Harmony Home Taiwan: 2014 Secret Santa Toy Drive

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I first heard about Harmony Home a few years ago on a Taiwan expat forum, Forumosa. I had been looking for somewhere to volunteer and it sounded perfect. Harmony Home has become very dear to my heart and I have such respect and admiration for the staff that work tirelessly to run the centre and to care for the kids.

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It all began in 1986…

 when Nicole Yang welcomed her friend, the renowned Taiwanese theater artist, Tian Chi-yuan to her home with her two children.  He had nowhere else to go because he was HIV positive. It was the time when there was no proper medical treatment available and there was insufficient understanding of the disease. The rapid increase of AIDS patients has caused negative responses in the society. This further induced withdrawal of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) out of fear of being discriminated. Being aware of this sad situation, Nicole opened up her home to PLHA to provide them with a secure place to live in. Out of compassion, she established Harmony Home with the hope of fully reintegrating them to the society.
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As is usually the case, it took a couple of e-mails to get a reply but when I did, it was friendly and enthusiastic and I couldn’t wait to get involved. My first visit was a little chaotic, there were kids running around everywhere, my Chinese was almost non-existent and everyone looked far too busy to be bothered with me. It took a few visits to get used to the way things are done but every time I came the kids would jump up and come to hug me. I taught English there with two friends, one person with all those kids was just not enough!! They have a classroom upstairs with lots of arts and crafts supplies. After a few months, I decided to organize some outings for the kids. It would be a nice break for the nannies and great for the kids to get out and let off some steam! They are often cooped up inside and end up fighting over toys and the TV. Our first outing was a hike in Xin Yi and the kids absolutely loved it! A group of friends came, with their dogs and toddlers in tow and everyone had a great afternoon.

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After that, we started going to the park regularly. The kids had the freedom to run around and play with adult supervision. Some of the kids were curious about the volunteers, others were too shy but either way, they were out and about and getting fresh air and exercise. One particular Saturday, we had a lot of dogs with us and the kids loved them! They were fascinated and took turns walking them and feeding them snacks. For some of the kids, it was their first experience with a pet because they have grown up in the centre. It was so lovely to see!

My favourite outing, however, had to be the trip we took to the public swimming pool. It was in the middle of a melting summer and the park was just a bit too hot. The kids were exhausted and hiding under the slide for shade so we took them to the outdoor pool instead. The LOVED it! For a lot of the little kids, it was their first time swimming and they had so much fun.

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I have continued to be involved with Harmony Home as a fundraiser and coordinator even though I can’t go and see the kids any more and will keep doing so for as long as I can. Recently, Harmony Home have been on the receiving end of a horrible campaign to remove them from their centre on Xin Yi due to neighbours complaining and it is really heartbreaking to hear about it all. They really need support this year and thanks to my amazing friends and the Harmony Home volunteer network I think 2014 is going to end of a very positive note.

Throughout my time volunteering with Harmony Home we have had so many fun events, two VERY successful drag shows at Dalida, my Black and White birthday, two Halloween parties, Pride parade and two Christmas parties. On top of that, we have had more clothes, books and appliances than I can count as well as tons of new volunteers and patrons. The generosity of the community in Taipei never fails to amaze me!

Our current event is the annual Secret Santa event which is in its third, and what looks to be biggest, year! Here’s the basic idea:

Dear volunteers and supporters,

I am sure you are all familiar with “secret santa” concept. You pick a number out of a hat and buy an anonymous gift for that person.
I’d like to do something similar this year for the kids at Harmony Home.
It will be all the kids name in the hat and you guys will be buying a gift for one of them.
I have a list of each of their names, ages and genders.
All you have to do is let me know you would like to take part and I will allocate you a kid. I’ll give you the info and then you go and buy them a gift, wrap it and put their name on it.
This way, each kid in the centre will get a lovely gift, chosen just for them.
I’d like to set a spending limit because everyone has different budgets and we don’t want some kids to receive really extravagant gifts. Rather, if you would like to give more or you have extra cash, I can allocate you more children!

Lets say, around 500NT.

