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 woman 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.

 

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Why Volunteer?

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As a serial volunteer I get asked, often, “why do you volunteer? What do you get out of it?”

Mostly, volunteering is a way for me to put my beliefs and values into action. I have always given to charity but I do not have much to give so the impact I make is fairly small. However, I do have free time and skills I can offer and that’s how I can make a much bigger difference.

The benefits of volunteering are incredible and many not for profits could not exist without volunteers. Volunteering is a great way to get experience in a particular area of work. It is an excellent way to meet new people and some of my best friends and favourite people are people I met while volunteering. It can look brilliant on your CV or university application. Whatever your motivation, get out there and do some volunteer work. You will not be sorry!!

Whereas some of the bigger NGOs can afford to pay all their full time staff, they still need volunteers to fundraise and become involved in campaigns and projects. Many smaller NGOs rely more heavily on volunteers, some operating 100% on volunteers.

There are so many ways in you can volunteer your time and talents. You can volunteer overseas and at home. From walking dogs who live in a pet shelter, to doing a charity run, using your expertise to advise and consult (IT advise is a great example of this). You can get out in your community and plant trees, clean up public areas. You can volunteer at hospitals, support helplines. You can get involved in sports clubs and even local government. The list is endless, and there are so many fun options!(for more information on the types of volunteer work you can do overseas, see my article “Making Your Time as a Volunteer Count“)

International Volunteer Day is December 2013. Whether its an hour, and afternoon, a weekend, or longer, get out there and do some volunteer work!!!

Trafficking in Asia: Modern Day Slavery

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The Little Rose Shelter helps girls who have been sexually abused or trafficked, or who were in high risk situations. I wanted to research trafficking in Vietnam to see how big the problem is. What I found was pretty shocking. Human trafficking is the third most profitable illegal activity, right after drugs and arms dealing, and business is booming.

The Facts

-An estimated 2.5 million people are in forced labour (including sexual exploitation) at any given time as a result of trafficking

56% are in Asia and the Pacific

10% are in Latin America and the Carribbean

9.2% are in the Middle East and Northern Africa

5.4% are in sub-Saharan countries

10.8% are in industrialised countries

8% are in transition in countries

-161 countries are affected by trafficking

-the majority of victims of trafficking are between 18-24 years old

-an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year

-95% of victims experienced physical and/or sexual violence during trafficking

-43% of victims are used for forced commercial exploitation, of whom 98% are women and girls

-32% are used for forced economic exploitation, of whom 56% are women and girls

-In 46% of cases, the victims knew their trafficker

-Estimated global annual profits made from human trafficking are US$31.6 billion

-In 2006 there were only 5,808 prosecutions and 3,160 convictions worldwide. This means that for every 800 people trafficked, only one person was convicted.

(data from UN)

Trafficking in Vietnam

Vietnam is known as a “source country” for women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation and labour. This means the women are “sourced” here and then exported to other countries. They are often trafficked to China, Cambodia and other surrounding countries. Some men and women actually migrate willingly and legally for work and subsequently face forced labor and debt bondage. “Domestic trafficking” is also a huge problem in Vietnam, where victims are lured from their rural towns into the city in hopes of a job which will enable them to send money home to their families. Vietnam is also a destination country for Cambodian children trafficked for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Vietnam, as well as many South East Asian countries is fast becoming a popular destination for pedophiles, with from all around the world coming here.

Between 2004 and 2009, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) reported nearly 3,000 Vietnamese victims of human trafficking.Traffickers prey on the poorest and most desperate of families, they sell them promises of money, jobs, and a better life and parents send their children with them clinging to the hope that their children will have a better life than they did. Traffickers are skilled liars, and they know how desperate these people are to believe.

Unfortunately, the government response has been to  focus on “awareness” rather than more action on the ground actually rescuing trafficking victims. So many organisations consider this kind of rescue work too dangerous. The result being that many kids remain to be held hostage in factories and brothels.

Someone who IS on the ground, is Michael Brosowski who runs Blue Dragon, an NGO based in Hanoi that has rescued more than 300 kids from trafficking since their doors opened in 2005.Once rescued, they are brought to the Blue Dragon centre to speak with a social worker. They are provided with a place to stay, food and access to education and training. Michael originally came to Vietnam to teach English but quickly recognised the plight of street kids and wanted to help so he set up his own NGO. Blue Dragon has become very well know in Vietnam due to their hands on approach and phenomenal results. In a short number of years, they have sent 2,686 kids back to school and training, provided accommodation to 153 girls and boys and so much more. To read more about Michael and the Blue Dragon you can check out their website, http://www.bluedragon.org.

