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Volunteering in Vietnam: Aisling Daly (from Ireland) – her story
I started in my position as a United Nations Youth Volunteer in Nutrition working with UNICEF Viet Nam in May 2015. I was really excited about the prospect of living and working in this amazing country whilst also working within the UN system for the first time.

Some differences

My previous experiences had been with NGO's working mainly in African countries, so I have spent a lot of time adjusting to the changes and differences within this working environment. I've noticed 3 main differences which I have had to adjust to.
1. The difference between Africa and SE Asia.
The differences here were mainly to do with the people, the culture and the climate; none of which were unexpected or unmanageable. I have really enjoyed learning about the Vietnamese culture and history, tasting delicious Vietnamese food and enjoying the company of such friendly Vietnamese people!

2 The difference between working in low income countries and middle income countries.
The major difference I have noticed here in Vietnam, recently classified as a middle income country, is that the structures of work are very different. As a middle income country, Vietnam receives much less international funding since the MIC classification is based on the fact that the country has more income and funds of its own to support programmes.

3. The difference between working in an NGO environment and the UN environment.
Working through the UN system involves much less direct service delivery than happens with NGOs unless it is absolutely required because there is no one else available to run these services. Previously, when working with an NGO around Africa, my work was focused on service delivery and community-based behaviour change programmes. This involved direct contact with beneficiaries on a regular basis, and once funding was received from external donors and approval from local authorities, we were pretty much free to run our programmes as planned.
With the UN there is more programme modelling and policy advocacy work upstream, to help the government to be able to run their own programmes. This aspect of no service delivery is very new to me, and I'm also new to working within the policy making environment, so the overall workings of the UN (in any country) took some time for me to adjust to. I am certainly enjoying this new experience of a different working environment, and it is very exciting to see how I can provide support with Vietnam progressing even further in its social development, particularly for the health and nutrition of Vietnamese children and mothers. So far, I have been supporting policies relating to breastfeeding working mothers, food fortification and treatment for children suffering severe malnutrition, to ensure all children have easy access to the best nutritional support they need to grow and develop into strong, healthy citizens.

Field trips

I have been lucky enough to go on 2 field trips already to learn first-hand how our work in UNICEF is carried out in the communities that need support.

I travelled to Ninh Thuan in the South Central Coast region, to plan a joint programme between UNICEF and FAO, to support families suffering from food insecurity. It was unfortunate to see that the communities there were suffering the effects of a recent drought in the area, meaning they had less food available than usual because their normal crops failed. I met a little girl who was very malnourished. She was 3 years old but was so small she looked less than 1 year old. Her grandfather was minding her because her father had died and her mother was at the market selling fuel, so there was no one who could bring her to the clinic for treatment. I also met a young father of 3 children. He told us that they were really suffering from the drought. They only have a small patch of land for farming, high in the mountains, with just enough corn to feed his family but nothing extra to sell for some income. It is families like these that will really benefit from UNICEF/FAO interventions, so they have access to more food and know how to use it correctly so their children will grow strong and healthy without becoming malnourished.

My second trip was to Dong Thap province in the Mekong River Delta region, as part of a monitoring trip to see how UNICEF is supporting the local government for healthcare. It was really interesting to see the luscious green landscape of this region, with fruit trees lining every street. In this area, the people rarely suffer from a lack of food because the land is so fertile. Instead, people need to learn more about how to use the food available to them to feed their families healthy meals. It was really nice to take part in a community food demonstration session, watching all the mothers learn how to make simple but nutritious meals to feed their children. Even though the dish only contained 5 ingredients (rice flour, oil, egg, spinach, salt), it tasted really good! All the mothers tasted it so they would be convinced that their children would like it too. I was really impressed with how well this session was run, and how interested the community mothers were. It was great to see that UNICEF supported work is appreciated so strongly. We also visited some local and provincial hospitals where we met new mothers and their new-born children, only 1-2 days old. The quality of the newborn care at the hospital was very impressive and it was really great to hear the young mothers telling us they would breastfeed their children and that they had already started breastfeeding through the support from the midwives and nurses at the hospital.

I hope I get to make some more visits to different regions around Vietnam, to really understand the full depth and complexity of the different issues affecting different regions of the country. So far, my experience has been really interesting, and I am looking forward to working closely with national and local governments, and hopefully some communities, during my time as a UNV in Vietnam.

Photo 1: UN Youth Volunteer Aisling Daly
Photo 2: Photo from Aisling’s field trip - Group meeting with Health Centre staff, Dong Thap
Photo 3: Photo from Aisling’s field trip - Baby Dang (left) with his father and a friend, enjoying the food demonstration session, Dong Thap

Editor: UNV Viet Nam/ Online Volunteer David Scott
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