This year, we have had such an overwhelming response that we have so many more donors than kids!!! For anyone who wants to get involved from now, you can make a donation via PayPal or credit card here or make a donation in kind (list here)and drop it off either at the centre 1F No.262-1, Jiaxing St., Xinyi District, Taipei City 110 or at the Christmas show Santaland Diaries.

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VSO: The Volunteer Experts

VSO-logo1I’ve been thinking about adding a section with details on specific organisations. I’m going to start off with an excellent volunteer group- VSO. If you are a skilled professional and you are looking for a way to use your skills and expertise where it is needed most, VSO are a fantastic organisation to get involved with.

A while back, I featured Sarah Naughton, a friend of mine who volunteered in Rwanda a few years ago, in the ” volunteer experiences” section and she described her volunteer placement with VSO. I was really impressed with how Sarah described VSO, and I’ve always been a big fan of how they operate. Here’s why:

– they are dedicated to long term solutions

-they send experts in their fields, to ensure that projects succed

-they ask volunteers to commit for at least 6 months, non of this ” gap year” two week business.

VSO is one of the world largest volunteer networks in the world, and like the UN, they want the best of the best for the projects. They advertise their placements the same way the advertise paid positions and if you want to apply, you will need to send you CV and a covering letter. It is competitive and they want the right person for each position. You must commit to at least 6 months, and fundraise for your trip. This is volunteering done right.

If you cannot commit to a longer term placement overseas, VSO encourage you to volunteer for them at home where you can campaign and fundraise. They have lots of ideas on the website to help get you started.

Do you know another great volunteer group that you would recommend for someone wanting to volunteer overseas? Please comment or e-mail me volunteerasia@hotmail.com

International day of the Girl Child and why gender equality is key to ending poverty.

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Emma Watson has been widely praised for her recent speech on gender equality as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. And rightly so. Emma is promoting a new initiative called HeForShe which is a call for men to join in and feel included in the conversation about gender equality. Or as she put it, “extend a formal invitation” to join the cause.

In recent years, there have been many campaigns focusing on equal rights and education for girls and women and many studies showing the positive effects equal opportunities for the sexes can have in the fight against poverty.October 11th has been declared the “ International day of the Girl Child” as part of a worldwide initiative by the charity Plan International. I used to fundraise for Plan when I lived in Australia and have been a supporter of their ” Because I Am A Girl” campaign for about five years now.

While extreme poverty is a global issue which affects many demographics, women and girls are still disproportionately affected by poverty and suffer many more injustices, like child marriage, FGM (female genital mutilation), honour killings, rape and domestic abuse and death from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. In many countries across the developing world, women are denied the education and opportunities afforded to their male counterparts.

In the developing world 3 million girls in Africa are at risk of FGM this year.

1 in 3 girls will be married before they turn 18 and 1 in 9 before they reach 15.

Victims of early and forced marriage typically have children very young.

Approximately 70,000 girls die in labour every year because their bodies aren’t ready for childbirth.

Globally, 65 MILLION girls are not in school.

In Africa, 101 million girls aged 10 and over have been subjected to FGM.

Women are in general 14 times more likely to die in a disaster than men

These numbers are absolutely shocking.

From my own experiences volunteering in Asia, it is strikingly obvious that it is a massive disadvantage to be a women in the developing world. In Vietnam, I volunteered at The Little Rose Warm Shelter, a home for girls who had been or were at risk of being, sexually abused or trafficked. In Cambodia, where I volunteered on two occasions, you didn’t need to look far to see the huge prostitution problem, with girls as young as 11 and 12 walking the streets.

Educating women and empowering them to has proven to be hugely successful where implemented. Educated women marry later in life, have smaller families and they are much more likely to put their own children in school. Their increased literacy and numeracy skills give them better careers and awareness of health issues.

