Are you going to Vietnam to volunteer? Then please check this list before you go

Volunteering has always been an ‘alternative’ way of traveling amongst people who both want to see the country and help out. Volunteering is a way of bridging the gap between locals and hosts and it’s also a way of exchanging ideas. But like with everything else, there’s also darker sides to volunteering. If you’re thinking of going to Vietnam to volunteer, there’s a few things you should consider before you go.

But let’s start with looking at the term ‘voluntourism’ first. It’s basically just the two words ‘tourism’ and ‘volunteering’ mashed together. It’s important to know that there’s a difference between volunteering and voluntourism. The first refers to people who are going somewhere to do volunteer work, while the other refers to people who go to a specific destination to both travel and do volunteering. Regardless if volunteering is just a way for you to travel somewhere, it’s still important to know that volunteering isn’t always good.

Volunteering in orphanages

It might sound nice to go to an orphanage and spend time with kids, but it can actually do more damage than good. There’s even been cases in Cambodia where it’s come out that the kids aren’t even orphans! The parents sent them to this orphanage because they were promised that the kids would get a better life there. But when children are sent away from their parents, they’ll be deeply distressed and are at greater risk for developing psychological problems. Children should never be sent away from their parents, but unfortunately, these so called ‘orphanages’ take advantage of the fact that tourists go there and pay a lot of money to volunteer. This creates a demand for ‘orphanages’. If your intention is to go volunteering in an orphanage, please research about the place thoroughly and pay attention to how the children are being treated.

Volunteering as an English teacher

This is another popular way to volunteer and has the potential to be great. But unfortunately, most volunteers only stay for a few days or weeks in that place before they start traveling around again. The children gets attached to you and then you leave, another person takes your place, and the circle goes on and on. But that’s not all. Usually, volunteers are not required to have any specific skills, such as experience with kids or being a teacher, so volunteers might actually do more harm than good. And since volunteers leave so quickly, they won’t be so organized. So if one volunteer teaches the class “ABC” for example, there’s a good chance that the next one will as well, and the next one…

Volunteering with animals

You need to be really careful when you’re going to volunteer with animals. For example, there’s a ton of elephant sanctuaries in Thailand that you can visit for a day or even volunteer at, but usually, these animals aren’t treated much better as those who are forced to do elephant rides. When it comes to wildlife preservation and helping animals at risk, it’s also good to be cautious. Try to research as much as you can about this specific company you’re going with and don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Building schools and houses

If the community is asking for a school, then you should of course help them build it. But too often, a Westerner comes to a community and decides that they need a school for example. They start building it and as soon as it’s done, they go. But usually, the community don’t have the funding to open a school. Remember, you need staff, school products, and even students who can go to school. Although there are surely communities that are in dire need of schools, just remember to actually speak to them and ask them what their needs are.

Volunteering is in no way a bad thing and most people who do end up volunteering do so because they want to give back to the community, they want to do good. But the system sometimes fails us, so it’s our responsibility to make sure that wherever we volunteer, it’s ethical and sustainable. Vietnam has some great volunteering opportunities for those who wants to mix leisure and education. Just be smart about where you put your money and time.

Before you go to Vietnam, make sure that you have a valid visa so you can enter the country. Only few nationals in the world are allowed to enter Vietnam visa-free, so do your research before you go. There are three types of visas you can apply for: Visa on Arrival, e-Visa, or going to the Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate. Prices vary depending on the visa you’re applying for. Please note that the e-Visa is only eligible for 80 countries so if you’re not from one of those countries, you may not apply for this type of visa.

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