My dream was to do aid work aboard and in particular to volunteer in an orphanage. That much I had known for years. What I didn’t know was how to go about it or where to start. I spent a long time researching and reading about possible projects all over the world. There is no shortage of international organisations promoting and arranging volunteering aboard. I was aware that I would have to pay but I didn’t know how much. Volunteering aboard isn’t cheap; booking a flight, paying for insurance, orientation, accommodation, food and then the experience itself, all adds up. Of course, for those of who have saved up or have money lying around it’s no problem. I had money saved up and was happy to spend it on my dream of volunteering aboard.
Having researched several possibilities, I had my heart set on volunteering in India. I have only been to India once with my family and this was back in 2006 so nearly ten years again. I would love to go and explore Amritsar, Chandigarh, Goa, Calcutta and New Delhi amongst many other cities. What better way to explore the city and serve the people then to volunteer? There are numerous projects available and I got applying. But with the horrific gang rape of a journalist, my parents were very sceptical. They would much rather I volunteer or travel anywhere but India. As a solo female traveller, it’s not easy and in a country like India, given the current state of affairs, one can never be too sure what to expect. Despite speaking two Indian languages and being able to blend in with the crowd, as a women I was at risk.
So, I considered South East Asia, more specifically Vietnam or South America. We had been to Thailand and Singapore as a family but not to Vietnam and never to South America. My best friend, Thien, was very keen on me going to Vietnam, given that she is Vietnamese, sure there was a little bias. Nonetheless, she was more excited than I was and began listing possible cities to visit, good beaches, dishes to try and how long I would need to explore the whole country. I also gave South America a thought, Brazil in particular, as I was truly fascinated by this country. Suzi had spoken very highly of it, the warmth of the people and the buzz of Rio de Janeiro. Having studied about Rio, I very much wanted to explore it, to volunteer in a favela, try the local food and lose myself in their street samba. I didn’t however speak Portuguese or Spanish. This was one of the considerations I had to bear in mind. Having never travelled solo before or having been in a country where English is not widely spoken didn’t appeal to me at the time.
After weeks of research, I found a organisation round the corner from where I was living, tucked away, was the office for the Inter Cultural Youth Exchange (ICYE). ICYE have various projects over the world and heaps of volunteers in the field. They prepare and provide individual support to each of them. I missed their recent open day but was able to get a lot of information from one of their advisors, Jenny. She was very friendly, kind and helpful. I talked about what I wanted and possible countries I had in mind. She advised me to go for Vietnam.