Just one extra year in high school can increase a woman’s salary by between 15 and 25%, and as a knock on effect, the income of her entire family.

a woman with a better education is more likely to survive childbirth, and her children are more likely to survive early childhood.

girls with a high school education are 6 times LESS likely to be married as children

Volunteering with Women’s Charities

If you are planning to volunteer or donate and want to get involved with charities especially focused on women and girls here are some fantastic organisations to consider;

The Little Rose Warm Shelter, Vietnam

Plan International

HeForShe

Additionally, if you have volunteered somewhere with a woman’s charity and would like to share your experiences or some advice, please e-mail me on volunteerasia@hotmail.com so I can add your organisation to this post.

 

Ice Buckets; The Good, The Bad and The Viral.

KONY 2012, No Make-Up selfies, The Ice Bucket Challenge. Viral campaigning is gathering speed, and in my opinion, is here to stay whether we like it or not. So, can we make it better?

The Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS is the most recent of these viral campaigns and is causing a lot of debate. Despite its shortcomings (which I will discuss), I think its a great campaign. It has really gotten people talking, not only about ALS but also about the water crisis, animal testing, fundraising in general, and a whole host of other diseases. And while I am pretty tired of seeing a million new videos posted every time I check my phone, I am happy that these are the things we are talking about on social media at the moment and not trashy celebrity gossip. I don’t care who Taylor Swift is dating or which sports star is the latest in a cheating scandal but I DO care about fundraising, medical research and anything a regular Joe can do to make a positive difference in the world.

Some ALS Facts

(www.alsa.org)

  • ALS is not contagious.
  • It is estimated that ALS is responsible for nearly two deaths per hundred thousand population annually.
  • Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. The incidence of ALS is two per 100,000 people, and it is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans may have the disease at any given time.
  • Although the life expectancy of an ALS patient averages about two to five years from the time of diagnosis, this disease is variable and many people live with quality for five years and more.  More than half of all patients live more than three years after diagnosis.
  • About twenty percent of people with ALS live five years or more and up to ten percent will survive more than ten years and five percent will live 20 years. There are people in whom ALS has stopped progressing and a small number of people in whom the symptoms of ALS reversed.
  • ALS occurs throughout the world with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries.
  • ALS can strike anyone.
  • The onset of ALS is insidious with muscle weakness or stiffness as early symptoms. Progression of weakness, wasting and paralysis of the muscles of the limbs and trunk as well as those that control vital functions such as speech, swallowing and later breathing generally follows.
  • There can be significant costs for medical care, equipment and home health caregiving later in the disease.  It is important to be knowledgeable about your health plan coverage and other programs for which your may be eligible, including SSA, Medicare, Medical and Veteran Affairs benefits.

The Ice Bucket Challenge

The Ice Bucket Challenge began in June in the US and the original rules are; if you are nominated you have 24 hours to dump a bucket of iced-water over your head and donate $10 to ALS research., you then get to nominate three more people to take part. The video is shared on social media (usually Facebook). If you choose not to do the ice bucket, you must donate $100 to ALS research. The rules have varied from country to country. Some people are donating to a charity of their choice rather than ALS.

TONS of celebrities have jumped on board and played a key role in making this such a huge campaign. And there have been so many funny and creative ones keeping the momentum going.

The Debate

Having worked as a fundraiser in a few different environments, my experience is that the general public is living in a state of willful ignorance( some may call it bliss…..). Our media loves to use scare tactics, and shock value and we have become exhausted and apathetic to a lot of it. In saying that, when confronted with a worthy cause, people’s innate goodness becomes apparent and most have a genuine desire to do good. I worked for an NGO in Brisbane talking to people about donating all day long for months and 80% of people were interested, heart-broken and genuinely moved by the horrible facts. And most of them agreed that we should all be doing a little bit more.

