Australian friends support local capacity development

VietNamNet Bridge – An interview conducted with Nancy Zhou on a Vietnamese online news outlet I read a day before meeting her in a person gave me the wrong impression.

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Nancy Zhou (right) works at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum (VWM) as a social media advisor. — Photo courtesy of Australian Volunteer Programme

In my mind, I imagined she had lived in Vietnam for a long time and gained an insight into the country and its people. In fact, she had had just finished a ten-month assignment at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum (VWM) as a social media advisor under the Australian Volunteer Programme (AVP).

“My role at the museum was to help them promote their image in the national and international levels,” she said. “During my time there, there were some exhibitions on Vietnamese female scientists, domestic violence and sustainability held at the museum.”

In the last five months, Zhou has been involved in organising a collaborative exhibition between VWM, the Australian Embassy and Australian Artist Bianca Hoffrichter.

Entitled “Rethink”, the exhibition presented Bianca’s artworks and designs that used plastic as the main material.

“But I guess the main focus of the exhibition wasn’t just to reuse plastic. It aims to inspire people to rethink about how much plastic they use every day as well,” said Nancy.

The desire to be exposed to different cultures brought her to Vietnam while the museum’s reputation gave her a reason to stay.


Being a speech pathology advisor at Da Nang University of Medical Technology and Pharmacy was Sarah Day’s second assignment in Vietnam.

In 2017 she volunteered at the Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine in HCM City for 12 months as a clinical educator and co-ordinator within the Speech Therapy post-graduate certificate course.

Feeling there should have been something more to be done in the country, Day, her husband and their three children decided to come back.

Since March 2018, Day has supported the development of the pilot Bachelor of Rehabilitation (Speech and Language Therapy - SALT) curriculum for Vietnam.

She has been involved in putting together the training framework and the syllabus for about 25 specialised subjects for students who will enroll next year.

Speech therapy is still a brand new concept in Vietnam and commonly known as an efficient approach to improving the conditions of children with special needs.

“The language barrier is not the biggest challenge we have to overcome,” said Day.

“English and Vietnamese, the structure and linguistics of the languages are really different. So when it comes to developing Vietnamese assessment tools and therapy resources for children and adults with language difficulties, we cannot take an English assessment tool and translate it into Vietnamese to use for Vietnamese population,” she added.

Some Vietnamese speech therapists are now studying in Australia on these tools, she said.

“I feel that I really just started in HCM City and I was really passionate about the work. I knew that there was a significant project happening in Vietnam funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and I really wanted to be involved in that project to learn new skills,” said Day.

Dedicated friendship

Sarah and Nancy are among 1,000 Australian volunteers assigned to Vietnam since 1973.

Launched in February 2018, the new AVP shows the Australian Government’s commitment to international support. Vietnam is the fifth largest recipient of the programme with more than 40 volunteers coming here annually.  

These volunteers work in a wide range of fields including health, education, social development, communications, law and justice.

Beyond the professional skills they contribute to improving the capacity of their Vietnamese counterparts as well as understanding between the two countries, the pair have gained precious memories in this land.

“In my everyday life, I’ve met some incredible people and built some friendships that definitely have become the reason for me to come back to Vietnam,” Zhou said.

Day and her family have decided to extend their stay in Da Nang till next December.

“Sometimes I even joke with my youngest child who is five and say: “Oh you’ve spent more time living in Vietnam than Australia so I can say you’re Vietnamese now,” she smiled.

“We’d love to continue to live in Vietnam after finishing volunteering. Sometimes it’s not easy. We still need to think about income but that’s certainly something my husband and I talk about and we would really like to stay involved,” she added. 

Khoa Thu

Source: VNS

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