It was the first time Courtney and Laura came to Vietnam( both of them were in the trip with Global Volunteers) and it was also the first time they had the opportunity to work with the blind people.
From 11- 27 March 2015, they joined the English Communication Program of Blind-Link Organization as English Teacher. Their volunteer work was basically teaching English to the blind and visually impaired who are trainees of The Centre of Training and Rehabilitation for the Vietnamese Blind ( 171 Trung Kinh Str) and Omamori Spa ( non-profit healthcare chain run by Blind-Link Organization).
We did the interview after their farewell party with the trainees the last day of volunteering, covered by the cheerful and emotional atmosphere. They were willing to share their amazing and unique experiences during their two week staying Hanoi and volunteering with Blind-Link.
Hello Courtney and Laura. Thank you for agreeing to join with us in this interview. Could you please give us some brief information about yourself?
Courtney: My name is Courtney. I’m 28 years old. I am from the United States, Washington State. This is my first trip with Global Volunteers and of course first time working with Blind-Link as well.
Laura: Hello! I’m Laura. I’m early retiree. I’m not too old but I’m retired. I’ve done four Global Volunteers project. This is my first time I am here in Vietnam and it’s a wonderful time. My husband is here also and he is at the Nguyen Binh Khiem High School.
Courtney (left) and Laura( right) are two lovely ladies from America.
What is your biggest impression about the country?
Courtney: My first time in Vietnam is also my first time I’ve been really out of America, first time in Asia. So there is a lot of “first” for me. It’s been wonderful. The
city is beautiful, here in Hanoi. The people are so welcoming and friendly. I just have a wonderful impression and I hope to come back and visit more part in Vietnam.
Laura: I’ve been truly impressed with Vietnam. I have very different perception of the country because I grow up in the 60s and 70s and I am so glad to see what Vietnam is really about and I hope to tell people back in the US to come and see this beautiful country, its friendly and welcoming people as well as to be able to eat a lot of good food.
Courtney was always impressed with the enthusiasm and musical talent of her students
Is this difficult to work with the Blind and how difficult is that?
Courtney: It was definitely a challenge. I knew coming here that I’d be working with Blind-Link but this is my first time I’ve working with the visually impaired, something that is very new to me. I was also very surprised how much English they knew coming here to Omamori Spa and how really great they are but it’s definitely a challenge because you have a challenge of not being able to read English. Instead, they have to memory everything. So it is a new form of teaching and new form of learning that I wasn’t used to. It was the wonderful challenge, I was very happy to work with them and I learn a lots from their enthusiasm and excitement.
Laura: I was just agreed totally to what Courtney just said. I think that it caused us to have to really think about how to get across their meaning when we couldn’t use any visual to all whatsoever. And they’re very good listeners, they can hear what we’re talking about and repeat. I think that was good for both of us, we have to have patience.
Any special difficulty that you had to face at the Centre of Training and Rehabilitation when you were teaching there?
Coutney: The Blind Institute was a challenge more so than Omamori Spa. I felt like many student had a good foundation of English before coming here before seeing us at this Spa. But going to the Blind Institute, the student were new to the program. There was couple of them have English background but with most of them it was very new to them to learn English. There wasn’t a structure to us to go after. So it made it extra challenging for us to know what we should be teaching them, what was gonna be beneficial for them in their life and their future to learn. And also still being new to work with the blind, not really knowing the best way to teach them made us a huge challenge but they were all so eager to learn and so welcoming, made us feel we were very important to them. You know, we learn a lot from them as well, as far as their enthusiasm, how happy they are and how talented really they are and using their computer and music. So many great thing that has for them. I think we were a great stepping stone and good starting point for them to hear English from a native speaker to really begin their learning English and I know they’re gonna be really successful an end.
“I know you’ll to be happy and successful in the future. Just keep the enthusiasm and eagerness to learn. And you all will.”
Laura: I think volunteers to come to the Blind Institute it would be helpful to have a little bit more structure prior to program to understand exactly where the student are and what their level of English are. I came to understand them individually but it was really a challenge and it would probably been easier if we had a little bit more understanding of what their need that we could follow, because of such a challenge dealing with people who can’t see. As Courtney said, it was great to discover their personality and understand how talented they really are and how experienced they really are too and then to be able to work with that.
Do you have any interesting experience that you probably want to share to all of us?
Courtney: Just over all, it’s an amazing experience. I’ve learnt a lot about the culture just by interacting with the student as well as the local volunteers. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and my culture too, and the differences…. I love to see how eager they learnt and how happy they were and they never got frustrated with their disadvantage they have of being able to see. It never stopped them from being happy every day, from smiling and wanting so badly to learn and becoming more successful in their life. These were all inspiring to me. So, I think it’s a wonderful program, here at the Spa they’re doing an excellent job. For the Blind Institute I know that they’re gonna do great things in their future.
Laura: I think it’s often the key when you were working in this situation that was very challenging. At first, it was easy to get frustrated and feel like “Oh! What are we really doing here?”. So, it take time to get to the point where you really get to know the students and they get to know you and you feel the connection on another plane that then help you be supportive and give them help that they need. And so for me, these 2 weeks are incredibly enriching, I wouldn’t give up, I wouldn’t change anything really and I am just happy to have done it. Thank you!
“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time. They just have the heart”
Enjoy their moment with the local volunteer-“the girls”- as they call them.
We describe volunteer with Blind-Link is making opportunities not only for the blind trainee but also for the volunteers as well ( both international and local volunteers). What do you think about that description?
Courtney: I totally agree with that. I think this program is an excellent opportunity for everyone who involved in the program, absolutely for these students. I think anytime you’re learning a foreign language, it’s good to hear it from someone who can make the correct dialect and how it’s spoken naturally and how to pronounce by face to face conversation. So I think it’s great.
As well as the local volunteer helped us tremendously, we definitely needed them when it come to working with these students and to help us translate if there was a confusion and the for the local volunteers, I know it ( the program) is beneficial for them as well being translator, learning and being able to practice their English.
I myself have learnt from the student from their eagerness and openness to learn. For us, Global Volunteers, it’s the great opportunity for us to open our eyes to the new culture, learn about new culture.
Not just that, we’ve got a chance to learn how to work with the blind and different group of people that we used to working with. So overall , it’s definitely wonderful opportunity for everybody involved.
Laura: I can add much as rather than to say I would really love to see more people in the US younger people too, get involved in these kind of Volunteer Organization so that they can learn about the culture directly. It’d enrich their life. I know that Courtney being young now have an incredible life experience that will direct her as she goes forward and really make it difference . It truly makes the differences. Thank you!