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Keith in Vietnam

Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam, Vietnam

When Keith retired from 27 years in the accountancy sector, he decided to travel the world. Whilst he found solo travel fun and interesting, he decided he wanted to do something more with his time and having searched for responsible and meaningful volunteering opportunities, a friend told him about AfID. Fast forward a few months and Keith decided to volunteer for one month with Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam (HSCV) and 4 months later? He's still there! We caught up with him to find out about his volunteering experiencing...


What made you want to volunteer with AfID?

Solo travelling was fun and interesting but it was missing a higher purpose. I had periodically searched for worthwhile volunteering opportunities and eventually, I sought the advice of a friend working for an NGO in London who suggested I look at AfID.


I was very impressed with the opportunities and mission I read about on the AfID website enough that I contacted them immediately. All communications with AfID from that point forward significantly exceeded my expectations. The promptness and content of the communications and the professionalism of their due diligence related to prospective volunteers and to partner organisations convinced me that AfID was a group I wanted to work with.


What were you hoping to gain from your volunteering experience?

I hoped that becoming a volunteer would be a positive addition to my travelling lifestyle by adding the purpose I felt was missing. I wanted to feel that I was helping people less fortunate and I wanted to make friends for socialisation and to learn more about local culture.


Your first assignment was Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam (HSCV). What were your roles within HSCV and were they a good match to your background?

I was the seventh volunteer at HSCV. The previous volunteers had helped establish a budgeting process, written accounting procedures and templates for key accounting functions among other things. My initial assignment was for one month to prepare the IRS Form 990, update QuickBooks to the latest version, review accounting policies and procedures and recommend improvements, and researching donor management systems.


This was a good initial assignment for me. The review of the accounting procedures fit in well with my background while the other areas, while not complicated, gave me something new to work on and learn.


How easy was it to adapt to living and working in a different culture?

To some extent you want a certain amount of difficulty or you don’t feel like you are learning anything. I need to explain that in Hanoi I have been living in very comfortable accommodation which certainly makes living easier. The HSCV staff has been great explaining how things work and where to go for everything. They have invited me on several weekend outings and many lunches which all helped me gain confidence to try new things and feel comfortable in the city. It certainly helps if you enjoy the culture and I’m lucky that I am attracted to the Vietnamese culture.


The most difficult thing for me to adjust to was the high humidity in September. I had planned to walk the 30 minutes to work but had to turn to Uber or I would have had to change clothes when I arrived at work. Even being a motorcycle owner, I was a little intimidated by the crazy traffic in Hanoi but after the first month here I rented a motorbike and only regretted not doing it sooner.


What do you think your biggest achievement has been or will be during your time volunteering?

During the first month my biggest achievement was completing the Form 990 tax return. It was also a great way to understand what HSCV does. During the first month I also researched donor management systems and we settled upon Salesforce, a big factor being that HSCV already had a free account. I have extended my stay to implement Salesforce which by far will be my biggest achievement. I also identified Kobo Tool Box as a data collection vehicle to initially use for a large new project. If successful it will be used for other projects that are currently tracked on excel.


When you aren’t volunteering, what have your favourite moments of the trip been so far?

  • The time I spend with my new friends at HSCV.
  • Learning Vietnamese culture.
  • Riding my motorbike.
  • Visiting Ninh Binh.
  • 9 day 460km solo bicycle ride in Thailand.
  • Street food tour of the Old Quarter.

What do’s and don’ts would you give to anyone thinking of travelling and working in a less developed country?

  • The number one do and don’t is - Do it and Don’t think about it.
  • If you have an option for the length of stay I would stay at least a month.
  • I learn a lot from observation. Watch what the locals do before diving in, if possible.
  • Overcome any intimidation that may stop you from trying something new. What’s the worst that can happen?
  • Do make your volunteering your number one focus. Your presence takes the staff’s time away from core work so make sure your contributions more than offset the extra work they will need to do.

Thinking back, I can’t think of anything I brought or planned that I can say “Thank God I thought of that”. Don’t over complicate things.


What would your advice be to others thinking about volunteering?

Be serious about volunteering, be there, commit, go the extra mile, look for other work you can do, make a difference, connect. It will all come back to you and make your stay amazing.

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