Tag Archives: voluntourism

theBubbleBuster recommends: The Third Wave book

15 Nov

The Third Wave book motivated me to volunteer again. Click the image to read more about the book.

Alison Thompson was living in New York City when the Boxing Day Tsunami devastated Asia. Instead of watching developments on television or donating small sums of money to assist with aid efforts like many of us did back in 2004, Alison packed her possessions and flew to Sri Lanka to help in any way she could.

The Third Wave tells the story of an Australian volunteer who intended to work for two weeks and ended up dedicating the rest of her life to helping others. Despite the physical and emotional challenges that Alison outlined throughout her story, it’s easy to understand why she has committed to working in development for the long term. The Third Wave demonstrates the real power of individual efforts in generating positive change.

I strongly recommend this book if you are interested in learning more about disaster recovery or meaningful volunteering abroad, in addition to those people simply seeking inspiration again like myself.

By Marissa Toohey

Helping vulnerable elephants in Thailand

18 Apr

Their skin looks tough and dry but the touch of an Asian elephant warms your insides. Volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, north Thailand, allows you to care for dozens of beautiful elephants that have been injured and vulnerable in the wild. I recently volunteered at the park and got some video footage while feeding the elephants, bathing them, and watching them thrive in safe open spaces. Check it out below.

By Marissa Toohey

Building hope in the Mekong Delta

24 Mar

Click to read the full article in Exchange Magazine.

Our eyes locked across a flooded road at the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam. The man was standing in the doorway of his thatched, weary house on the banks of the river and his eyes told the story of decades of hardship. His pants were rolled up to his knees, just centimetres above the level of floodwater that had consumed his entire house.

I was on the other side of the road in the protection of a taxi. I was overwhelmed by the situation unfolding in front of me. Suddenly, the man smiled at me, happy to see a new face and I realised I have an opportunity to make a small difference.

Prior to my Australian Youth Ambassador for Development assignment in Vietnam, I wasn’t aware of how seriously the natural environment threatens the lives and livelihoods of people living in the Mekong Delta, which accounts for twenty per cent of the population. Before my assignment, I had never been to a developing country. Now, having stared into the eyes of an old man across a flooded road, I understand storms, floods and associated issues are affecting thousands of people every day damaging mass production of crops and fish, threatening the quality of surface and groundwater and exposing people to serious illnesses, including malaria and pneumonia.

In my position as Communications and Media Support Officer at Habitat for Humanity Vietnam (HFH Vietnam), I have also seen evidence of how simple, decent and affordable housing can improve the lives of people in the Mekong River Delta and around the country. Decent houses provide stability, improve health, safety and security, and enhance education and livelihoods for individuals and families.

Click here to read the full story on page one in Exchange Magazine.

By Marissa Toohey

2010 year in review

29 Dec

2010 YEAR IN REVIEW  I am due to splash into the New Year while dancing up a storm on Sentosa Island in Singapore! At just over an hour away from Ho Chi Minh City by plane and with budget priced tickets, it’s an easy trip to make for just a couple of days, and it prompts me to reflect on all of the spontaneous journeys I have been able to take since I moved to Vietnam in July.

During August I ventured on my first field trip with Habitat for Humanity. My Tho City in the Mekong Delta was the scene where I joined a group of American volunteers who built two houses for needy families.

Mui Ne was my second destination and another trip with friends from Habitat for Humanity. The country’s wind surfing mecca was a fun destination for team bonding and brainstorming activities and the perfect way for me to get to know my new friends.

In October I spent a day in Kuala Lumpur on route to Malaysian Borneo to meet my partner Shea. We dove what was described by legendary scuba diver Jacques Cousteau as “one of the greatest dive sites in the world”: Sipadan. With countless sharks, turtles, anenome fish and dozens of interesting species I’d never even heard of before, it certainly topped my list of adventures.

The following weekend I flew to Phu Quoc Island for a relaxing retreat with Shea. We stayed at eco-friendly resort, Mango Bay, with no phones, computers or televisions and went diving with Rainbow Divers on the southern tip of the island.

Click here to see photos of some of my adventures.

One of my favourite weekend journeys was to Soc Trang province in southern Vietnam. My friend Jess had been doing great work in the area of water and sanitation in the region and she took me on a heartening motorbike ride through the local villages.

The weekend trip I was most looking forward to since learning of my position in Ho Chi Minh City, was to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The purpose of the trip was actually to join friends for a floating birthday party on the Mekong River, but I made the most of spare time to see the sights of the city and to gain more insight into the nation which causes me the most heartache.