Facebook, and social networks in general are built around narcissism and self promotion. Look at how good I look, I’m on an awesome vacation, here is my cute baby or my cute dog, here are 1000 examples of my cooking skills, here are my gorgeous friends, my nights out, my house etc etc (I am guilty of most of these for sure). Campaigns like this use that to shed light on their cause, and it’s effective. Social networking is a powerful tool, and I see no harm in using it for good every once in a while instead of the usual stream of cat videos and Buzzfeed quizzes (I’m also guilty of these). I know that some people think we should all donate quietly and not have any glory but, why not look at it from a different angle. Its not about “glory” its about spreading the message! the more people who watch, the more people who donate. Then its not only your $10 but also the people who you have inspired or motivated to do the same. If you don’t tell them, they will just spend their time scrolling through mindless crap all day. I was one of the first to criticize The “no make-up selfie” but then learned that it raised millions for breast cancer awareness. I am well aware that not everyone who posts a video or selfie is putting their money where their mouth is, but enough to raise millions that wouldn’t have otherwise been raised, do.

There are so many ways in which we get caught up in our own lives and the stresses of the daily grind that it is easy not to think of the suffering of others. And we need to be reminded. What better way to do that than our beloved cell phones and tablets? The element of fun makes it more appealing AND we don’t have to endure the “emotional porn”. (I will be writing another post about that very soon so watch this space…..).  I think the days of “oh look at this poor unfortunate soul” have been worn out.

However, there is no such thing as a perfect fundraiser. In the case of the Ice Bucket Challenge, the main issues I  have seen people have are concerns about wasting water, and the fact that ALS research still uses animal testing.

First of all, to the people who point out these negatives right away and totally dismiss the campaign as a result, I would like to ask you a few questions. Do you know how many other medical research projects use animal testing? Do you use make-up or cleaning products that have been tested on animals? Do you eat meat that comes from factory farms? Do you wear leather? Or, are you just looking for a reason to hate this style of fundraising?

Do you have a pool? Water your plants? Have long showers? Or again, are you just looking for a way to judge this challenge?

I am not dismissing these concerns at all, they are very valid. I have just seen a lot of comments that look more like “haters” than legitimate concern or constructive criticism.

On the flipside, I have also seen people use sea water, or pool water in place of clean drinking water and I have seen one or two people donate to water sanitation programmes in addition to their ALS donation. See? Constructive criticism is a good thing and helps improvement!

As for animal testing, that is a more complicated issue and one that I do not know enough to comment much on. I think animal testing is awful and disgusting and I regularly Google products to see if they are testing on animals so that I can make informed decisions about my purchases. I encourage everyone to do the same. I really hope that we can make more headway in that area and I’m glad that it has been pointed out. As far as I know, other research projects have moved on to more sophisticated and cruelty-free testing methods, and here’s hoping with all that extra money ALS research will be able to follow suit.

Every cause/charity gets its 15mins. It’s always something different being highlighted in the media. Some more often than others, and that is the nature of the beast. Constructive criticism is healthy and helps improve fundraising campaigns but I think that it is a little bit easy to focus on the negatives rather than the positives. This challenge is fantastic for ALS and it’s not really doing any damage to other causes. Maybe some people will choose ALS this year for their donation budget who would have supported something different last year. That already happens. Unfortunately, all causes are constantly competing for funds.

Indigogo Crowfunding page is LIVE!!!

I am very excited to announce that our crowdfunding page went live this morning!!

Please support these wonderful girls!

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We have set a target of US$20000 (half of the yearly budget). The campaign ends January 30th.

Please contribute, any amount great or small will make a difference and bring us closer to achieving our goal. Please share our page with everyone you know and spread the good word.

http://igg.me/p/601997

Thank you from everyone at The Shelter Collection and from me 😀

 

Making Your Time As A Volunteer Count

Aid work, volunteering, development are very complex subjects. At the end of the day, we all have the same goal- to eradicate extreme poverty and to improve the lives of the disadvantaged and vulnerable. If you are thinking about donating or volunteering, you want to know that you are maximising your money and time.