Weapons of Mass Production: Volunteering with Green Youth Collective

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Yesterday (Sunday) I volunteered in District 9 with Youth Green Collective. It was so nice to get out of the city and get some fresh air. The land is tucked away inside a small Vietnamese village with plenty of coconut trees, banana trees and right on the Dong Nai river.

Green Youth Collective is a small, non-profit with the goal of creating awareness and interest in green and sustainable products and practices in Saigon. Ultimately, the aim of the business is to train local disadvantaged youths to assemble, install, and maintain green roofs, vertical and container gardens.

Their first project however, is a plot of land in district 9, which they will use as their headquarters and for training. “GYC has realized that for all we hope to accomplish, we need a large space to carry out our experiments, demonstrate our products, and educate our future employees. The land in D9 is 6000 square meters, and will be our education center for hands-on learning.This will be a space designed to inspire the youth and anyone who comes to visit. We envision hosting both local and international courses in areas such as permaculture, natural building, natural product making, design, organic gardening, meditation, yoga, traditional crafts, or whatever area someone is motivated to host a course in. The Green Youth will also be trained here, so for a few months before they begin their job of installing our products, they will get hands on experience with the soil, seeds, building, maintaining, planning and designing.”

This is what some of the plans look like;

https://www.facebook.com/notes/green-youth-collective/things-to-do-at-the-d9-land/566962910007352

Its a really interesting and exciting project. I will be really curious to see how things are going in a month, three months, even six months down the line when I am back in Taipei!

Progress so far…..

handwash station

handwash station

two clay stoves have almost been finished

two clay stoves have almost been finished

banana tress have been planted around the shower but while they are growing, coconut leaf walls has been put up for shade and privacy

banana tress have been planted around the shower but while they are growing, coconut leaf walls has been put up for shade and privacy

shower floor

shower floor

some beds have been made but nothing has been planted just yet

some beds have been made but nothing has been planted just yet

Imagine the delicious meals you can cook when the all the raw materials you need are growing right in your kitchen!

Yesterday, we started to make the compost heap.

clear the patch and put up post around the edge

clear the patch and put up post around the edge

I forgot to take a picture of the first layer, which was dry sticks and branches to keep the compost a little off the ground and let air circulate.

green leaves

green leaves

a little lime

next: a layer of brown leaves

cow dung mixed with water goes on top.

Then repeat! We covered the compost heap with coconut leaves to keep the heat in.

I hope to get out to district 9 again before I leave at the end of this month. Watch this space………

Street Kids in Vietnam

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Traveling and volunteering in SE Asia, you will frequently come across street kids.

Every night on Bui Vien street two little boys breathe fire for tips, tiny little girls sell chewing gum as their mothers or older sisters watch from the road urging them to smile and entertain the drunken tourists giving them a peck on the cheek or a high five. They are being trained at a young age to give rich westerners whatever they want so you get paid. Its sickening and heartbreaking to watch.

A couple of evenings ago, I was sitting at a street restaurant drinking a beer and having dinner when a little boy came over begging. I always say no to street sellers and beggars, especially those with young kids, or kids themselves. This kid accepted that right away and then hopped on a scooter to chat! One of the other guys at the table played hakey sack with him and helped him practice his numbers in English. Then he went back to his perch on the scooter for a rest. A woman came out to mover her scooter. The kid jumped off the scooter they were getting out and straight into my lap. An eleven year old boy. I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable and as if it was completely inappropriate but I also knew this kid trusted me and just wanted some affection. 11 years old can mean many different things in different cultures and social groups, but this was a child, a young child, only concerned with playing games and having fun. He was clearly tired, and homeless. He told me in broken English “no mama, no daddy”. That was all I knew of his circumstance. I have no idea how long he has been on the street, how he survives, who he answers to, what his living conditions are but it was obvious that his childhood innocence was still intact. I asked the lady running the restaurant if she knew him, she said no and then spoke in Vietnamese to him. He quickly hopped up and left, disappeared into the crowd.

I can’t help but feel like I should have done something to help, but I don’t even know where I would begin!

Kids end up on the street for many reasons. They run away from abusive parents/guardians. They migrate from rural areas to get a job and send money home. Some are orphans. Some come to the city looking for a better life and fall through the cracks.

Street kids are some of the most vulnerable people in our societies. They are often taken advantage of by adults, especially adults who offer to take care of them. Many become shoe-shine boys or sell sunglasses, lighters and even drugs. But none of these items yield a high profit and some boys will end up selling themselves, maybe begin to take drugs themselves or drink alcohol. A study released at a conference in Hanoi  said that virtually all street children in HCMC (92.5 percent) have been victims of sexual abuse. The study also found that 98.3 percent of street children in the city have used substances like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, heroin, meth, adhesive, or even gasoline at least once. As tourists, we see these kids and want to hep but the worst thing you can do is give them money. If they beg and make money, there is no incentive for them to go to school. They will eventually grow up and people are less willing to give older kids/adults money. Parents and “caretakers” will purposely use the youngest, sick or cutest kids to go and beg because people are more inclined to give money to them. The important thing to remember, is that begging is not a behaviour that should be encouraged. If you want to help, eat at restaurants that hire street kids or donate money to rehabilitation centres for trafficked kids. 

