Volunteer guilt.

I finally started volunteering and it’s about time. The company I work for have a whole host of charity projects and I chose to go to the Ung Buou Hospital for the bi-monthly ‘playdate’ at the children’s cancer ward. It’s the only hospital of its type in southern Vietnam.

I blogged before about my health check at less-than-desirable government hospital. Let me just say, that hospital was a comfy, hygeininc paradise in comparison to this one.

It was busy, dirty, smelly, unhygienic, there were rats, cockroaches, a complete lack of room, not enough chairs, seats, beds or rooms. This really was an upsetting and unfair place. Parents and children laid on the floor in tiny, cramped and hot corridors, washed and fed their ill children there. You had to step over people to get anywhere. The children there have cancer or tumours, although a lot of them are actually more ill from infections they got at the hospital than the cancer. Many of them will die, not because their cancer is terminal, but because they don’t have access to clean, decent healthcare.

The last time I was in a cancer ward was in a hospital in Plymouth two years ago, to have to be there may have been upsetting, but it was clean, there were comfy seats, magazines, there was access to the medicines, nurses, doctors, I recall eating quality street chocolates in the waiting area.  I even remember reading a sign about how they had an initiative to get the GP referral time down so patients would get seen more quickly. This could not have been more different. People who moan about the NHS need to see places like Ung Buou. I’m certainly not belittling people who are sick in hospitals in the first world, that is just as upsetting and horrific, I know. But being positive about we have is better than being negative about what we don’t have. Yes the NHS is far from perfect, but at least you don’t have to share your room with 25 other people, some rats and insects.

I know what it’s like to have someone in your immediate family get cancer and I was worried I was going to get really emotional. It was really upsetting, but I didn’t see anybody crying, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to cry. If everybody there can be strong in the face of such suffering I wasn’t about to start bawling about how bad I felt.

I did have a good time despite the sad setting though. We had a room and we played, painted and coloured with some of the children there. I’m not claiming we did anything amazing, I don’t feel like I did at all. I sat down for two hours and played with some ill children, that’s certainly not praise worthy.  I tried to chat in (bad) Vietnamese with some of the children and also with their parents. I don’t know how much of a difference it made to their day and I felt guilty that I got to leave after. Just as we were leaving it started to rain as well. I mean, rain, as in, tropical monsoon storm rain. Lots of the ground floor was soaked and we waded out through dirty, incredibly bad smelling water up to our shins.

I was so worried about portraying the stereotypical image of the western traveller; bangles, shorts and sunglasses, swanning into charity projects and then leaving feeling a bit better about themselves. You know, the whole ‘White Saviour’ thing. I really want to do something more, do something worthwhile. I think they run English lessons for the staff so they can keep up to date with medical advancements. I’m going to look into that and hopefully I could start volunteer teaching or something.

I’m still going to go regularly to the play dates, even if all they do is provide two hours of distraction for the children and families. I guess you can’t change the world. You can try to change the little bit around you though, or at least make a sick child laugh by sticking play-dough to your face.

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3 thoughts on “Volunteer guilt.

  1. Why worry about being a stereotypical westerner!? You know you’re doing something worthwhile, and those children will have loved it. Who cares what other people think! If you can make a child with cancer smile and laugh and not think about it for 2 hours then I think that’s pretty special. Be proud and enjoy it 🙂

  2. Good for you! I’ve heard quite a bit about this hospital but have never been. Would be interested in how you organised your visit as I would like to do the same with a group of us to perhaps initiate some fund raising. If you get a chance could you email me on dnmoggy@hotmail.com? Thanks! Dani

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