I recently heard the term “voluntourist”. When I first volunteered in Asia 5 years ago, I was on my way to Australia for a working holiday and wanted to travel SE Asia but was a little nervous to go alone. Volunteering was a great option for me at the time; I met fantastic people, saw things off the beaten track, did something worthwhile and had a great time doing it. I didn’t do nearly as much research last time and from what I have seen, most people who volunteer have a similar story. However, as I have gained more experience and knowledge of the complexities of international development, my ideas about volunteering have changed. Of course, I want to see as much of Vietnam (my current location) as I can in my free time, and get a good understanding of their culture and people but what is much more important to me is that I would like my time in Saigon to have a lasting effect. I would like to start something, or contribute to something that can continue, and grow. The people of Vietnam deserve long term solutions to poverty and sustainable projects. That’s not to say that short term volunteer work doesn’t work, of course it does, but there are many important things to consider. I am here for three months; some people come for longer, some for less time. The amount of time you spend here really matters when you choose what kind of work you do.  One of the most important things to consider if you are thinking about volunteering is you skills and expertise. What can you share?

I recently met two girls here in Saigon for six months, volunteering at an orphanage. I asked them what they do. They said their main role was to care for the children, to play with them and to help the younger kids with them with basic things like changing diapers and feeding time. My immediate thought was, when you leave it will be devastating for the kids who you leave behind. Six months is a pretty long time, especially for very young children and if you are their primary care-giver, they will bond with you very quickly. And then you leave. Then, most likely, someone else comes for one, or two, or six months and another bond is formed. Then another adult who loved and cared from them leaves. It is not fair to the children. As orphans or children who were abandoned by their parents, who may have even suffered abuse, they probably already have issues with trusting adults, and will eventually build up walls and stop trying to get close to people. This is something that devastates me. Children need stability, they need routine, and they need people in their lives who will not leave them after a short time. Now, I’m not suggesting, we all drop our lives and go live in Vietnam, but what I am saying, is that volunteers need to be utilized more effectively and in a way that will not be counterproductive. The permanent, Vietnamese staff should be the primary care givers, the ones who form bonds and trust with the children and the volunteers should have different roles. Maybe a volunteer can be teacher who comes an hour a day, or a couple of times a week, or even a little more often, but in such a way that when they leave, the kids still have their main caregiver and they don’t have their routine upended. So, if an orphanage volunteer placement is something you would like to do, please ask the management about this so that you know you are going an institution who has the children s best interests and welfare at the heart of what they do. An amazing example of this is Allambie, a place where orphans have a real home, and a family. (see my previous post, and their website, www.allambie.co.uk )

Teaching English is just one way to help. As long as the children are getting Vietnamese lessons and a balanced schedule, then teaching is English is great. It will definitely help them to get better jobs. But, I really feel that NGO’s and charities need to take on teachers with TEFL certs, or experience. Or lacking that, you should have to perform a demo, or be able to show your pre-planned lessons so that it is clear you can do the job well. The thing about teaching English is that it must be built up to and will only be effective when the basic needs of the children/adults have already been met. So, if you are planning to teach English, you must consider whether the organization you choose has already built that up. The people they are helping are healthy, they have food and shelter and stability. Then education is the next step. Of course, just chatting to them in English is also effective so they will likely learn some from you regardless of the type of work you are doing.

If you don’t think teaching is suitable for you, think about your talents and interests as this can be a fantastic way to volunteer! Art projects, I have seen amazing projects set up by artists, photographers and dancers. The sense of pride that one feels when they finish a project and can show it off is such an amazing confidence builder. Art classes, dance class, small performances, these are also creating happy memories and wonderful ways to share your talents. This is a perfect option for short term volunteers and many NGO’s will ask whether you have specific talents you would like to share.

This is an example of what I mean! It is a parody of Gangnam Style done by performed by 160 children from the slums of Phenom Phen. I love it!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pUYda59wcQ&feature=share&list=UUcwQOn4ggwW6jjmSuQTn7MQ

Also, along these lines is sport. Kids love to play sport and a short term sport camp would be an amazing experience for children. It’s great exercise and a lot of fun.

IT and social media is another area where volunteers can make a big difference. Most office staff in NGO’s are so busy they don’t have the time or know-how to keep their websites updated. Teaching the staff how to use the internet effectively, how to update blogs and websites will help keep their organisation in the lime light.

