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April 21st 2012
Published: May 15th 2012
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Miss Ruth. LSF Education Program Co ordinator for almost two years. After Ruth finished her assignmnet with LSF in Hoi An she left us with a degree in Multitasking.
For the most part we have had an amazing team of selfless volunteers who have made a fantastic contribution to Lifestart Foundation, however in recent times we have had some unsuccessful volunteer placements. This has been extremely difficult for our staff to manage and has had a detrimental effect of overall morale and of course left us short staffed in some project areas. We always ask our incoming volunteers to read the following blog so as they understand what is needed of a volunteer....

In addition to all of the qualities listed in the blog below that we require for a volunteer assignment to be successful I am adding a few more comments in hope that we filter out volunteers who perhaps are not volunteering for the right reasons.

- If you are wanting a solo holiday or overseas adventure please don't use your volunteering as an excuse to have a safety net of connections and contacts. Once you have your safety net and contacts courtesy of your host organization in place don't just up and leave!

- If you have agreed to a full time volunteer assignment, don't arrive and then ask to go part- time
The Can Do TeamThe Can Do TeamThe Can Do Team

No one in this volunteer group came to shovel mud and clean up after the typhoon and flood but that's what they did without complaint!

- We understand that some volunteers will want to travel whilst they are in Vietnam. Please organize your travel time before you commence or at the completion of your volunteer assignment.

- Do not misrepresent your skill set on your CV.

- Having an excellent work ethic is SO important. If your attitude is "I am not getting paid for this so therefore I don't need to be punctual: I can come and go as I please; I can take time off without any regard for the impact on staff and other volunteers, then I can safely say that we are the wrong organization for you.

International volunteering can be lots of fun and also one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences of your lifetime, but it's also a little more complicated than just showing up and having a good time. Here is some advice on how to make the most of your volunteer work and an opportunity to do a little self reflection before you commit to an international volunteer assignment to make sure that you are really up for all that it may entail..

For an international volunteering placement to be successful you need to be able to selflessly immerse yourself in a completely new environment that usually brings with it many challenges. International volunteering is not for everyone.

Great volunteers need to be generalists, by this I mean that they are happy to hop in and help when needed but also able to draw on their area of expertise when required. They expect challenges and difficulties and do not expect that volunteering will be the same as " back home" nor do they want to super impose western expectations on volunteering in a developing country. They have an ability to cope with cultural isolation and a different standard of living and a preparedness to work with limited resources within a challenging environment.

In short Great volunteers " get it " meaning that you feel privileged that you have the opportunity to be of service, you require no pats on the back and you leave with a wonderful feeling of happiness that you have contributed and helped make a difference either to an individual or to the organization that you were volunteering with.

Great volunteers don't create work or problems....they understand that their host organization and staff already have more than enough on their plate and they aim to be part of the team that reduces the workload.

Great volunteers aim to capacity build and not to create a culture of dependence in order to make themselves feel needed or indispensable

I have compiled this blog with some help from other international host organizations in the hope that it will be informative and of value to future volunteers.

Desirable qualities for International Volunteering:


As a volunteer, people trust you with their facility, community, and organization–which is an extreme responsibility. Host Organizations will have policies and regulations that volunteers should respect and adhere to. These policies are in place for a reason and a Host Organization's viability can be jeopardized by an individual’s thoughtless acts. When people are sincere in their every day life it enriches their volunteer work in a way that speaks louder than words. The way you serve really shows how much you care- and those you serve see it.


This is crucial for non profit organizations, can they count on you when you agree to volunteer?

Please understand that when a Host Organization accepts you as a volunteer they most likely have turned away many other volunteers who wished to fill this same role. If you say that you are coming please turn up and to the best of your ability do what you said you were going to do. People are relying on you - Don't let them down. Not every volunteer is suited to every Host Organization and sometimes you don't know this until you have arrived In Country. Don't leave your host organization without a volunteer for your assignment, do your best to help them to find a replacement if you are unable to complete your assignment. Your reputation and accountability reflect on your daily life, not just when you are volunteering.


A great volunteer is one who agrees to come, knowing that it won't be easy and is determined to succeed and see a project through to completion. Less useful are volunteers who come with a set amount of time to give, who are daunted by barriers or problems that they are not sure how to overcome, and then quit before the project or assignment is completed. The best volunteers are the ones who show up knowing they’ll not quit until the project is done or the assignment is completed.


Be on time, others are counting on you.If you feel you don't have to be on time because you're not getting paid, then you're volunteering for all the wrong reasons. Set a good example and display a great work ethic.


Always have a positive attitude and show others that you're doing this because you WANT to.

You should volunteer with a joyful spirit that reflects a positive attitude, not just a smile on your face but in the amount of effort and energy you put forth. Whether you are unloading boxes from a truck in the middle of summer or shoveling mud after a typhoon, you need to have enthusiasm and drive for what you're doing.
Be enthusiastic. Don't moan and groan your way through your volunteer work. Negative attitudes are a drain on everyone around you and impact on the valuable work being done by your Host Organization.

Volunteering hours can be long and most volunteers find at least part of the experience challenging whether it's the environmental conditions, the work itself, the group dynamics or homesickness. An essential quality is resilience to get you through the difficult bits and help you maintain your stamina.


