My Vietnam Experience - By Lilli Cummins


As I crossed hemispheres and came to terms with a dramatic temperature change I faced one last task after my abroad tour, the dreaded re-telling of my travels, visits and life changing experiences. Mostly, I relished the opportunity for story time but I was deeply offended when people asked me how my “holiday was”. Simply because it wasn’t a holiday, it was volunteering in stinking humidity, surrounded by the constant repairing of water filtration systems, coated in a resin of developing world poverty and an unexpected mixture of joy and heartbreak . It sounds quite dramatic, but I fear you may not understand without context.

There were three key experiences that made an impression on me. One happened to be on my first morning. I arrived at the social support centre to complete physiotherapy of a 9 year old boy with hydrocephalus. I was confused by language barriers, misunderstood by staff and my lack of skill was evident given I do a communications degree. However, this was the most rewarding day as I am very rarely challenged. I sat with this boy for an hour; he was motionless and only understood his name, Huy. I sat with him and massaged his head while I thought of the things he could be doing, my sister is 7 and she has seen more of the world than this boy ever will, but I was helping him. I suddenly realised I knew no one with this level of disability back home and that made me upset. The experience taught me to understand and communicate with those who are not blessed with the opportunity. It humbled me and showed me the greatest joys can be found in the transfer of human emotion and affection.

The second experience was with a young Down syndrome boy with one hand. Often distracted and tired, Khuong battled with me over the entrance to a swimming pool. He pulled my hair, scratched, kicked, screamed and on purpose or accident, spewed on me. I did not give up and I sang him to a near sleep while we went deeper in the water. Khuong showed me that the best reward comes from perseverance and an eagerness to try, a drive to strive for the best outcome and a willingness to bend for another person’s comfort. I believe I am less selfish now.

The third experience was at the Red Cross babies’ home. A small child held on to me dear upon my first visit. Unaware if the child was female or male, I connected through song. What matter is gender, or age or stinking weather when a child’s grip is so firm you know they never want to let go? My time spent with this little girl reminded me of my childhood sitting on a veranda waiting for my father to come. Unfortunately, some parents don’t come back for their children. I realised that a child is precious and their time is spent teaching adults to be calm, to be accepting and to be so loving. My western vanity and ridiculous drive to a financial shark was reduced to almost nothing. I learnt I did not want to work for money; I want to use my skills for those who don’t have education, and who haven’t been taught how to run a business. I learnt my future is to help others with skills I have learnt in my degree. Overall my experience, though emotional, was the best I could have dreamed. I felt comfortable and challenged, emotional and accepted and loved by a community I can hardly pronounce the name of. I passionately believe my time was spent well and the Vietnamese assistants made my stay on of the greatest joys I have had.

Thanks to Volunteer Vietnam, Deakin and the Global student I now realise I want to work in a developing country. Have you found figured out your dream yet?