I will always remember Vietnam for two main reasons:
Super cheap beers -perhaps the cheapest in the world, according to my lonely planet- from 30 cent $ for a bottle in Saigon to less than 15 cent for a draft glass in Hanoi; which is a grateful blessing when you are used to Indonesian prices of alcohol.
The coffee is sublime. Coffee is a real national ritual, which need its time. Whenever you are, look around: you will easily found a coffee shops on the street, with its small wooden tables and blue kid’ stools. You can choose between a regular black, which is served in a small metal cup which will slowly filter the coffee in a cup; hot coffee with milk, in the “rawest” coffee shops (often the most delicious ones) served in a tiny glass with condensed milk on the bottom; or the delicious ice milk coffee, to drink from your straw before the ice cubes melts (easy task, mine always finished so quickly).
The afternoon of the 30 of April, anniversary of the unification of the Country, in a coffee shop in the centre of Hanoi I met Duc, who since 2009 works for SJ Vietnam. Solidarités Jeunesses (SJ) Vietnam, founded in 2004, is a Vietnamese youth NGO who promotes youth empowerment and intercultural learning through volunteering and international projects. They have three main goals: volunteering; have an impact on the volunteer’s growth; have an impact in the communities they work whit.
In those 10 years the organization grew a lot. At the moment the 11 people staff manage 21 permanent projects in Vietnam, 6 of them are located in the north part; 1 in the centre at 4 in the south; and 9 of them are Erasmus+ projects. During the last year SJ Vietnam has hosted about 1000 volunteers (800 short-term and over 100 long-term). Duc explains us that through volunteering they try to support “weak communities”. In order to do that they create partnerships with smaller local organizations or groups, considered weak because of poverty conditions, rural areas, environmental critic zones or institutes for disable children. The volunteering could have the shape of work-camps (from 2 weeks long); group camps, for a group of participants from the same Country; or long-term project (from 1 up to 12 months).
In order to create local partnerships SJ usually starts by organizing a long-term volunteer project; if after two of them the collaboration is growing well for both the sides, it’s the time for a work-camp; the group-camp is the last step, then the local organization became a regular partner for them. All the process, which involves building relationships and mutual trust, is constantly monitored by the organization. This is also the approach used to evaluate the impact of the project on both the local community and the volunteers. Indeed, the results are measured by combining together different tools:
the volunteers work is the first evaluation indicator
before and after the project, the SJ coordinator usually has a 4/5 days meeting with the local partner to check the conditions of the placement
the volunteers themselves monitor their job through self-evaluations
“Already after a few years it is possible to see changes in the local community” Duc assures. Some of the locals form rural areas have never seen a foreigner before, and working together with them make local people develop a new approach on “diversity”.
In Hanoi SJ has three houses where the international volunteers live, but most of them stay in the villages, where they are hosted by local families. Their placements are focused on English teaching; organizing activities for children; research projects, especially in eco-tourism (at the moment they are supported by UNESCO in the area of Hoi-An); youth development, in partnerships together with Universities and youth organizations. Vietnamese language classes are delivered weekly by local volunteers. The organization does not have a specific volunteer target (anyone from anywhere aged between 17 to infinite can apply) but most of the international ones are 18-19 years old students coming from France or Belgium. Many locals also applied for their volunteering projects; in the recruitment phases SJ priority is educate youngsters to responsibilities and intercultural learning, not the applicant’s background or English proficiency. Duc himself is an engineer, who chose to devote his intellect to international projects.
When we ask Duc about the organization’s achievements and future prospective, he replied that what helped SJ to growth has been the constant learning process. When they started, more than 10 years ago, they were supported from others organizations through trainings, and they still keep doing it. Duc tells us that is going to Italy soon, for 3 weeks of job shadowing; he has been in Spain for another project three years ago, but since than he developed a lot on this job, and he is really excited about testing himself again on a foreign working environment. To benefit from the networking is also a key of success. Six years ago there was not knowledge at all in Vietnam about non formal education in NGO sector, and three years ago Youth in Action was a complete unknown concept. From working with World Bank projects SJ slowly moved to Youth in Action and Erasmus+, because those programs aim empower youngsters (both locals and internationals) through interactions. Duc believes that the overall idea of volunteering is evolving in Vietnam, is not anymore technical labors for a good cause, but sharing and intercultural learning, which is a high valuable educational tool for the youths involved as well as the local communities. Asia is improving fast his non-formal education sector; 2 years ago Japan launched the AVS programme (Asian Voluntary Service), in which SJ is already partner, open to all the NGO members of the Network Voluntary Development for Asia. And it’s there, in networks and international projects, that Duc, confess us, sees the future of the organization: “Working camps are becoming less and less popular, they are too expensive for volunteers; since 5 years ago we counted this year a drop of 200 participants only from Corea. Group camps, sponsored by private companies, are growing” continues “but we want to develop Erasmus+ and AVS.”
Willingness of mutual understanding and serve exactly where is needed is the heart, the aim of volunteering; questioning themselves, don’t be afraid to learn from the previews errors is the receipt to growth; networking, sharing and endless improving approach is the compass to find the way and truly be able to be the change.
For more information about SJ Vietnam visit the website: http://www.sjvietnam.org or the facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/SJ-Vietnam/103115490591
For more information about AVS: http://nvda.asia/index.php/asian-voluntary-service/