The 10 most important tips for volunteering in Vietnam

Volunteering is highly recommended for those eager to get involved and immerse themselves in local life. However, volunteering requires some preparation. Fortunately, we've compiled the most important tips for you!

Why volunteer work in Vietnam?

Vietnam is a country where you can effectively combine travel and volunteer work. For instance, you may choose to engage in two weeks of volunteer work first and then spend an additional two weeks traveling around. Vietnam is a true backpacker's destination, making it safe for solo travel, and you'll have plenty of opportunities to meet people along the way.

1. Take a good look at the various possibilities

There are various opportunities for volunteering in Vietnam. It's essential to first consider what type of volunteer work you would like to do. For example, you can teach English, assist with a meal service for the impoverished population, or provide support in a hospital. There are numerous possibilities, so it's important to carefully consider what you want.

Once you've decided on the type of work you're interested in, you can start looking into organizations. We've listed a few for you.

  • International Volunteer HQ
    International HQ offers various projects, such as working with children, in hospitals, or with a meal service. These projects take place in the city of Ho Chi Minh.
  • Workaway
    We also have positive experiences with volunteering through Workaway. This is a platform for volunteering that doesn't go through an organization; instead, you arrange directly with the project. This means you have to take care of the logistics yourself. On the other hand, volunteering through an organization usually involves costs, while volunteering through Workaway is almost free. You pay registration fees for Workaway, and some projects may ask for a daily contribution. Check our article '2 Beautiful Volunteer Projects in Vietnam through Workaway' for more information! We also delve into what Workaway is all about in the article.

In this article, we primarily focus on volunteering through organizations. The organizations and projects offered in Vietnam may seem similar. It's essential to be aware that some organizations have a minimum number of weeks for participation. This is because it often takes time to start and navigate your way around. Additionally, the people at the project invest in you, and it's appreciated when volunteers stay for a longer duration. A week is often considered too short to engage in volunteering effectively.

Furthermore, it's crucial to consider accommodation. In some projects, you may stay in a volunteer house, while in others, accommodation is provided on a college campus.

Volunteering through an organization comes with costs. A portion of the amount usually goes to the organization, some may go to the project you are participating in, and another part is for accommodation expenses. In addition to the volunteer fees, you often need to manage and fund other aspects yourself, such as your visa, background check, flight ticket, and meals. This varies significantly between organizations and projects.

Once you've found an organization and project that interest you, we recommend having a conversation with the organization. They can provide more details about the volunteer work, giving you a better understanding of the opportunities available. This helps you make an informed decision.

2. Do not volunteer in orphanages

Be cautious with volunteering in orphanages. While fewer organizations offer this, it still occurs. Volunteering in orphanages is not beneficial for a child's attachment. It can be highly traumatic for children to bond with a volunteer who later leaves and they never see again. This situation is emotionally painful and harms their self-esteem, self-image, and development.

Additionally, volunteering in orphanages can become a lucrative income source for developing countries. Consequently, some countries build more orphanages and, in certain cases, entice children away from their families to place them in these institutions for financial gain.

3. Get in touch with other volunteers

To choose a volunteering project, it can be helpful to read the stories of other volunteers. Many organizations offering volunteer opportunities share the experiences of past volunteers.

If you're volunteering alone, you can ask the volunteer organization if there are other volunteers at the volunteer house, host family, or project during your intended period. You might consider choosing another time for volunteering when more volunteers are present.

4. Expect the unexpected

In Vietnam, things often happen in a different way than in the Netherlands. The lifestyle is different, and life tends to be more relaxed. Our advice is to go with the flow and not to stress too much. Even at the project where you'll be volunteering, everything may unfold differently than you initially expected. For instance, you may have arranged to teach English with a teacher, but the teacher might decide to have a physical education class instead. Additionally, you might witness other things that could be surprising or distressing. For example, you might see a child being disciplined or feel sympathy for an elderly woman to whom you're distributing meals. These experiences can leave a strong impression on you, and it's important to talk about them, whether with your contact person or with other volunteers.

5. Be realistic

When you're doing volunteer work for a few weeks, it's important to note that you may not make large, visible differences. It's often the small things that matter. For example, a young woman who now speaks a few sentences in English or children who had a delightful afternoon because you played with them. You can certainly be proud of these moments!

6. Communicate about your expectations with the people from the project

It's important to talk with the people at the project about their expectations of you, what you expect from them, and how you can work together. Try not to cling too much to how you envision things. The project members have been doing it their way for a while, and you're a guest. You can certainly address certain matters, but be respectful and try to understand their cultural perspective.

7. Learn the language

It is advisable to learn some Vietnamese words. This helps establish better connections with people and children who do not speak English. In addition, greetings such as hello and thank you are highly appreciated. You can quickly learn some Vietnamese words through platforms like Duolingo.

8. Show respect

Life in Vietnam is different from life in the Netherlands, and it's understandable that you'd like to take photos here. If you want to take photos at the project, it's a good idea to discuss it beforehand with someone from the project. This also applies outside the project. For example, if you want to take a photo of a market stall with a woman behind it, please ask for permission. People don't appreciate it when you take their photo without asking.

Furthermore, it's important, especially for women, to wear longer, covering clothing during volunteer work: a shirt that covers your shoulders and pants or a skirt that falls below your knees. It is not appreciated if you are dressed too revealingly.

9. Ask the locals for tips

When you volunteer in Vietnam, you will typically find yourself in a volunteer house or on a campus. The volunteer house is often connected to local people, and on the campus, you will also encounter local residents. These locals are very familiar with the area. We recommend making use of this opportunity. It's enjoyable to ask them about things to do in the surroundings, to go together, or to cook together. You can also seek their advice on local restaurants and entertainment venues. This way, you truly immerse yourself in the local life!

10. Go for it!

Lastly, we encourage you to just go for it and not overthink. It can be daunting to travel to a different continent and a new country for an extended period. Fortunately, there are organizations available to answer your queries, and at the destination, local contacts are also eager to assist you. It will be an unforgettable experience and a great opportunity for learning!

Do you want to read more about Vietnam?

See all our articles with the best tips to discover all beautiful places in Vietnam.

Do you want to read more about Vietnam?

See all our articles with the best tips to discover all beautiful places in Vietnam.

About the authors

How nice that you are on our website and that you have read this article! We are Mirte and Matthew, two Dutch adventurers with a passion for traveling, discovering cultures, and gaining new experiences. We've translated our love for the world into this website. We hope our articles inspire you to go on adventures! You can learn more about us through the button below.
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