Name: Shreya Maliakal
Hometown: Bangaluru, India
Languages spoken: English
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for Children From Poor Backgrounds in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Duration: 1 week
Start month: December 2018
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
In India, at home, I have always loved spending time volunteering, especially when it comes to kids. I have always wanted to do an international volunteering program as I hoped it would broaden my perspective of the 7 billion people living in this world. UBELONG, as I read online, was a very well-known organisation and I was inspired by the projects it had undertaken. UBELONG ties up with local organisations thus helping you to truly immerse into another culture while volunteering. It showed me how differences do exist but, at the end of the day, we are all the same and have a lot of love to give and take during our time on this Earth.
What impact did you make on your volunteer project?
I was in Vietnam for only a week. Due to my short time period I had decided to do everything I can, grab every opportunity that is given to me. Every morning I would visit the pagoda to help look after kids who have both physical and mental disabilities, most of these disabilities caused by a herbicide used in the Vietnam war – Agent Orange. After which I would go home, spend time with my fellow volunteers and go around the city. In the late afternoon I would go to this orphanage and spend time with the kids there. One day, I also got the opportunity to teach English at an educational centre for kids after school was over.
I remember this one day at the Pagoda, when I was talking to the nanny, she was telling me how she would like to learn English. I gave her my Facebook account and told her to call me anytime she is free, at least once a week so we can talk in English and I can teach her some phrases and sentences. I have now made a really close friend, Phuong. On the day I was leaving, while I was helping her fold the children’s clothes, she told me that she was very happy to have met me. It is small things like this, activities that some would consider as mundane, that made me realize how important and beautiful it is to volunteer.
Even though my time period was a short one, I was able to dwell in day-to-day activities and hopefully I did help make a difference in this small way, the smiles on the faces of these innocent, pure children made my day. Their laughs when you tickle them, their expressions when you leave for the day, their excitement when you come back the next day are just a couple of the things that I hold very close to me. I would definitely love to go back some time.
How did you grow personally during your volunteer trip?
Before leaving for the trip I was worried that the language would restrict the extent to which I would be able to carry out my volunteer activities, however, just the opposite happened. Talking through actions, I realized, can sometimes lead to a more meaningful and sincere connection. I knew I would be able to talk to the kids and play with them and carry them around. However, by talking to the nannies there I learnt about the amount of effort and time to do what they do and how much love they have to offer. It felt so touching to be volunteering with such genuine people.
This was also my first solo trip abroad and I couldn’t have thought of a better way to travel alone. Not for one second did I feel alone. The children I spent time with, I grew to love so much and I miss them so much. On my third day of volunteering, as I walked in, I could hear this kid crying and screaming. When I spoke to the nanny, she said that he is crying because he was pain while breathing. I was thinking of things I could do to help the kid not feel like every breath was a war for him. As I was beating my head over things I could do, I picked him held him in my hands and took him outside. As soon as I sat outside on a bench with him in my arms, he stopped crying and soon fell asleep with his head on my chest and just that made him feel better. Love has so many dimensions. This experience showed me the true power of love and care.
In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your volunteer experience?
An experience that is very hard for me to pen down in words and one that I will always treasure and cherish.