Fundraising and event planning is another excellent way to make a real difference.. Fundraising and event planning can be done both from your home country, and wherever you volunteer. If you have experience in sales and marketing, PR, customer service or event planning at home, this is the perfect way for you to make a real difference! NGO’s and projects will always need more money, and this way you can use the skills you already have to help them, you can also teach locals and staff the basics so they can continue after you leave. The aim of development is to enable the locals to help themselves.

Volunteers play an integral role in the survival of development projects and do amazing work. My aim is to just help potential volunteers to choose the right project, to maximize their efforts and to avoid any counterproductive activities.

Allambie Orphanage

Allambie Orphanage

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Last Thursday I got to visit Allambie for dinner to meet and hang out with the kids. It was one of my favourite moments in Saigon and I left feeling so inspired and even more passionate about finding and sharing information about the people here doing amazing things.

Abandoned as baby in Vietnam, founder Suzanne Hook was rescued by some English nurses from an orphanage in Saigon and taken back to the UK where she was adopted. As an adult, she started visiting Vietnam to volunteer and in 2010 made the life changing decision to give up her life in London and move to Vietnam permanently. Saddened by how badly run many of the orphanages here are run, and how bleak the lives of the children living there were, she was determined to show the Vietnamese that it can be done another way. Rather than being institutionalized, Suzanne wanted these children to have a home, and a family. She sold her house and car and set off for Saigon where she set up her own orphanage, Allambie.

Every night the family sit down to dinner together, mobiles are banned and they talk about their day. It was such a lovely experience to be part of that, and to see how close they all are. The kids are great, and after dinner we all sat down to play Uno and card games. Chuyen even taught me how to do a magic trick!

Allambie is a registered UK charity and has strict policies for their volunteers, everyone must provide a CRB form (criminal records bureau) or their countries equivalent. They mostly meet Suzanne first and then if she feels they would be a good fit, they are invited for dinner to meet the kids and hang out. I think it is such an important process. Many orphanages in Vietnam have volunteers come and go, which gives the children no sense of routine or stability. With other organisations you can come for a week, a month, maybe six and then leave again. These children form bonds with people, who then leave. Eventually, they will build up a wall and stop becoming close to people. I intend to go into this subject in more detail in another post soon. The beauty of Allambie, is that they have a stable family, Suzanne and the other children. The house is full of love and they all have a routine. Volunteers are essential in helping to keep everything running smoothly, but when they leave the kids still have their family and that makes a world of difference.

I can’t express how much admiration I have for Suzanne and what she has done here in Saigon. Stories like this are exactly why I am here, why I want to work in development and why I want to share it with you all!

http://www.allambie.co.uk/

The Little Rose Warm Shelter

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I first learned about Little Rose through a friend that I met in Taiwan. I was telling her about my plans to volunteer in Saigon and she recommended them as a reputable charity doing a great job.

Sexual abuse of young girls in South East Asia is a huge problem, and Vietnam is no exception. The Little Rose Shelter, established in 1992, is a safe place for young girls who have been victims of abuse. Here they can go to school, learn English, learn real skills to help them get better jobs and most importantly, feel safe and secure. There is a huge focus on helping these girls recover mentally and physically from the horrors they have faced, and rebuilding their confidence.

This documentary was made by a volunteer who was at The Little Rose Shelter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGCBxFHIN2Q

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After a few attempts to get in touch I was finally able to visit the director Mai and discuss volunteering. We had a conversation about what they needed and how I could help. My main role will be as a fundraiser, which am really excited about! I have done fundraising before, in Taiwan and Australia and have been brainstorming ideas and researching for the past couple of weeks.

I also teach English to some of the adult staff twice a week, which is going really well. They are very eager to improve their English and I feel it will be in invaluable for them when dealing with new volunteers, or potential sponsors. I dont have much direct contact with the girls, as the volunteers who work directly with them need to be properly qualified  but I do see them going about their daily chores, cooking, homework, all the normal stuff. They are sweet girls and always greet me with a smile and a few phrases in English.

I hope to also help the office staff to keep their websites up to date so that future volunteer and benefactors can keep up with the goings on at Little Rose, and so that Little Rose is always in the front of peoples minds.

