When people think of volunteering overseas, they often conjure an image of building schools, providing healthcare services, or delivering supplies to developing regions like Ghana and Bolivia. These trips are certainly admirable, but not everyone can afford to fly that distance or are confident enough in their travel-savviness to go alone. What then, can we do if we still want to find a way to contribute?
Ervi Margareta chose to go to Vietnam with a friend where she taught English as part of the Nourish the Youth project. Going together dispelled most of the uncertainty going on their first volunteer trips and made it immediately more fun, especially since they were heading to a popular tourist spot in South East Asia.
Being from Indonesia, Ervi knew how vastly different countries in the same geographical region can be. Sure enough, the busy motorcycle-filled streets of Ho Chi Minh, informally known by its former name, Saigon, juxtaposed Singapore’s metropolis.
Southeast Asians are known to be extremely hospitable, and Ervi experienced this first-hand as she interacted with her students who greeted her at the start of every lesson with hugs. She also made plenty of friends during her weekend trips around Vietnam.
During the 6 weeks that she was in Vietnam, Ervi stayed with a global host family who warmly welcomed her into their home and showed her what it was like to truly live like a local. One of her funnier memories involved sitting by the roadside eating street food. When the police showed up, the stall owners started packing the tables and tiny stools up so the patrons had to carry their food and stand around. None of the other guests seemed bothered by this, so it must’ve been a rather common occurrence. As soon as the police left, the tables and chairs were set up like they were just minutes ago, and everyone went about their business like nothing had happened. It was an eye-opener for Ervi, and Vietnamese street food definitely doesn’t get any more authentic than that.
As Ervi did not speak Vietnamese, she was challenged to plan her classes in a way that is effective in helping her students learn. Her primary motivation was knowing that education is the key to breaking poverty cycles. Seeing the children’s English proficiencies improve, she was delighted to know that she indeed made a difference in their lives.
On top of taking in the beautiful culture and delicious food, Ervi learnt new skills that she is able to put to use in her daily life, such as taking risks, being a team player, and working in a diverse team. Today, Ervi serves as the Finance Vice President in her Local Committee as she continues to find ways to give back. She says that the experience taught her to appreciate everything in her life and to not take anything for granted.