I made a decision to fly to Vietnam for two weeks to help children with disadvantaged backgrounds. However, in making this decision, both the children and I lost out financially and emotionally.
A couple of summers ago, I decided that I should acknowledge that I have a privileged life and that I should give something back to people less fortunate. I decided to spend a few weeks as an international volunteer.
I scoured the internet and trawled through a large number of agents who, on closer inspection, seemed to be out to make a profit from holiday makers with a social conscience, rather than genuinely doing good. Finally, however, I selected a reputable and non-profit organisation and applied to visit Vietnam to volunteer in an orphanage there.
My application was accepted . I bought my plane ticket which was very expensive due to it being peak season. I then bought my visa, had various immunisations and purchased a load of toys and light weight books to take over for the children in the orphanage. I was spending my life savings on the trip as I was sure it was what I wanted to do. I researched the orphanage on the internet and saw that the conditions the children lived in were very basic compared to what I was accustomed to. Additionally, most of the children living there were affected by the Agent Orange chemical from the Vietnam War. What I learned about all of this made me even more determined to go to Vietnam and make a difference.
Finally, the day came when I was due to fly out to Vietnam and start working with the children I had read and heard so much about. I went to the airport and tried to check in, only to find out that the agent I booked my flight with had gone bankrupt and, therefore, my ticket was no longer valid. I was shocked and thought there must be some mistake. However, on checking with various airport officials, the story was confirmed. I tried to call the agent but, unsurprisingly, the line was dead.
I had to go back home and unpack my suitcase. I felt sad because I wasn’t going on the trip I had so looked forward to and prepared for and, also, because I had blown so much money on the trip and had little chance of every getting any of it back. Furthermore, if I hadn’t spent the money, I could have sent the whole lot out to a trusted organisation in Vietnam who could have spent the money on the children directly. In all honestly, there was really no chance of me achieving anything for the children when I was only going to be in the country for two weeks. Although I convinced myself that I was planning an altruistic trip to Vietnam, I was being selfish and, in behaving in this way, the children lost out twice.
Deciding to volunteer abroad was, in hindsight, a selfish decision. I wanted to travel and to feel that I was doing some good for someone. However, I should have weighed the cost and the risk with the actual benefit that was likely to come out of it for the children I wanted to help. My decision had affects not only for me, but for the Vietnamese children living in the orphanage.