There are some fantastic organisations here in Saigon, and all over Vietnam who help street kids, give them a home and training. According to The Street Educators’ Club, the number of street children in Vietnam shrunk from 21,000 in 2003 to 8,000 in 2007. However, despite the success, there are still so many kids out there in need of help. This week Vietnam greeted its 90 millionth citizen into the world!

If you would like to donate, volunteer or learn more about street kids in Vietnam here are three great non-profits giving hope to former street kids. With your support, they can continue to do great work and help even more kids in need.

http://www.bluedragon.org/   http://www.sheltercollection.org/     http://www.sozocentre.com/

Read more;

http://www.thanhniennews.com/index/pages/20131009-vietnam-study-urges-help-to-keep-street-kids-from-sex-abuse-drugs.aspx

http://crs.org/vietnam/getting-vietnams-kids-off-the-street/

The Damage done by Orphange Tourism

Orphanage Tourism is something I have wanted to talk about for a while.

Recently, Unicef and Friends International have launched a new child safety campaign and it is EXACTLY what I am talking about;

Children Are Not Tourist Attractions.

Unicef

It is a very powerful image and is being promoted heavily, I hope that it will help create awareness of this disturbing trend, and deter potential travelers from part taking in the exploitation of children.

I first experienced “orphanage tourism” when volunteering in Cambodia in 2008 and since learned that the problem has been rapidly growing since then. So called “orphanages” are popping up all over Cambodia, with an estimated 600 currently, and only 21 of these run by the government. And while Cambodia is without doubt the leader in this huge problem, it exists all over South East Asia. I was sad, but not surprised, to learn that is also becoming a booming business here in Vietnam.

I recently read this great article focusing on orphanage tourism in Cambodia, written by a fellow volunteer and blogger.

Orphanage tourism:

What usually happens?

Orphanage tourism can mean visiting an orphanage for a few hours as part of scheduled tour that also includes sightseeing. People read to, play with and photograph the children before hopping back on their bus for the next “life-changing” experience.

Whats the harm?

Most orphanages rely entirely on donations from rich, Western tourists. In so many cases, directors keep children looking dirty and malnourished in order to gain more sympathy, and of course, more money. By donating, tourist’s are merely lining the pockets of the management, and in the worst case scenarios, fueling abuse. Neglecting to properly vet volunteers also leaves the children vulnerable to sexual abuse. Though the (completely misguided) goal is to help, volunteers sometimes confuse their own experiences with that of the children. The emphasis is placed on the volunteer’s emotional response, rather than the effectiveness of the help itself. The “feel-good” factor. In reality, no child benefits from spending intimate time with a total stranger, especially those who are uneducated in social work and education.

In most developed countries this would be a clear violation of children’s rights and there are laws to protect them from such exploitation. Children in developing countries are no different from those in the developed world. They should be afforded the same basic rights.

‘Ask yourself whether a similar situation would be allowed in your own country: busloads of tourists pouring into a children’s home for fleeting visits, being allowed to interact with and photograph the children? No it wouldn’t,’ said Ngo Menghourng, the Cambodia communications officer for the NGO Friends International.

Though Lonely Planet does provide some very good information on how to spot and avoid these types of places , it also has a “Do’s and Don’t of Orphange Tourism” list. My list would be much smaller.

Don’t.

I came across this article in the Sydney Morning Herald while researching for this:

“Orphanage tourism provides a feel good moment but a lifetime of regret. by Jen Vuc”

It is an article written by an Australian woman who, when on holiday in Vietnam, visited one of these orphanages with her husband and children.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/orphanage-tourism-provides-a-feelgood-moment-but-a-lifetime-of-regret-20130721-2qcgm.html#ixzz2iVit9oIS

This story, in typical fashion, starts out with great intentions. Jen and her husband wanted to teach their children the very valuable lesson that they are fortunate and many of the the worlds children are not. They left with a feeling of unease and looked back at their visit as more of a hindrance than a help.

If you would like to help orphanages in Vietnam but don’t have time to volunteer, cash donations or donations in kind are the most practical. They will always need things like, diapers, bottles, blankets, school supplies, etc. Many tech-savvy organisations will have a list on their website, or you can call and ask what they need. With a little research and pre-planning, your good intentions can actually yield good results.

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.

Fishing!IMG_0038

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