Over the last century, Vietnam has become accustomed to being used and abused by foreigners. First it was the French, who overtook the government and infiltrated the culture with their baguettes and accents. Then the Japanese, who sent the French packing and had their own way with Vietnam. Oh and that little incident, you may remember it, called the Vietnam War which definitely did a number on the country, producing boatloads of culturally-confused Wasian halfsies.
Although Vietnam got up, brushed the dirt from her knees, and came back as the hottest tourism destination in Asia, the country still struggles with the social and health problems caused by its long history of warfare. Nonprofit organizations all over Vietnam are dedicated to rebuilding this torn nation and welcome you to be a part of their efforts.
The quality of healthcare in Vietnam is pretty shitty in general, and practically nonexistent in the country’s rural communities. Project Vietnam, a nonprofit organization run by Vietnamese health professionals, brings free quality healthcare to the country’s most marginalized populations. A majority of patients treated are children. The organization is always looking for volunteers with experience in the medical field to help on their missions to the rural provinces. You don’t have to know your elbow from your asshole; your interest alone is usually qualification enough.
Perfect for: Aspiring doctors/dentists/nurses/murses-without-borders. It’s not cushy, but definitely beats volunteering in the gift shop at your local VA hospital.
Most “volunteer organizations” will charge you hundreds of dollars just to hook you up with an unpaid gig at a Vietnamese orphanage. Vietnam Volunteer Network is the real deal without the price tag. It was founded by Kim Nguyen Browne, a Vietnamese orphan adopted by British parents (the Browne part). She vowed to one day return to her orphanage to help the kids that Angie Jo missed. A volunteer-based nonprofit dedicated to bringing humanitarian aid to orphans and other underprivileged kids of Vietnam, this program is absolutely free. You’ll be stationed at one of the many under-served orphanages throughout the country, though most volunteers end up at the Go Vap Orphanage in Saigon.
Perfect for: Child-lovers (not the NAMBLA kind) sick of babysitting their neighbor’s bratty kids looking to take care of more deserving children.
Company of Grace is a Vietnamese-Australian charity, which doubles as a tourism bureau, and works to provide education, rehabilitation and other social services that benefit disabled children. Polio-afflicted founder Peter Stone was also an adopted Vietnamese orphan. The tourism agency was an afterthought to keep the organization self-sustaining. Most of their tours operate in the south, since their center is based in Saigon. Company of Grace is currently looking for long-term volunteers (6+ months), for a full range of positions. A passion for child-rearing, tour guiding, and/or PR is a plus.
Perfect for: Future English teachers, daycare center managers, social workers, marketing experts and tour guides.
SJ Vietnam is an international youth NGO that advocates peace, tolerance, and social change in Vietnam through community projects. Their corps of nearly 4,000 members, in the 15 to 35 age range, tackle all sorts of issues. Want to figure out how to make that river cleaner? SJ’s all about solving environmental problems and sustainable development. How about helping the hundreds of rag-tag homeless find showers and beds? They’re on that too. Headquarters is located in the nation’s capital, Hanoi. Volunteering is completely free; the only cost is a measly 280 Euros/month for room and board.
Perfect for: Young idealists with hearts of gold and a can-do attitude.
Like SJ Vietnam, VPV is another peace-promoting, volunteer-recruiting NGO located in greater Hanoi, sans the age limit. Most of its projects relate to education, environmental sustainability and helping the disabled. Past projects included improving wheelchair accessibility for handicapped children, bio-diversity conservation of Xuan Thu National Park and supporting micro-finance projects for female entrepreneurs in rural Vietnam. Meals and housing are provided in exchange for a small fee. You can hit this one up short term (two weeks) or keep getting’ that VPV for up to a full year.
Perfect for: Hard-working do-gooders who can get down with dorm or hostel-style living.
With all the NGOs in Vietnam desperately in need of free labor, there’s no reason to pay big bucks for some foreign-based company to find you volunteer work. Work off some guilt for cheap by volunteering in a country that's been burned one too many times.