A day of volunteering at Leaf Pagoda

Hanna volunteered in Vietnam with Volunteers for Peace at Leaf Pagoda. She describes a day of volunteering at Leaf Pagoda, speaks about her experiences and how the life with monks inspired her.

Did you know that Buddhist worship Buddha as a teacher and not as a god? Take a look at Hanna’s blog post and learn how a day of volunteering at Leaf Pagoda can change your life forever! Would you like to join the adventure? A day of volunteering at Leaf Pagoda…

Getting on the bus

The project I participated in is called “Leaf Pagoda” from Volunteers for Peace – Vietnam. The pagoda is a beautiful quiet place where the Buddhist monks live. They have their temples and houses there and it also includes the orphanage with the children.

A typical day of volunteering at Leaf Pagoda starts at about seven thirty and after a quick breakfast in the “Peacehouse” we started our way to the bus station. We met my roommate Camille, Alix who has been working in the pagoda for a longer period of time already. At about eight o`clock we jump in the bus No. 34. And jumping is literally jumping because the bus does not stop. It just slows down a bit and some Vietnamese pulls you in very fast.

You have to get a seat as fast as you can and someone will then collect your money for a ticket. Bus riding is very adventurous but you get used to it quickly and then you feel kind of cool and fully integrated in the culture. We switch the bus once and the whole procedure reverses when someone pushes you out while driving.

A day of volunteering at Leaf Pagoda- Trying to survive

As soon as they got my name I was their new best friend and we spent a wonderful time together.

As they don’t have parents, we as volunteers become attachment figures very quickly.

How does it look like? A day of volunteering at Leaf pagoda? Normally it’s the whole day chaos and noise, chaos and noise! But they also always enjoy drawing or playing ball and balloons will make them more than happy. If you get tired you just sit on the floor and one of the cuties will climb up your lap to cuddle or to sleep on you. As a volunteer in the Leaf Pagoda you can also try to teach the kids some English and it’s best to pack it up in a song or a play otherwise you don’t stand a chance to get their attention.  At about eleven it is time for lunch.

Eating with monks

The smaller children stay and we go to the lunchroom next to the temple with the older ones. It is an open area where the monks already wait and nascent monks set the tables. One of them punches a stick to a wooden plate and everyone becomes quiet.

They pray together with the old monks and you have to remain very silent. It is a kind of song and an overwhelming experience.

After that you can start eating. The food is amazing and of course, vegetarian. On some days you get lucky and one of the old monks will wave at you to signal to come over after lunch. We sat down together and he peeled some mango for us; very slowly and carefully but with lots of expertise. The best dessert I have ever had and one of the most remarkable experiences I was lucky to have.

After lunch we always lie down in one of the temples with black wooden floor. There is no one inside besides the golden Buddha statues and you have a little nap before going back to the kids. You will hear them when they awake and that is the sign to go back to playing. In the afternoon they get showered and you can help to dress the nice smelling monsters. At about four is finishing time and you kiss them goodbye until you come back the next morning.

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25 Comments

  • A question, what is the long term value in this 'opportunity' for the community? Do they offer long term volunteering opportunities for people with skills, quals and experience in teaching, child welfare or another relevant field too? Or is it just bus the voluntourists in for a day? The reason I ask is that Hannah is exactly right, children often do form attachments quickly and need stability. New faces every day is more harmful than not.

  • What a nice way of connecting with the local community and making a difference while you travel. Glad to see that Hanna enjoyed her volunteer experience.

  • While I think volunteering is great, I tend to agree with Mike and got the same question: is there long time volunteering opportunities there? It's difficult with kids, too many new faces can do more harm than good.

  • Interesting experience I am sure! I got the impression that Hannah is a long term volunteer? Just referring to the comments below. Nevertheless, a fascinating peek into the culture. I liked that bus story, I can only imagine how chaotic traveling on a bus is..!

  • You can stay for a longer period of time and that is what most volunteers do there. As a volunteer you get just as attached to them as they do to you. I think it is very important for them to experience how it feels to be loved and get cuddled because they will not get that from someone working there. It is very welcomed if you are able to teach them some english and you get a lot of support if you try to. They will ask you a lot of questions in advance because not everybody can come to the Leaf Pagoda, so no it`s not voluntouristing. Although some richer local people visit from time to time to bring toys and candy and take some pictures.

  • We just spent some time in Cambodia volunteering with the children, and we had a wonderful time. I think there is nothing better, then doing some volunteer work while in other countries. It really lets you get a feel for the community, it gives back and hopefully helps out in the long run. Looks like Hanna enjoyed it – I think the hardest part is saying goodbye to the kids!

  • I agree with Mike and Marie-Carmen: volunteering in orphanages usually makes us, westerners, feel good about what we do, but what about the orphans? Do they really benefit from seeing so many different faces all the time? If you stay for a long period (at least a few months) fair enough. There are so many "scams" in the orphan volunteering, I would be afraid to try it… But if you find an honest project and you can keep in touch after the volunteering, then it's a great initiative!!

  • What an enriching experience! While it may be difficult for the kids to become attached only to repeat the process with new volunteers later on, it's still a positive thing for them to have so many caring people come and make them feel special. Thanks for sharing!

  • It must be an amazing experience. I'm fascinate by Buddhism and this looks like a great way to learn about their culture and religion whilst giving something back. Would be great to stay longer.
    I'll read more about the project.

  • I have talked to a few people that were raised in orphanages like this, most were Cambodian though. The situation was different, because their parents were still alive but couldn’t support them, so they were sent to orphanages and went home every now and then. When chatting with them, they thought it was very valuable to meet a lot of people because they learned their most valuable skill, communication and specifically communication in English. For a lot of poorer people in SE Asia, there are not a lot of ways to better your life situation but learning English is one of them, so that you can either work within the tourism industry or get a job that requires some amount of English. Granted, this was just a few peoples experience, but they found it invaluable, especially when they compared themselves to other kids they knew that didn’t have that chance that were still scraping livings in the provinces. Great article, I love hearing about different volunteer opportunities and this blog is always produces gems!

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