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May 23rd 2011
Published: May 31st 2011
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Ian and  I at Marble Mountain. Ian and  I at Marble Mountain. Ian and I at Marble Mountain.

We had only been in Vietnam for a fortnight at this point so still look quite pale!
Lifestart Foundation is tremendously lucky to have the support of an amazing group of volunteers from all corners of the world. The UK has been very kind to deliver us a steady stream of long term self funded volunteers for which we are extremely grateful.

Ruth is one of those wonderful long term volunteers who just appeared on our doorstep a little over a year ago. Here is her story.......

We have had quite an adventure this past year and volunteering for Lifestart Foundation has been very much part of that adventure. Just over a year ago, Ian (my husband) and I had just arrived in Vietnam for the start of a 3 year contract for Ian as the Resident Engineer on a big hydro electric scheme on the Lao border. We were based in Da Nang for the first six weeks and it became very apparent to me that I would need to get work very quickly if I wasn't going to be bored witless as a "trailing spouse" as I had been described on the paperwork for Ian's job. We hadn't had time to consider what I would do in Vietnam in the ridiculously busy 6 weeks
When in Vietnam!!When in Vietnam!!When in Vietnam!!

My first experience on the back of a motorbike with mops, buckets and signs. Tu was the very patient driver.
we had had in Britain before we arrived here. But within the first few days I realized I needed to do some sort of work, just until we settled into our new life. Then the most fortuitous walk up an alleyway happened!

We had been in Vietnam less than a week when I came to Hoi An as a tourist. Everyone said it was beautiful and worth a visit and as there was nothing much else to do, off I trotted. After a lovely wander round the stunning old streets of Hoi An, I found a sign that said, “Lifestart Foundation; a charity helping people in challenging situations". I remember thinking for a split second, “Shall I walk up there or shall I turn back round?” I am very glad that the decision was to go and have a look at what Lifestart Foundation was and who they were helping. By a very big stroke of luck Karen, Greg and Sue all happened to be at the workshop that dinnertime and when I explained my circumstances and the fact that I am a teacher by trade with some ESL (Teaching English) experience, they seemed very happy for me to
Hard at work!Hard at work!Hard at work!

I am teaching mode.
join the team to teach as many of the makers that wanted English, the workshop staff and the students who attend the Lifestart Foundation free school.

So what do I do? My main job is to teach English to the makers and the workshop staff in the morning at the workshop and to teach small classes of children at the Lifestart Foundation Free School in the afternoon. Sometimes this finds me working in the workshop, role-playing being a customer, at other times I am teaching a group the Lifestart Foundation speech, as they all ultimately want to be able to speak to customers and visitors in English. The younger students are following a simplified curriculum that I have devised over the year and in some classes there is a need for one to one tuition as the students either find it hard to learn in a bigger group or their spoken English is more advanced but they need help with reading and writing of the language. It has been a great challenge for me to teach such a wide range of abilities and it also made me want to improve my own teaching skills. So I have recently completed
Sang and Ruth Sang and Ruth Sang and Ruth

A lesson with Sang, the Workshop manager.
a qualification in teaching English as a second language. This has not only helped me with the teaching here but will be a great bonus when we eventually move to pastures new.

During the year I have tried to put in place systems for the teaching of English that any future volunteers can follow as well as develop manuals which show the order of what we are trying to teach for the makers, workshop staff and free school students. When volunteers come to teach English, I try to support them and we have developed quite a few resources over the year too. Just to keep me from getting bored, I was asked to catalogue all the books we have been given and now we have a good library where the members of Lifestart Foundation can borrow books if they like.

As Lifestart Foundation is still quite a small charity it is wonderful that you get to participate in a whole range of activities that you would rarely experience at home. These have ranged from cleaning a 3 storey house from top to bottom (twice!) that is going to be the rehabilitation centre and Lifestart Foundation office. If
Phuong in her English lessonPhuong in her English lessonPhuong in her English lesson

There is a wide range of abilities in the English lessons and Phuong has challenged me with her sheer enthusiasm and willingness to learn the language. She is a pleasure to teach.
a job needs doing, you just do it here! During the year, I have met the head of various amazing charities, had boat rides with wonderful donors, been invited to local weddings and made some wonderful friends, both at the charity and who work for other NGO’s in Hoi An all just because I am connected to Lifestart Foundation. One of my abiding memories of this year will be sitting in a rowing boat with Phuong (our Assistant Manager) when the floods came to Hoi An in November. We were going to check that the school was OK and I sat in awe as we watched the people trying to get on with their lives despite 4 foot of water having flooded their houses. The clean up operation was extraordinary too and once the water had receded enough for cleaning to commence, everything was back to normal in 24 hours. The huge respect I had for the locals increased even more at that point!

