The Christina Noble Children’s Foundation is involved in many, many areas of development to enhance the lives of children in Vietnam and Mongolia, and the IMU is just one small part of this vast operation.
I made a conscious decision to be bi-cultural in my volunteering, and that included understanding the Vietnamese way. In Aotearoa/New Zealand we encourage independence and self-regulation, and one of the first steps might be to support children’s self-help skills, particularly in eating. However, that is not the Vietnamese way, so I happily haul a baby into a feeding chair (not a highchair thankfully, as they are not restrained) and spoon that lovely food goodness into their little mouths, a bit like feeding a baby birds. The carers laugh at my ways, but indulge me even though I am the slowest feeding person. I don’t change nappies yet, and wonder if this right will be afforded me before I leave. However, I am not sure I could even manage that because they use clothes nappies and tie them on without any pins – it seems to take the strength of Hercules to do this, so I am steering clear of that at the moment.
There is a language barrier that is overcome with wild gestures and lots of laughter, although most of the staff have some English. Sadly, however, my Vietnamese is quite dire and I just can’t get my tongue around many words. I ride to work on the back of an Uber motorbike (quite scary at first but totally normal now – it costs about $1.80 for a 25-minute ride), and they often ring to clarify the address. I just answer ‘Hello, hopeless English Lady” and they tend to hang up, but they always find me and I get to work on time! So, you can get by in a foreign country feigning complete ignorance.
Typically, volunteers work in the Centre for 2 months because they come to Vietnam on tourist visas, valid for 3 months, and then spend some time touring the country. I have been fortunate enough to be sponsored in for 6 months and will spend most of this time at CNCF.
When I first talked to my family and friends about volunteering for CNCF, most were overly sympathetic to the poor plight of the children. But I have a different view of this, so before you indulge in this sympathetic stance, remember that this is the life these children have been given, and that can’t be changed. It needs to be celebrated and honoured. It’s their life, and who are we to judge the circumstances.
If you want to know more about volunteering, fund-raising or visiting, the website has a lot of information and I am happy to be in email contact too: firstname.lastname@example.org
Now, off to find one of those munchkins for a cuddle, whether they want one or not – I have needs too and a cuddle might just make the world a bit more right!