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October 20th 2011
Published: October 26th 2011
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"Wow – where do I start? This was what I thought when Karen asked me to write about my time volunteering at the Lifestart Foundation in Hoi An, Vietnam.

My husband and I were holidaying in Hoi An in 2009 when we walked in the door of the Lifestart Foundation Workshop. I was immediately impressed with what I saw and heard. We were talking with one of the shop staff, when Dung and then Karen (the founder of Lifestart) swept in – literally. Karen is a dynamo, full of enthusiasm and vigour. I got caught up with the energy of the place and decided to ask about volunteering. On that meeting we made plans to come back in 2010 for two months to get involved.

It was the beginning of a love affair. We run a busy bed and breakfast in New Zealand, and after our experiences in 2010, decided to close it for the winter months to be in Hoi An for three months this year. I took a part-time role volunteering with Lifestart and also did some English teaching for another local organisation.

My role at the workshop was to help increase retail sales and talk to tourists about the foundation. The disadvantaged women and boys at the workshop come from various backgrounds, but the common link is they all work towards earning a sustainable income by selling their craft work.
In Vietnam there is no support for disabled people so the workshop is a very important link for them – providing not only an income, but helping them create a sense of community and family. I got close to many of the workers and earned their trust. With my medical background, I was often asked questions about health and was pleased to be able to give them advice on simple matters.

I also was able to enthuse and motivate the existing staff by offering feedback on their selling skills and we had fun role-playing different scenarios to develop the organisation’s marketing capabilities. A sense of humour prevailed the whole time and we had lots of fun. At times it was very quiet, so it was important to create new things to do. I ‘invented’ a BINGO game with the words we used on a daily basis at the workshop, and the staff really enjoyed developing their English. It wasn’t long before the craft-makers also wanted to get involved
Volunteering at the Lifestart Foundation WorkshopVolunteering at the Lifestart Foundation WorkshopVolunteering at the Lifestart Foundation Workshop

Trisha spent much time at the Workshop and developed a great relationship with the staff and Workshop members.
so we created a new game each week.

Everyone at the workshop is fully committed to their craft and don’t see it simply as a job – they are enthusiastic and often playful in their approach to their work. It is hard to put into words the energy that emanates from the workshop, but I found the attitudes infectious and a joy to be around.
It is inspiring to see people flourish, as they do, and I can imagine life without the Foundation for them would be pretty miserable. With no support for disabled people – and to be a woman as well – is a double disadvantage in Vietnam. At Lifestart Foundation they are part of a big family, incredibly grateful to Karen for what she has achieved. In response, they are committed to doing their utmost to produce wonderful crafts. They gain a sense of purpose and belonging, something money cannot buy.

Another task I was involved in with was to encourage groups (locally and internationally) to visit the workshop. I spent time emailing tour groups to help boost sales and had some good responses. This area has huge potential and if we can get more
Lifestart Foundation School Tour - Canadian International School VisitLifestart Foundation School Tour - Canadian International School VisitLifestart Foundation School Tour - Canadian International School Visit

School children visit the Lifestart Foundation Workshop.
groups engaged it will bolster revenue and also introduce many people to the charity, which will in the medium term greatly help Lifestart Foundation to grow.

During my time, we also had a few school groups come and participate. They were able to enjoy a cultural exchange with the free school Lifestart Foundation runs locally, and were able to learn to make their own Hoi An lantern and cards to get a flavour of the work.

Another very worthwhile project that Lifestart is involved with is finding sponsors for education scholarships . My husband and I were introduced to Phuong in 2010 who had been identified to be in desperate need of help as she was not able to continue her schooling. We met with her and decided to help with an education scholarship. She has a very bright personality and is doing well at school- she hopes to become a teacher. We hope to see them again next year.

Before we left NZ this year, we organised a fundraiser to help support Lifestart Foundation. We invited friends to bring some food and wine and $20 and the night raised enough money to fund some of the equipment for the new
The Lifestart Foundation WorkshopThe Lifestart Foundation WorkshopThe Lifestart Foundation Workshop

77 Phan Chu Trinh Street. Hoi An
Lifestart Foundation Disability Community Centre which will be opening soon. This centre is the first of its kind in Hoi An and will not only help the workshop members, but also other disabled people in the community.

There are numerous things to do at Lifestart Foundation and I was happy to fit in and do anything that was needed – from talking to customers, to computer work or helping with tours. One day one of my tasks was to choose thread to match coloured materials – so there was plenty of variety! I believe that if you are passionate about what you do, everything flows smoothly, as it does at Lifestart Foundation.

Karen and her staff are brilliant in what they have achieved and they deserve the utmost credit. Everyone works well together and as I have said it is like one big happy family. I love the fact this is a grassroots organisation and everyone does a bit of everything. It is incredibly professionally run, but small enough that you feel you are doing your part to make things happen. I was not keen on NGO work where so much money is spent on organisational costs. At Lifestart everything is transparent.

People often ask, “Why do you spend your holiday volunteering?” It is an interesting question, one I really had to think about. Of course an obvious benefit is that it makes me feel good to be helping others, but it is not just that – it is an incredibly positive experience offering social connection and makes me feel a useful part of the community. I see it as a way of ‘giving back’ as my life is incredibly blessed with good health, family, friends and financial security. I believe one of the most rewarding things you can do in your life is volunteer work.

