Suzanne Theurer - Occupational Therapy in Vietnam
Arriving in Vietnam
I remember stepping out of Hanoi airport into the dry heat, after travelling for about 18 hours. Despite the fact that I was exhausted, I was relieved to finally be there! I travelled for about to reach my accommodation and remember staring out the car window being captivated by what was going on around me.
There were mopeds everywhere with people commuting to work. Some mopeds carried 3 or 4 passengers at once, or the equivalent of 4 people in boxes. There were also horns constantly hooting, and I was shocked at being surrounded by this organised chaos. I remember being in disbelief at where I was. It was so different from home but I was also extremely excited about what was to come.
My Accommodation in Vietnam
After being picked up from the airport, I was then taken to my accommodation which was in the city centre of Hanoi. I was housed with several other volunteers who were from different parts of the world, which was an amazing experience. The accommodation was only a 10 minute taxi drive away from the old quarter where there were markets, restaurants and shops. I only stayed in the volunteer house at weekends because my project was about an hour out of Hanoi.
I stayed in a volunteer room, on site of my accommodation, with other volunteers on the project. The accommodation was very basic but the other volunteers were great company and it was insightful to live in a Vietnamese community and experience their way of life.
My Occupational Therapy Project
My Occupation Therapy placement was in the Thuy An Rehabilitation Centre for children with physical and learning disabilities. Some children were from the third generation and were affected by Agent Orange; a herbicide that was used by the U.S Military in the Vietnam War. The consequences of Agent Orange were typically physical deformities and/or learning disabilities.
Unfortunately, occupational therapy is not as well recognised in Vietnam as it is in the West. During my placement I experienced some language barriers as I only knew basic Vietnamese, and also the Vietnamese staff and children knew very little English. However, after using my initiative and other forms of communication I was able to combat this and still be able to work on my project.
My role mainly consisted of working, one-on-one, with children who had Cerebral Palsy. I focused on improving their function in day to day activities such as play and self-care. I also played with the children during the day and helped feed some of the less abled children at lunch and dinner.
As I spent so much time with the children, I developed a bond with many of them. It was very emotional and difficult to leave the placement. However, I was also happy to know that I had made a difference on these children’s lives, and was grateful to be able to get to know these fabulous and brave children.
Travelling Around Vietnam
After an emotional goodbye to the Thuy An Rehabilitation Centre, I started my travels from the north to the south of Vietnam! I began my travels in Sapa where I went trekking in the mountains, spent a night with a Vietnamese host family and tried the Vietnamese rice wine, otherwise known as ‘Happy Wine!’
Along the way from my trip down to Ho Chi Minh City, I managed to do a lot of thrilling activities such as quad biking on sand dunes, scuba diving, para-sailing and saw a lot of fascinating cultural sights.
I met a lot of amazing people along the way, from all over the world, and it was often quite saddening to say goodbye to these people who I only got to know for a short time. I learnt so much along the way.
It was definitely an unforgettable experience! The project has given me confidence in my own ability and has also given me great insight into what I want out of my future career.
I would have loved to have spent some more time in Vietnam to see more of the beautiful country and meet more of their generous and kind people. I hope to be back in Vietnam soon.
Hẹn sớm gặp lại (see you soon)!
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Programme Advisors.