructure is not able to handle the influx of millions of migrants from rural areas, wage gaps between the rich and the poor, and social instability leaving many people living below the poverty line with no access to healthcare, clean water, decent housing, reliable sanitation, etc.
- Natural events and disasters due to climate change constantly leave the highly agriculture-dependent economy in a vulnerable state.
Volunteering is the best option for conscientious travelers who want to give the country’s most under-privileged people, especially children – whose future has a direct impact on Vietnam’s society and economy, a helping hand. It’s also a great chance to enjoy the breathtaking scenery, rich culture, and the incredible food scene at the same time!
An American Veteran volunteering in Vietnam
It doesn’t matter which nationality you are, the people here are equally grateful and eager to learn about all other cultures. They will absolutely make you feel appreciated and valued.
A variety of incredible volunteer opportunities are available in Vietnam such as education (teaching English), NGO support, caregiving, business, and construction. Participants will have a chance to join projects in schools, hospitals, orphanages, monasteries, etc. You’re not going to change the world, but the positive impact you provide is something that will stay with you and the people you help for the rest of your lives. And it’s never too late to start.
Some of the accredited websites that allow you to apply to volunteer in Vietnam are Friends for Asia, UBELONG, Projects Abroad, etc.