By Jeffrey Vuong, a Little Saigon native and recent graduate from Duke University with a BA in English. Jeff is currently a first year student at UCLA Law School, where he hopes to become involved in the debate between technology and the law.
As I embark on my service week, I feel: scared, anxious, apprehensive, and hopeful.
I’m scared because I am not sure I will be able to handle what I’m about to experience. Along with Sandy, I’ll be helping at DaNang City Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (DAVA). Most days, we’ll be helping at Co So 1, a daycare which serves children with disabilities, most of whom are generally more mentally disabled rather than physically disabled.
Though we’ve been visiting orphanages, hospitals, and other facilities that cater to people with disabilities for the past week, we’ve only spent about an hour at each of these places. However, now I’ll be spending my nine to five with these children. It’s not that there’s anything specifically terrifying about their situation, but it’s a sad state of affairs. It’s already been difficult staying for an hour at some of these institutions that cater to the severely disabled, much less an entire workday. For me, it’s a fear of the unknown that I’m embarrassed to have, but that I’m willing to overcome.
At the same time however, I’m anxious because I am finally getting the opportunity to lend a helping hand. I see the service week as a prime component of why we’re here. Though our program is primarily geared to getting the word out about AOD back home in the States, our work here in Vietnam will directly benefit the people here. Hopefully our education tour later on in the year will inspire others to come back and do the work that we are currently unable to do, but for this short week, my fellows and I have the opportunity to directly interact with the victims of AOD; to hear their stories, to take some pressure off of the staff, to help our compatriots.
I am apprehensive because I’m not sure if or how I’ll be able to help these children. Simply put, I’m not good at playing with kids. I don’t know what to say, to do, or even to not do. I haven’t done much work with children in the past, but as they say, “you have to start somewhere.” I’m also worried that there isn’t enough time in just one week to have a meaningful impact on these kids. Sure, by doing this service at all, we’re (hopefully) spreading joy and good will and taking some of the stress off of the staff, but our time is woefully short. I wish I could spend more time in one place, working more toward quality and not just quantity.
Along with this, I am hopeful because I find myself wishing that what I do will actually have a lasting impact. I know better than to expect sweeping change from just one week, but I can’t help but dream. Not only do I hope that I’ll somehow be able to improve the quality of living for these children, I hope that I’ll be able to grow personally. Whenever I think of service abroad, I am reminded of the stories people tell when they come back from such work. They are always so excited and have little anecdotes to tell that lead to great morals that would not have been realized otherwise. It’s time for me to have these kinds of stories. It’s time for me to grow.
Interested in having an experience like this one? Apply to be a VIET Fellow today.
VIET Fellows is looking for mature, motivated, and inspiring people to be a part of the Class of 2011. As a VIET Fellow, you will learn about issues affecting Vietnamese Americans, explore environmental and health disparities in Vietnam, and become a leader in your community.
Applications are due Thursday, March 31. For more info and to experience the stories of our fellows, visit www.vietfellows.org.