I love having a sense of purpose when I travel and am no longer interested in simply being a sightseer. I want to get involved with the local people and feel part of their community, rather than be an outsider looking in. There is no better way to understand others and, of course, yourself.

People who volunteer all seem to be like-minded and I have made made many friendships which I know will be forever. I read recently that volunteering has a positive impact on wellbeing – those involved are healthier, happier and
LongLife Natural Body ProductsLongLife Natural Body ProductsLongLife Natural Body Products

This beautiful range of products is made by Lifestart Foundation members. Lots more to tell you about this exciting new project in future blogs...
live longer. That in itself is a good reason for me to continue.
Karen has a great group of people around her now but this wasn’t always the case, so I admire her for what she has gone through to get Lifestart Foundation to where it is today. She is committed and passionate about her cause, and volunteers are welcomed to help lessen the load. So if you are reading this and wondering if you can help others in some way, please do get in touch with Lifestart Foundation.

Lifestart Foundation is growing and branching out. In September we began producing a natural skincare range of creams, lotions, soaps and toiletries, with the generous help of Jayne and Neville Boyle from Crusoeden Body. It is hard to find products without parabens and nasty chemicals in Vietnam, so this range will be well sought after. Your skin is your biggest absorber of chemicals, so naturally anything you put on it gets absorbed. This is an area I'm personally very interested in.

Next year one of my many roles will be to promote these LongLife Natural Body products into retail stores and hotels. That will not be difficult, as not only
Sock CreaturesSock CreaturesSock Creatures

Some of the very popular products for sale at the Lifestart Foundation Workshop or online.
is the product itself fantastic but the packaging is attractive and really quite superb, and so I am looking forward to promoting something I feel passionate about.

In short, being part of Lifestart Foundation has been amazing. The people have embraced me as one of their own and I hope I have made some small difference in their lives. I find the women inspirational and it is humbling to be working with women far less fortunate than me, yet always smiling, never complaining, always incredibly gracious. I have learnt so very much from being with them.

Believe me, the pleasure has been all mine."

Saying thank you never seems to convey how appreciative I am to have volunteers like Trisha as part of our evergrowing international group of special people that help Lifestart Foundation. In Trisha's ‘past life’ she has been a pharmacist/natural therapist. She had a business in Auckland city ( the first holistic pharmacy incorporating natural therapies and orthodox medicine ) for 21 years. It was a centre with an acupuncturist, osteopath, naturopath, beauty therapist,etc and she had a private clinic with clients within that space and also ran the pharmacy of course...

New FriendshipsNew FriendshipsNew Friendships

The students at the Lifestart Foundation Free School enjoy spending time with the students from the Canadian International School.
volunteers like Trisha contribute so much to the growth of Lifestart Foundation and in turn with their effort, support and encouragement enable us to help more and more people.
My sincere thanks to Trisha for her fantastic contribution to Lifestart Foundation. We are extremely fortunate to have special people like Trisha who volunteer a part of their year to help those less fortunate. Trisha is a wonderful addition to our ever growing volunteer team from around the world. We are really looking forward to Trisha and Robin's return in 2012. I hope via these blogs you have the opportunity to read about some of the wonderful volunteers who work tirelessly for Lifestart Foundation throughout the year.

If you are planning a visit or holiday in New Zealand make sure you have a look at Trisha and Robin's absolutely beautiful B&B on Waiheke Island called Heartsong Retreat

For those of you who are little techno challenged like myself if you click on any of the words in blue it will automatically link you into that subject.

Lots of Love from Karen

Enjoying the blogs?? Forward them on or subscribe those who you think
Lifestart Foundation Tour - Traditional Painting ClassLifestart Foundation Tour - Traditional Painting ClassLifestart Foundation Tour - Traditional Painting Class

Students learn the art of traditional painting. The class is taught by Sinh.
would be interested in Lifestart Foundations work.......its free!

Visit us at:

77 Phan Chu Trinh Street,

You can read the blogs of previous Lifestart Foundation volunteers on the links below.

Art Classes with Lone from Denmark 9th August 2011
Ruth: Teaching English in Vietnam 31st May 2011
E: Why Vietnam Rocks 9th Dec 2010
Sue: Capacity Building and Cleaning Up Mud 29th July 2010
Mark & Mary: Teaching English as a Second Language 18th Nov 2009
Tropical Storm Ketsana - A picture is worth a thousand words
Cycle Vietnam for a Worthy Cause – Jan 17th 2009
Doctor John – Jan 14th 2009
Memory Portraits – Jan 14th 2009
Birdman Returns – Jul 15th 2008
Meet Sherry – A dream volunteer – Apr 30th 2008
Birdman to the rescue – Feb 20th 2008
Great work by new volunteers – Feb 14th 2008
Lifestart Volunteers – Dec 21st 2007
Clean Up The River Day – May 22nd 2007
The Royal Australian Navy Volunteers – Oct 19th 2006

Additional photos below
Photos: 15, Displayed: 15


Lifestart Foundation Tour - Lantern MakingLifestart Foundation Tour - Lantern Making
Lifestart Foundation Tour - Lantern Making

Students learn to make traditional Hoi An lanterns at the Lifestart Foundation Workshop

Se makes beautiful bracelets and earings.
Symbol PaintingSymbol Painting
Symbol Painting

Nhung and Ly make Good Fortune Journals.

Truong makes vintage lanterns at the Lifestart Foundation Workshop and also attends the Lifestart Foundation Free School.

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