Volunteer stories : Olivia M., General Business Projects in Vietnam
My name is Olivia M. and I recently returned from Vietnam where I took part in a General Business Project. I worked for a social enterprise called Hoa Ban Plus, which takes in disadvantaged women in the area and gives them a place to live while teaching them how to weave, sew and embroider. The women ten have the skills to earn an independent income.
My arrival in Vietnam
Arriving alone in Vietnam could well have been a very daunting experience. However, from the moment a member of the Projects Abroad team greeted me at the gate, I felt the support that would stay with me throughout my whole trip. Before I knew it, I had arrived in the capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi, where I would be staying in a Project Abroad volunteer house. Whilst I was staying here, I learned about the work I would be doing and I met the other volunteers who were all on a variety of different placements.
From here, I needed to travel to Mai Chau, where my placement would take place. Unfortunately, Vietnam was hit by a tropical storm and so my time in Hanoi was extended. Refusing to let this dampen my spirits, I headed off in my Pac-A-Mac to explore the city. I was struck by its vibrancy and fortunately not by any of the seemingly endless stream of motorbikes!
Soon enough the storm had passed. After one of the most beautiful bus rides of my life (on which I watched as one of the busiest cities I have ever been to transformed into rice paddy fields), I was in Mai Chau. Transportation only got better, though, when Mrs. Thuang herself, one of the founders of Hoa Ban Plus, greeted me on her motorbike. I sat behind her and flew through one of these fields until I reached Hoa Ban Plus, where I would spend the rest of my trip.
Living with a Vietnamese host family
Mrs. Thuang and her immediate family mainly run Hoa Ban Plus. I should clarify that Hoa Ban Plus has two parts, the factory and store, where the women live and work, and the hostel, the family’s second business. Whilst I was working at the factory, I stayed in this hostel. Now, before I arrived, I was very unsure what to expect from my accommodation. I was fully prepared for sleeping on the floor and washing in a bucket outdoors. This could not be further from the case as I had both my own room and quick access to fully functioning showers.
Another thing I had not been expecting was the quality of the food. Every day, the family prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner, which they shared with me and their other guests. These communal meals were some of the highlights of my trip not only because they were delicious, but also because they allowed us all to get together and learn more about each other.
Working at the Business Project in Vietnam
It had been explained to me that my role would largely be a marketing role. However, once I arrived I was given a lot of flexibility allowing me the chance to be creative. I focused mainly on coming up with innovative new ways of promoting the company. I set up and managed new social media channels and wrote and created various posters and videos in English to help their products reach a wider audience. I also created and distributed discount vouchers which helped entice tourists to come to our store. It felt great to be promoting a company when I could see the positive impact it was having right in front of me!
Reflecting on my time in Vietnam
Other than the meals, I think my highlights would include the afternoons I spend exploring some of Mai Chau’s amazing caves and the fact that every afternoon, after I finished work, I had the freedom to take a bicycle out and explore the local village and surrounding area. The views were truly unforgettable.
When my placement was over, I made the bus journey back to Hanoi where I spent a final weekend exploring the city (in the sun this time), and visiting attractions including the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Presidential Palace. Once the time came to leave Vietnam, Projects Abroad arranged all of my transport to the airport but, more than this, Projects Abroad also arranged the flights for my independent travel after the placement. I thoroughly enjoyed my placement and cannot stress enough what a unique opportunity it was to gain business experience somewhere where my input was appreciated and where I could see my work making a difference.
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