In the volunteer world we can spend hours planning and organizing something just to have it unravel in a few minutes. It takes someone with the ability to adapt and be flexible in those situations that will really make or break the outcome of the situation. Whilst you may have come to your Host Organization with a particular skill set, be flexible enough to hop in and help with whatever needs to be done. Rigidity is not a desirable trait for effective volunteering.


We can probably all agree that people who are creative and have good imaginations are great to be around. The level of passion and excitement they bring doesn’t allow the craziness of the unknown to overwhelm them or the drain of the mundane to bring them down. Volunteering doesn’t need to be a solemn or draining experience. When individuals use their talents, passions, and humor they bring life into the tasks at hand.


Whether it's the weather, the food, the accommodation, group living or a new culture, volunteers need to be adaptable to any changes that might happen to plans along the way.


Volunteering is just that- sacrificing of one’s time, energy and services without expecting anything in return. Although it is exceedingly rewarding, the reality is the passion behind volunteering can wear thin at times. Sometimes there are days when it seems you’ve given all of yourself, and it’s not fun, it’s not exciting, it’s just sacrifice. It’s at this point when we have to examine what we are doing- is it worth our time and effort? Because when we realize what’s important, living for ourselves is not so appealing anymore. Be selfless. Don't think about what you can do to help yourself. Think about what you can do to help others.


Volunteering can take a lot of energy. There always seems to be a lack of sleep and to hit the ground running each day can be kind of rough.

One of the most exciting things about international volunteering is experiencing a new culture but it's easy to cause offense or to send a message that you didn't intend when you're unsure of cultural norms. Volunteers need to do their best to be sensitive to the culture of the people they will be working with whether it's people from the host organisation or cultural differences within the volunteering team.

Don't expect things to be the same as at home, they won't be. Working conditions, attitudes almost everything will be different so don't try to super impose western expectations on your international volunteering experience.

The way it works in the west, is often not the best way to do things in a developing country. We do not necessarily desire to emulate all western work practices.


Always remember to show respect for other people and other cultures. Keep in mind that your way of thinking or living is not the only way there is. Respect the fact that your Host Organization has probably been on the ground for a long time and there is much you can learn from them.


Appreciate the work that your Host Organization has already done and the help they have already extended in their community probably over many years. Appreciate that it is because of this work that you have this amazing opportunity to volunteer.

Team work and all the qualities that make for good team work are essential. These include patience, listening skills, knowing when to contribute and when to hold back, and compassion.

Work as part of a team to make sure everyone gets a chance to participate and do his or her fair share of work. If someone asks for help, be willing to lend a hand. If you need some help, ask politely for it.

Be well-trained. Know what you're doing as a volunteer. If you need some time to learn your job, take that time. If you need training or need someone to show you what you're supposed to do, speak up. If you're good at your job, it will be much easier to help others. It is extremely important to maintain a professional relationship with those you are helping rather than trying to be their new "best friend".


Be open-minded. One of the really great things about being a volunteer is the chance to learn and experience new things. Keep your mind open to new possibilities.


When you are an independent, self-motivated and self disciplined volunteer you reduce the drain on your Host Organization. Be mindful of the time you require of your Host Organization staff as this ultimately is taking them away from their valuable work.

It helps to be outgoing on a project but we don't want a team of extroverts! What we do want, however, is for every volunteer to be proactive in getting on with work, asking questions, sensitively raising concerns and making suggestions where necessary. It goes without saying really, we expect all volunteers to do their very best at all times and to get the job done.


Humble people don't brag or go around telling everyone about all the good things they've done just to get some attention or to feel superior. They're happy knowing that they're making a difference, and don't need to shout about it.


Be prepared to work in an open friendly manner with host organization colleagues and community counterparts at all levels, as a skill sharing experience rather than as an all-knowing expert.

Be understanding. Try to see things through other people's eyes. Try your best to understand what other people are going through, or what your host organization has to deal with even if it's something you've never dealt with yourself.

If you have manage to read all of this and you are interested in volunteering for Lifestart Foundation please read

You may also have read this blog and realized that International Volunteering is not for you. That does not mean that you can't be involved or can't help. Look at how you can help from your home base.

Maybe you could help by organizing a fundraising event to support the wonderful work being done in Vietnam. Host organizations are ALWAYS in need of people to hold fundraising events.

Lifestart Foundation has a very important group of volunteers, some of whom have never visited Vietnam and the bulk of their volunteer work is done outside of Vietnam in their home countries. We are extremely grateful for their time, expertise and dedication. These are the behind the scene volunteers who
Sue - In Country ManagerSue - In Country ManagerSue - In Country Manager

On this day though Senior mud sweeper after the typhoon!
really make a huge difference and a much appreciated contribution.

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

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Over the years Lifestart Foundation has been extremely fortunate to have have had some absolute diamond volunteers contribute to our work in Vietnam. Here are some of their stories if you would like to read about their international volunteering experiences.

Meet Trisha from New Zealand
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: 14, Displayed: 14



Miss Sue. In Country Manager for two years.

15th May 2012

What can I say? Great, fabulous, amazing, perfect. Hugs and kisses from Argentina. Graciela.
15th May 2012

Great article, Karen. I'm wishing you all the best in finding new volunteers. Hope all is well. Leslie
5th July 2012

Future Volunteers
Hi Karen Enjoyed reading the article. Great tips and I look forward to reading more of the stories that you have posted. Look forward to meeting you in Vietnam. Regards Peter Cracknell

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