Before starting my MBA at Ryerson University in Canada, I travelled to Vietnam to participate in a volunteer program that helped local NGOs. I wanted to put my business and engineering skills to a good use while I took a gap year to rediscover myself. It also helped me gain valuable experience before starting an NGO in India.
We worked on a project at a local community center called Hai Duong Community Development Centre that housed over 1,000 orphans. Around half of the children that lived at the community center suffered from physical or mental disabilities. All the kids lived, played, ate, and were schooled within a gated community center.
Inside the community center, there were classrooms that adapted different teaching methods to satisfy the needs of the kids with mental or physical disabilities. Spending a few sessions in a class with kids who were not able to hear or speak was a very unique experience. The knowledge was being transferred in complete silence. Even if it was just simple math, the instructions left me clueless since the teacher used sign language to teach. Despite my engineering degree, I felt as if I was illiterate because I was the only one amid all of the students who didn’t understand exactly what the teacher was saying.
When I look back, I can clearly see that instead of me helping the kids, they helped me in so many more ways than I could ever imagine. In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives we often take our five senses, which effortlessly allow us to experience different dimensions of the world, for granted. It was fascinating to see how our experience of life could be completely different with an inability to see, hear or walk.
Hai Duong Community Development Centre also had a center for juvenile care of young orphans. These kids pretty much grew up at the centre, not knowing who their real parents were. To them the definition of a “normal” family was around 7-8 kids living together in one room with one or two nannies taking care of them.