Editor’s note:The story is authored by Ray Kuschert, an Australian who has lived in Ho Chi Minh City for nearly ten years.
If you come from any Western country, the idea of 'charity' is very different from what you can expect in Vietnam. This country holds the concept of giving much closer to its heart, with helping the poor being deeply entrenched in the cultural fabric of this caring society. And if you want to get involved and make a difference, it is actually much easier than you think.
Whether it is young children living in orphanages, the disadvantaged or old people, the developing economy of Vietnam has a structure that allows people to help those in need. Littered across the country are privately run orphanages and homes, poor villages in far out regional communities and groups of people that really need help just to survive.
In many Western countries, such as Australia, charity usually involves the act of giving money to an organization that is paid to distribute items to those most in need. Some examples of this include flood victims, fire victims, and the homeless. But in Vietnam, these organizations don’t have the same position and it is more likely that giving will include personal involvement and the experience of handing goods directly to those most in need, and it feels amazing when you do it.
A typical charity event is usually held on a weekend. Money is collected by the organizers of the group, which you may be able to help. They accept donations from anywhere and 100% of the money raised is usually given directly to those in need, unlike Western countries. The group organizers usually have a list of food items that is most in need and some of the money will be used to purchase the items to take to the needy, with the remainder handed over in cash.
When you join a charity group, you will most likely be invited to join the bus trip to the countryside. They often start very early. You may spend 30 minutes or so loading the bus with all the boxes of noodles, soy sauce, nuoc mam (fish sauce), and other food items. Then you are off on the ride to the place you are supporting. These places may be anywhere in regional Vietnam so your trip can be from an hour to more than one day.
On arrival, you will be welcomed by everyone in the village/orphanage. If it’s an orphanage, the kids will come out to greet you. At locations run by the Buddhists and Catholics, the leaders will come and welcome you into their home and offer you tea or a drink.
After unloading the goods and playing with the children/meeting the poor, you will have a small ceremony and officially hand over the donated goods. This is followed by a meal or snack. It will vary according to the location, time of the day, and the community you are visiting.
Whilst it is always an amazing experience to be involved in such a charitable event, there are some rules and procedures that need to be followed. Firstly, don’t try and do it yourself. Local people and Vietnamese are well informed about local rules and laws regarding charity, so it is much better to join with a group. For example, it is a requirement for your event to be registered with the local committee and as an expat, this would be a very difficult task. It is much easier to have an experienced group deal with the processes and allow you more time to just experience the pleasure of giving.
Also, don’t do anything too big or too loud. Charity in Vietnam is done quietly and politely. One bus loaded with food and 30 to 40 people is the normal activity here. It is rare to find large trucks transporting goods. So, remember to be respectful to the local community and share your charity quietly and politely.
Here in Vietnam, charity is greatly appreciated and needed right across the country. Not only is it beneficial to the poor but I promise you that you will take so much from the experience. It really is a life-changing moment for most expats that support local charity groups.
The best way to get involved is to ask Vietnamese colleagues and friends. They will know someone who is part of a group or they may be able to start a group at your work or social group. Just don’t try to do it yourself because you need the knowledge and contacts to successfully complete a charity event.
In the past 10 years, I have attended countless events from as far west as Soc Trang to the east in Bao Loc and Da Lat. Every time I cry. Every time I find happiness in my heart from the smiles I see. Every time I find purpose in my life by being privileged to be able to help those in need. Do yourself a favor and join at least one charity trip whilst living in Vietnam. It will change your life forever.