The fortuitous meeting of Karen, Sue and Greg has meant that our time in Vietnam has been incredibly fascinating. I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people, and to take part in a
The An Hoi Free schoolThe An Hoi Free schoolThe An Hoi Free school

There are only 6 students in the biggest class that I teach at the Free School. It has been wonderful to watch the students' confidence grow over the year that they have been learning English.
whole range of events and adventures. I find it humbling every day to be surrounded by people who have a whole range of physical disabilities and yet seem to get on with life with very little moaning (or perhaps my Vietnamese isn’t good enough yet!). I have been moved to tears by the generosity of the staff both towards me and towards others who are slightly less fortunate than themselves. The Vietnamese are truly incredible and it has been a privilege to work with them on a daily basis. The incredible thirst to learn English never ceases to amaze me, especially for those who have had very little opportunity due to missed school. I will always be eternally grateful to my students for rekindling my love of teaching and reminding me what a powerful tool education is. Perhaps partly due to the fact that schooling is not free here, there is a real sense of value in education as it is seen as a way of escaping poverty and making a better life for a person and their family. It has been very empowering to be surrounded by that enthusiasm and the commitment to learn a new language however hard the student may find it.

I was quite reluctant to write this blog as I don’t really feel that I am doing anything special but if it means a few more people get the opportunity to hear about Lifestart Foundation then that is fine by me. I am totally committed to the excellent ethos of the charity trying to affect a generational change so that the makers’, children or the people that the charity are helping now won’t need as much support in the future. If my small contribution to the teaching of English means that one or two of my students can use this skill to better their employment prospects, then I will be a very happy lady. If the educational scholarship students that I will hopefully be teaching in the summer can use their incredible enthusiasm and intelligence to improve their English and therefore help them to get into further education or good jobs, then that will be reward enough. I have gained so much this year and will always be grateful to fate that suggested that it was a good idea to walk up that alleyway and which, in turn started an incredible experience that has
Creative funCreative funCreative fun

We use Art as a way of teaching, making collages of our friends or creating Christmas decorations. Luckily the students are more artistic than me so they have produced some lovely things.
made our stay in Vietnam incredibly positive. Thank you Karen, Sue, Phuong and the great staff and makers for making me feel so much part of an incredible organisation. If you are happy to keep me, I am more than happy to stay for a while longer!

Needless to say we hope Ruth stays forever! She has been an amazing addition to our team and that of the expat community in Hoi An. Ruth is always happy to help out with whatever the task is, she works tirelessly and treats her volunteering no different to full time employment. Her students have all improved so much. Having the consistency of such a long term teacher has been a real benefit to all of her students. Ruth has also become the unofficial social secretary of the Hoi An expat community and second mum to a rather large group of young German students who are volunteering in Hoi An for a year. I am sure all of the expats would agree that it is wonderful to have someone who is happy to welcome them when settling into a new town and to show them around and introduce them to the wider community. Ruth has also organized a regular meeting for all of the ESL teachers in Hoi An to share ideas and resources.

So the thanks are all ours Ruth for that sunny personality of yours, your time and dedication to helping improve the lives of others less fortunate.
If you have been fortunate enough to have met Ruth or know her from her former life in the UK or Africa please leave a message for her via the comments section of this blog.

Lots of Love from Karen

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Read lots more about some of our wonderful volunteers here and the many various ways that they contribute.












We are learning really!! We are learning really!! We are learning really!!

Playing Twister is a way of practicing following instructions, left and right. And we had fun!!!



Additional photos below
Photos: 13, Displayed: 13


The An Hoi Free school in floodThe An Hoi Free school in flood
The An Hoi Free school in flood

There was a strange peace that descended with the water. The cleaning operation took a few hours as we tried to remove the mud that had been deposited by the flood water.
Witnessing the Hoi An floods at first hand.Witnessing the Hoi An floods at first hand.
Witnessing the Hoi An floods at first hand.

It was extraordinary to see how quickly the waters rose and how efficient the locals were at dealing with the flood.

31st May 2011

You are great!
Dear Ruth, Loved the blog. You are truly inspiring. Makes me want to get on a plane and come and see you. The pupils must love your enthusiasm and bubbly personality. I'd happily come and be creative in your class. Keep up the great work.
31st May 2011

Climb Kilimanjaro
Such a nice piece of writing...gr8 job! ! ! keep posting :)
31st May 2011

Ruth - THE volunteer
Wonderful to catch the news from Ruth,,,it would seem Ruth is continuing the good work of volunteering with those less priveleged as she did in UK at Riding for the disabled where we walked the fields in all weathers, sat making Easter bonnets in her kitchen, served hog roast at the hoe down for a fund raising event and I hope her smile continues to provide the inspiration she gave me - and I am sure many others. kim x
31st May 2011

Good job Karen,
Always enjoy reading your blogs. What kind of books have you accumulated in the library? How do you get your donations? Very nice. Thanks again.
31st May 2011

Just the Ruth we know and love!
You light up the world where ever you are!
31st May 2011

Thank you for your comment and questions.
Our library is very small ( a few cupboards actually!) and consists mainly of donated books. Some are in English, some Vietnamese and some bilingual. We have also had a few monetary donations that Ruth has used to purchase books locally and this has been very helpful to build up the collection of books.
3rd June 2011

Great to learn a little more about you Ruth, thanks for posting this blog I look forward to meeting you!
13th June 2011

Ruth is a national treasure wherever she goes.
Ruth I loved reading your blog. I'm not at all surprised that the students have all improved with your enthusiasm help and patience. Great to see that other people can benefit from knowing you, and that you are able to enjoy teaching again, you have such a talent for it. Keep us posted, love Jin X

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