November saw my first solo trip to Bangkok in Thailand. While the first day was jam-packed with around 18 hours of sightseeing, I saved Sunday for indulging in things I’d been missing, like strolling around western shopping centres in air-conditioning, eating McDonalds and relaxing in the cinema.

My parents came to Vietnam for a whirlwind 8 days during November, including a few days in Danang and Hoi An in central Vietnam. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them as happy as when they held hands to cross busy roads, explored Cham ruins at My Son, climbed hundreds of stairs at the Marble Mountains and laughed at me as a local tailor felt her way around my body to take measurements.

The day after my parents returned to Australia, I flew to Vietnam’s capital: Hanoi. As I’d already seen the sights during my first week in the country back in July, this time I got to know more people in the volunteer network and experienced the wicked effects of Hanoi Vodka. It was the first time I celebrated International Volunteer Day.

My second trip to Phnom Penh was in December to support the efforts of friends who organised a charity Christmas ball to raise funds for youth-focused NGOs. After living five months without make-up or hair maintenance, it was heavenly to straighten my locks, wear heels and to enter a glitzy venue without feeling guilt.

My latest retreat was to Cua Dai beach near Hoi An, where I joined my sister and her friend Carlia for the Christmas holiday. I planned to snorkel Cham Island but it was cancelled and I was happy to remain on the beach to be consumed with the pages of a new book.

Click here to see photos of some of my adventures.

Now embarking on the eve of the new year, I’m saddened that my departure of Vietnam is becoming closer. I’ve fallen in love over and over again with South East Asia, and especially with the ability to travel frequently, affordably and effortlessly. During 2010 I have worked really hard but clearly I’ve been able to play really hard as well.

So then, looking forward to my upcoming departure and with no plan of what’s ahead, what do you suppose my new year resolution should be? To settle down? No way! To travel more? That might be considered selfish. To ditch a few of the kilos I’ve gained over here? I think there are greater things I could focus my attention on. What do you think it should be?

By Marissa Toohey

Keeping it interesting – discoveries of an expat in Saigon

15 Nov

KEEPING IT INTERESTING – DISCOVERIES OF AN EXPAT IN SAIGON  I’ve been living in Ho Chi Minh City for nearly four months now and recently realised I’ve been experiencing the “three month lull”. I’ve noticed it amongst my friends as well. The honeymoon period is over with Saigon and we’re becoming bored with our routines. We go to work each day, have lunch at the same old places, battle with traffic on the way home and then usually have an early night for work the next day. It’s almost like being home in Australia, except I can’t cuddle my boyfriend and I sometimes see people defecating in the streets as I walk to the office. But I have to admit, in between the boring bits, I have continued to discover and learn some new and wonderful things. Here is a collection of photographs picturing some of my experiences, discoveries and lessons over the past month. Oh, and by the way, I’ve broken out of the lull period again now and can’t wait for the month ahead!

My heart was warmed as I met friendly Vietnamese people while riding through the countryside in Soc Trang in south Vietnam. My friend, Jess, gave me a motorbike tour as she has been living in Soc Trang for the past few months.

I went to my very first Vietnamese wedding, for my colleague Thuy, and it was very memorable. There were around 400 guests, loads of glitter and sparkles, stage performances, seven courses of food and it was all over in just an hour and a half!

I took a boat to explore Can Tho River and was heartbroken by the poverty of hundreds of families in fishing villages. Families living in houses similar to the one pictured have trouble accessing clean water and don't have sanitary toilets.

During Shea's recent visit, we tried 'Birds Nest' drink which is exactly what the name suggests: it consists of sweet syrup and birds nests!

I became sick of floods over the past month. Flooding in HCMC is caused by high tides in the rivers, heavy rain fall (during current raining season) and very poor drainage systems.

I discovered my local pet shop on a street around the corner. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, a nearby pile of dead goldfish was evidence that many fish can't survive days in the sun.

I discovered Caz Bar and smoked my first shisha! Caz Bar has a rooftop terrace with stunning views of the cathedral.

I have been to a few great music gigs, which are rare in Saigon due to very few appropriate venues. Pictured is Mouse on Mars at The Youth Cultural Centre.

I started looking around more closely at my local markets and realised frogs and turtles are readily available for fresh meals. I previously thought they would be harder to find and more expensive.

By Marissa Toohey

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