The story of Hermine, an overseas volunteer in Vietnam

Hermine arrived in August 2019 in Vietnam for her mission with Children of the Mekong as programme coordinator, and this is her story.

How many programmes and children do you oversee?

This year I was supervising 6 zones in Vietnam, which include 63 sponsorship programmes so approximately 1260 children if we go by 20 children per programme. Our latest news is that we’ve opened up 3 new programmes and there is talk of two new ones.

What is your mission?

I am a coordinator, my role is to visit all the different programmes in my zone, meet the people in charge, the families and the sponsored children.

Throughout my visits, I try to improve my understanding of the environment of each programme, make sure they are all properly taken care of by the local programme managers, and that all the sponsored children and families have been correctly selected and are cared for. I am also there to strengthen the relationship between the head office and the local manager and answer any questions they may have.

After my visits and discussing with the managers, I send a report back to the people working in the office and let them know of any needs they may have or new projects to be started. My job there is also to accompany the new zone leaders and visit the new potential programmes and create new applications.

Throughout letters to all the sponsors of a particular programme, or personalised news to a sponsor I try to give as much information about the sponsored children. This is also done by writing reports for the charity headquarter to update them on the centres so that they can stay up to speed.

Learn more about everything we do in Vietnam here.

What did you do during the lockdown and what have you been doing since it ended?

During the lockdown, I stayed in and kept myself busy by writing reports or updating older reports. I also put together a repertory with various vocational trainings that are available in Vietnam and that could be useful for our sponsored students.

I was also glad to have some free time to study, read and do some sport. Since May I have been able to continue my missions on the field, so I am now back to visiting families.

Vietnam has been dealing with the crisis well and has suffered very few losses.

Could you tell us about a family that struck a chord with you during your visit to Vietnam?

The Nguyen family really touched me this year, the sponsored child is 7 years old and lives in northern Vietnam. He has an older brother who is 12 and they both live with their parents. Unfortunately, both of their parents were diagnosed with cancer, the father in 2017, and sometime later their mother as well. Both of them have had to stop working and borrow a large sum of money to be able to get treatment. Sadly, they might never be able to pay this money back.

The community around them really opened their hearts to them. Their whole family and neighbours help them as much as they can by bringing them rice every month, by driving Ngoc Son to school, helping them pay off their debts and so on.

I met the mother and was impressed by her strength and the smile that never left her face during our entire visit. I’m very glad because after this visit we were able to obtain an extra donation that will help Ngoc Son’s parents finance their medical bills and be able to pay back their debts.

Is there a sponsored student that inspired you particularly?

Lanh posing with her Honors

Lanh is a student in Hanoi. She is completing her third year of studies in marketing and communication at university. I was very impressed by her motivation and her will to succeed in life and in her studies to be able to help her family.

She comes from a very poor family; her parents are farmers but her father doesn’t work as he is sick. Lanh’s grandmother also lives with them. Unfortunately, her older brother passed away while she was in high school.

Lanh’s tiny room

In Hanoi, Lanh lives in a little room that she shares with a friend. She studies a great amount and this has paid off as she often receives honours. She also works part-time to help pay for her rent and everyday life. After her fourth year of university, she would like to continue for two more years to be able to then be a lecturer at university as well as working in a large marketing agency.


What is your favourite memory of your year here volunteering?

I like visiting the centres because the children are much less shy than when they are alone with their parents. A particular memory that I cherish was during my visit to a centre in the north of Vietnam. It only accepts young girls who are still in high school. More than half the girls are from an ethnic minority which is Cao Lan, Dao or Tay. I had lunch with these girls and they had prepared a song, a dance and a little thank-you speech which was wonderful.

After lunch we had a nice chat; some of them spoke English quite well and with my small knowledge of Vietnamese we were able to have a nice conversation. It was a nice moment. I then left laden with pomelo fruit they had given to me.

Is your mission difficult? Which qualities does one need to better their experience as an overseas volunteer?

Hermine and a local programme manager

Yes, it can sometimes be tough, sometimes I find myself feeling very lonely even if I am surrounded by Vietnamese people with whom I work.

I move around a lot and our work has to stay confidential so I have never met another westerner or ex-pat during my visit. I am living in total immersion of Vietnamese culture and way of life.

There are more good days than bad days but there are some days when it’s difficult. The culture and way of life here are completely different from what we are used to in Europe. I am looking forward to being reunited with my family and friends in France, but at the same time sad to be leaving all these people that I’ve been working with the past year and that I’m glad to call my friends… That’s what we call a bittersweet moment.

To accomplish our missions, I know it’s important to be independent and patient. I think I already had these qualities before leaving but this experience really helped me to depart from my comfort zone and be faced with situations where I had to find solutions all alone with the added difficulty of the language barrier which got easier with time.


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