Despite the general attitude toward volunteers in Vietnam it is often the case that international volunteers are warmly welcomed by the directors of all centers and schools, as foreigners bring prestige and a perceived opportunity to gain contacts with potential sources of funds from abroad. The attitudes of the staff however are often markedly different, as the presence of a foreigner can be seen as an invasion of their environment. The staff is also rarely able to speak English and frequently resent what they may consider to do the additional responsibility of supervising a foreigner in the classroom.
Volunteers may witness children being disciplined in a way many from a broad would consider abhorrent. Hitting of children as well as general rough treatment is common. It is one of the many ways that volunteers can play a key role in improving the quality of care for children with disabilities in centers across Vietnam, as teachers and carers are reluctant to discipline children in such a way in front of a foreigner. It is also possible to show that love, attention and compassion can be more effective than attempts at discipline.
Despite all of the above volunteers should always be prepared for the warmth, happiness and generosity of the children. The excitement that a foreign visitor creates is infectious and volunteers are rarely left in any doubt about the value of their presence or how appreciated they are by the children.
Please be prepared that this is a very slow process. As an individual volunteer you are part of a necessary and ongoing process of change in attitude and working practice that contributes to assuring the well-being of many lives in Vietnam. Progress is slow, and can often be extremely frustrating, but being a part of that process is in itself a tremendous help to the children and families living with disabilities throughout the country.