I met with a fundraiser from the Danish Vietnamese Association the other day and we had a great talk about Little Rose. I hope to be involved in some upcoming fundraising events and feel as though I will learn a lot from him. Big things coming up in the near future!!

a mural done by some of the girls
a mural done by some of the girls

Volunteering with Saigon Helping Hands

As soon as I landed in Saigon, I found a volunteer group on Facebook, “Saigon Helping Hands”. They are a Saigon based group of volunteers who do lots of different events and fundraisers in the city. They are mostly young people who work and like to volunteer in their free time.We met at 7.30am at the zoo and set off from there. I was a bit surprised to learn it was a 90min drive into the countryside since all the previous info was in Vietnamese !!! The weather was better than it has been since I got here though, and the drive was gorgeous.

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We arrived at around 9 at Ben San Leprosy Village. I was unaware, before doing this, that leprosy was even still such a big problem. I did a little research and here are a few things I learned.

-Leprosy is a chronic disease caused by a bacillus.

-Official figures show that more than 213, 000 people mainly in Asia and Africa are infected, with approximately 249, 000 new cases reported in 2008.

-M. leprae multiplies very slowly and the incubation period of the disease is about five years. Symptoms can take as long as 20 years to appear.

-Leprosy is not highly infectious. It is transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contacts with untreated cases.

-Untreated, leprosy can cause progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. Early diagnosis and treatment with multidrug therapy (MDT) remain the key elements in eliminating the disease as a public health concern.

-Body parts can become numb or diseased as a result of secondary infections; these occur as a result of the body’s defenses being compromised by the primary disease.Secondary infections, in turn, can result in tissue loss causing fingers and toes to become shortened and deformed, as cartilage is absorbed into the body.

-In 1995, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that between 2 and 3 million people were permanently disabled because of leprosy at that time.In the past 20 years, 15 million people worldwide have been cured of leprosy.

-Leprosy has affected humanity for over 4,000 years,and was recognized in the civilizations of ancient ChinaEgypt and India.Although the forced quarantine or segregation of patients is unnecessary in places where adequate treatments are available, many leper colonies still remain around the world in countries such as India(where there are still more than 1,000 leper colonies),China,and Japan.Leprosy was once believed to be highly contagious and was treated with mercury—all of which applied to syphilis, which was first described in 1530. It is possible that many early cases thought to be leprosy could actually have been syphilis. The age-old social stigma[15] associated with the advanced form of leprosy lingers in many areas, and remains a major obstacle to self-reporting and early treatment. Effective treatment first appeared in the late 1940s. Resistance has developed to initial treatment. It was not until the introduction of MDT in the early 1980s that the disease could be diagnosed and treated successfully within the community.

There are 150 children at the village, some who are sick and some who are there because their parents or guardians are sick.

Mid-Autum Festival is celebrated in Vietnam next weekend and is regarded as a children’s holiday, not unlike Halloween at home. So, this event was set up to make sure these kids get to celebrate the holiday too! We set up 15 stations for them, each station had a game. My station was fishing, they had a long bamboo stick with a fishing line and hook on the bottom and they had to scoop up a fish from here.

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Each fish had a number on the bottom. Each kid had a piece of paper, and their points for each game were recorded on here. When they had tried all the games, they took their paper to the prize station and claimed their prizes. The volunteers brought lots of moon cakes, iced tea and sushi for snacks and they got colourful lanterns to take home for the festival this weekend.

This Grandma was playing all the games for her grandchild.

This Grandma was playing all the games for her grandchild.

I had so much fun, the kids absolutely love the games. They thought I was very strange though, and only the older ones could understand that I didn’t speak Vietnamese. There was a lot of staring but I did make two very good buddies. These two were at my station over and over again and always got me to play with them!

My besties!

The kids went home around 12 and the volunteers sat down to a delicious home cooked meal prepared by some women at the centre.

All the volunteers from Saigon Helping Hands were fantastic! The were really friendly and I hope that I get the chance to work with them again during my stay here in Saigon.

IMG_0058Sugarcane juice

IMG_0053Some kids collecting their prizes