Tim Clark - 2016 Program Participant
Why did you decide to participate in an international program?
It seemed like a great opportunity to travel while doing something that felt purposeful. I'm a big believer in the importance of travel for expanding your perspective and it had been too long since I had been overseas. At the same time, I didn't want to just be a tourist. When I got the invitation from Buds to Blossoms, it just seemed like serendipity.
At an orphanage for children with disabilities
How did you find Buds to Blossoms?
I was actually invited by one of the group leaders, who contacted me after seeing my ads for massage therapy online. So really, it chose me. It makes sense for Australians to do volunteer work in Vietnam because it's so close, and it makes sense for massage therapists to do Buds to Blossoms because of its emphasis on massage. I should stress, though, that it's not necessary to have any massage experience to volunteer with Buds to Blossoms. Anyone can do it!
What did you like most about Ho Chi Minh City?
Ho Chi Minh City is an exciting place to be. There is such an energy about the place. It takes a bit of getting used to, and can be quite alienating at first, but once you're in its rhythm, it starts to feel quite welcoming. I found the people to be very accommodating, warm, and friendly. Visiting the orphanages also gives you a sense of really connecting to the place, and you get to know it pretty well because you're driving around a lot.
What do you think makes Buds to Blossoms different than other volunteer organizations in Vietnam?
Though my knowledge of other programs is very limited, the great thing for me about this program is its emphasis on the value of touch. As a massage therapist, I really wanted to be able to do something with my skills that would benefit people in a really meaningful way. To work with children in this program teaches you so much about the importance of touch as a way of feeling connected and valued as a human being, how essential that is to us as we grow up. It's so rewarding when you see the children feel that.
How did the Buds to Blossoms staff make you feel at home?
Tamie and Les, the group leaders, are just amazing people. They are gifted leaders and role models in every way throughout the program. They take a genuine interest in the children and careers at the centres, as well as in the volunteers they recruit. We had wonderful conversations on the bus, on the way to the orphanages, and during the group meetings. They always encouraged us to reflect on our experiences and to let them know if there was anything that felt was too difficult. They also organized group dinners twice a week, which was a great way to socialise with the other volunteers and feel connected to the experience.
Would you change anything about your volunteer experience?
There's honestly nothing I would have changed about the experience. Sure, at the end of the two weeks, I was pretty exhausted, but I feel like I managed that pretty well. I found really great, cheap accommodation close to our daily meeting point; it even had a pool. Being able to swim every day made it easier to manage the physical demands of the work, which does involve a lot of sitting. Maybe next time I'll bring my yoga mat with me so I can do some yoga as well?
What was an average day like for you?
The schedule is varied. Some days are more onerous than others, and a big day is usually followed by an easier day. But a typical day might involve: meeting with the other volunteers around 9 a.m., going for a one or two hour group meeting (where we discuss our experiences and share concerns and advice), driving out together to an orphanage or centre, massaging the children from an hour or two, going back to the meeting point, and grabbing some lunch somewhere. Then heading out to another orphanage (or two), where we'll massage the children for up to two hours, driving back to the meeting point, or going for a group dinner. Evenings are generally pretty free, which is good because the days are fairly tiring.
What did you really appreciate about your program outside of the orphanages?
The group dinners gave us an opportunity to relax and socialise in a relaxed setting. Les and Tamie know lots of great restaurants around Ho Chi Minh City. It's always the volunteer's choice as to whether they attend and there's no stigma against anyone who feels like having a quiet one on their own.
What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?
My accommodation was in a serviced apartment in District 2. It was in a grand, old house that had been converted into lodgings only a few months earlier. It was very cheap but had a pool, private balcony, bar fridge, reliable air con (very important), laundry service, and a shared kitchen. It was not the Ritz-Carlton, but it had a relaxed, homely feeling that most hotels lack.
Such an infectious giggle!
What did you bring home with you from volunteering abroad?
I left the program with so much. I had a greater sense of my own self-worth and ability to impact others in a positive way. I had a greater sense of my own humanity, of who I am when the need to earn a living is taken out of the equation. I was free to explore the full extent of my ability to nurture others and, in doing so, I nurtured myself. I'm now looking at volunteer massage opportunities closer to home and plan to return to the program in a year's time. I can't wait!