What are we doing in Vietnam?

Marc and I have now been volunteering at YESD for over a month now, so we thought we’d share what YESD is and what we’ve been doing to help out. YESD (Youth Employment and Society Development: yesd.org) is a social enterprise with a lot of ambitious goals, many of which are centered around helping local people and promoting responsible tourism.

What is a Social Enterprise? I’m pretty new to this term, but what I’ve learned is that social enterprises are very similar to many non-profits/NGOs: an organization that promotes social initiatives that help disadvantaged people. However, a social enterprise is also a business, it can make money. From what I understand, as Vietnam moves to become a more middle-income country, NGOs are finding it more difficult to get aid and international funding. Some people have turned to social enterprises as a more sustainable way to get a steady stream of generated income that they can use to support their initiatives.

In the example of YES, three incredible women joined together to create this organization that supports their passions and helps their country. They have created a 6-month responsible tour guide training program for selected youth in Vietnam, who would use those skills to get a job with YESD or another company. Another passion project has been the development of tourism in a very small village in Ha Giang province, where there had previously been no tourism. They’ve been working with the local people there to establish homestays (at several houses, so they can take turns hosting and distribute the income), create activities for tourists (trekking, motorbike tours, learning to harvest rice the traditional way), and teaching the local people basic English for communication with tourists – all of this is done in a way that preserves their culture, traditions, and environment. They now offer stays and tour packages in this village and the money stays in this community – some given to the hosts, food vendors, etc. and the rest goes to a community fund to help the entire community. These are the main projects – but believe me, these women are doing so much more!

To support these projects they need money. They generate money by organizing tours (that adhere to responsible tourism guidelines) and by having foreign volunteers stay with them and teach English (this is where we come in). Marc and I teach English 5-7 times a week, in a variety of settings, in exchange for accommodation and three (delicious!) meals a day. We are definitely getting the better end of the deal because we love the people here, the food is great, our neighborhood has everything we could need without all the tourists, and our English classes have become a great place to learn about Vietnam and its culture.

One of Marc’s classes at Univer English Academy

Marc mainly teaches adults at a language school called “Univer English Academy” that loves him and can’t wait for his next class.

Rare moment of concentration

Regular chaos of kids’ class

I’ve taught at an elementary school twice a week (for those that know me well – this is probably very funny to you). Despite those kids occasionally saying the darnedest things, they were mainly hellions trapped in tiny bodies; and I pretty much dreaded that circus they called a classroom.

Leadership workshop

More importantly (to me), I taught small classes in the YESD office (aka the apartment that the 8-10 of us share, depending on the number of volunteers at the time), which are my favorite. I used these classes as an opportunity to do some content-based lessons that talked about a variety of important issues – climate change, pollution, gender, relationships, education – all under the ruse of “learning English.” Recently, I also volunteered to do some life skills lessons, which led to me and YESD creating a free 2-hour Leadership Workshop which we’ve now done at 3 Universities in Hanoi.

Overall, this has been an incredibly enriching and rewarding experience. We’ve extended our stay for as long as we could without disrupting future plans, but it is shortly time to go. We will miss this place and the opportunities dearly and hope to return one day. Next stop…Ha Giang!

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