Year of the volunteer

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For many Vietnamese youth, 2010 is a time to make a difference

This April An Vo will represent Vietnam at the Clinton Global Initiative conference by presenting her microfinance project aiming to assist children affected by Agent Orange in Thua Thien-Hue Province.

The sophomore at Mount Holyoke College in the US said her ambitious goals this year are raising US$10,000 for the project, organizing agricultural training for families who are given loans, in addition to providing classes and camps for their children.

She's also planning a trip to visit the Vietnamese community living along the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia this summer. She said the Vietnamese children there don't have official Cambodian residence and don't have access to state support or schools.

"I feel there's not enough attention to help the community there," An said. "I want to get to know the situation better and think of a future project to help them."

This year Vietnam has designated March as Youth Month, encouraging youngsters across the country and abroad to engage in volunteer and humanitarian activities to make a difference in their communities.

For many Vietnamese youth, there is a growing tendency to use their free time for charity work or social activism.

Tu Anh, a member of Hanoi-based eco-group 3R Club, said the group has a very ambitious agenda in 2010.

3R, which stands for Reuse, Reduce and Recycle, was established in December 2007 under the 3R Hanoi project sponsored by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency.

The group's 2010 projects include working with Japanese experts to cultivate Agent Orange-affected land, organizing an annual recycling fair, and organizing a series of environmental training sessions for college and high school students in Hanoi with the help of the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Vietnam's Ministry of Planning and Investment.

Anh said 3R worked for "the betterment of the neighborhood."

But it is not just Vietnamese in the neighborhood that are getting involved. Many Vietnamese studying abroad, like An at Mount Holyoke, are coming up with innovative social initiatives.

VietnamJUMP (Vietnam Joint to Understand, Memorize and Pave the Way) is a successful annual event bringing Vietnamese students studying at the National University of Singapore (NUS) back home to work on volunteer and social projects.

This year VietnamJUMP organizers said they hoped to help build six small toilets and one water filter at Phuoc Lai Elementary and Secondary School in Long An Province's Can Giuoc District in the Mekong Delta.

About 20-25 students will also organize cultural exchange sessions between Vietnamese students and others from NUS, as well as organizing trash clean up and recycling activities.

"We had a lot of difficulties raising enough money for VietnamJUMP in 2009 considering the economic downturn in 2008," said Nguyen Hoang Minh, director of group and a third-year student at the NUS School of Computing. "This year we hope we will receive enough support from corporations and organizations who feel that our project can really create changes in the community."

The students hope to raise S$13,000 with fundraising activities planned throughout the year, including a fair selling handmade Vietnamese products and a music concert titled "Esta Noche" scheduled at the end of this month in Singapore.

An says there is no lack of opportunities to volunteer.

"I think young people should ask themselves what they can do to engage and attract others... it's not like there isn't anything out there for us."

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