Luong Thi Gia Hoa Ryan, a woman from Vietnam, returned to see her family in 1993 after they had been split for over twenty years because of the war and its aftermath. She was so shocked by what she saw, including in her own family, that she decided something had to be done to help the poor and the children of Vietnam. She returned to the United States and spoke to a group of people from Northern Ohio in December 1993. She asked them to help to establish the Friendship Foundation of American-Vietnamese, Inc. The mission of the Foundation, she said, was "to build bridges of friendship between the people of Vietnam and people of other countries." They agreed and the Friendship Foundation was born.
Is your project religious?
We are not religious in terms of being connected to any formal religious group. We have had people of all faiths -- and of no faith -- join our projects. We do think that spirituality is a very important part of volunteerism. Also the spiritual dimension is a very important part of the Vietnamese culture. In order to fully understand Vietnamese history and traditions, it is important that an individual appreciate this spiritual dimension and be open to its expressions in Vietnam, such as weddings, funerals, pagodas, churches, the Cao Dai Temples, the Hoa Hao, the Buddhist places, the religions of the minority groups, and other spiritual parts of the culture.
What do you need volunteers to do?
Each of our projects has three phases:
Preparation. We assist our participants before they travel to Vietnam in learning about and appreciating Vietnamese history, culture, society, and traditions. Also our volunteers generally involve their friends, their work-place, their schools, their communities, and their neighborhoods in the project. For example, some volunteers have collected (used but usable) school supplies, books, art materials, toys, clothing, and other items for children in Vietnam. They have also conducted fund-raisers for moneys that we use to help various charitable institutions in Vietnam.
Humanitarian Activities in Vietnam, This can include various activities: teaching English in grade, high school, and colleges; teaching about other cultures; visiting and working with orphans; visiting hospitals, especially the children's wards; setting up a choir to sing at orphanages, senior citizen homes, homes for the handicapped and mentally retarded; visiting rural villages and meeting the people; distribution of foods to the poor, distribution of school supplies; distributing scholarships to good students from low-income families; assisting with Health Fair Days in rural areas including helping with the doctors as they examine and prescribe for patients; visiting women's groups and discussing their projects and how to help them; clothes distribution to children from poor families; and helping in local development projects.
Activities after returning from Vietnam: Our participants bring back to their schools, families, and communities all that they have experienced. They share their impressions as well as what they accomplished. All volunteers write articles on their experiences which are published by the Foundation. Participants can set up exhibits of what they have seen and done; give speeches; give interviews for local publications; continue to gather school supplies and other items for Vietnam; write articles; set up "pen-pal" systems; and help with recruiting volunteers for the next project in Vietnam.
Is it all work and no play?
No! We believe taking periodic breaks from our work is essential to remain fresh and enthusiastic about the mission. (See sample itinerary.) We take several guided day-trips as a group to do sight-seeing, which in the past have included the famous Cu Chi tunnels, an island trip in Nha Trang and visits to famous temples. Volunteers are also given a little time to explore independently or in smaller groups. Many nights, volunteers are free to experience Vietnam's vibrant night-life.
What percentage of participants on your projects are paid staff vs. volunteers?
All participants (including FFAVN staff) are volunteers. We have sponsored some 600 volunteer participants in the past 12 years to join our projects in Vietnam.
Do you currently receive volunteers through a program (ex. Peace Corps, Etc.)?
We recruit volunteers. They apply, generally online, and submit their resumes. They also respond to a questionnaire. All of these materials are reviewed by our Application's Committee which then selects the final participants for a particular project. Our application form is available online.
How many volunteers would you like and can handle at the same time?
Our projects have included from 14 to 42 volunteers on any one project. Usually we have between 20 and 30 volunteers. All volunteers have their own set of duties to help the project succeed, for example, project coordinator; assistant coordinator; treasurer; recording secretary; Editors of Friendship Foundation journal; Supply Coordinators; and so on.
What time of year (or year round) would you like volunteers?
The project begins around December 20th. The formal part lasts for approximately two weeks. The second part of the project begins after January 1st.
How long would you like volunteers to stay?
We will be in Vietnam from about December 15th, for at least five weeks until the middle of January. Many of our participants join us on or around December 20th. They then in January return to their home country and communities based upon their particular schedules.
How much would you like volunteers to donate to the project?
Volunteers are not required to make any donation to the organization. Some points to remember though:
First, each individual is responsible for their own travel to and from Vietnam.
Second, during the formal part of the project, which lasts almost two weeks, participants pay the project fee, which covers all food, hotel accommodations, travel, interpreter and guide fees, in-country personnel who assist us, admission fees, tips, in-country administrative expenses, and other necessities. We should stress that our Staff from the United States, pay all of their own expenses. We, including staff and participants, are all volunteers.
Third, participants as well as our Foundation often raise funds for the charitable work we do in Vietnam. All funds raised go toward the charitable activities and the people of Vietnam. We assist the participants in any fund-raising they choose to do. There is no requirement to raise any particular amount of funds. Similarly, the volunteers often gather up schools supplies, books, student materials, toys, clothes, and other items. Again, there is no requirement to do this.
Would you accept a volunteer who cannot afford to make a donation to FFAVN?
No donations are required from volunteers.
Do you provide the volunteer with food and accommodation?
All meals and lodging are provided and are covered by the project fee.
Who can volunteer?
Anyone. We have had senior citizens as well as students. One volunteer brought along three of her teenage minor students whose families consented to them participating. We have had people of some fifteen different nationalities who have joined our projects.
How far in advance will a volunteer have to contact you before they can come and volunteer at your project?
Because of travel concerns including obtaining airline reservations, we advise people to join the project as soon as they have made their choice. Most participants usually sign up in late August to early November for the December starting date of the project in Vietnam.
Do you have any language requirements?
No. Many of our participants speak some English, but we have had participants who spoke very little English. During the project, participants do learn some Vietnamese.
If you think you may be interested in volunteer work in Vietnam, review what is here on our website, and review what part participants have written about the project. Let us know if you have any questions. Vietnam is a very special place for our staff and the Vietnamese people are wonderful, open-hearted, gracious, and hard-working. The goal of our Foundation is to "build bridges of friendship between the people of Vietnam and people of other countries." We would like to invite you to meet us in Vietnam and help us build these bridges.