Start Simple for Steady Development

My summer internship has finally come to an end. I have learned so much and worked with so many inspiring people who are friendly, always willing to help, and passionate about their jobs. After the internship, I can confirm my passion for development work and my career path ahead. The following is the farewell card from my SJ team as a good-luck gift for my career path in international development.




Over the summer I have run the first phases of a project called “Raising awareness about climate change for children in remote areas”. My task started with desk research on what has been done and what materials we can provide for the libraries we set up in coastal areas which are heavily affected by rising temperature and immigrating sea water. The children and farmers there still lack basic information about climate change, its effects, and how we can mitigate its destruction.

Along with mapping climate change in Vietnam, I also collected physical documents and soft copies for the information center. This work required lots of traveling, contacting other organizations and also explaining our projects for their support. I learn a lot about the landscape of NGO work in Vietnam.  I also learned what skills and experience are needed for a development worker and what I need to do next for my career path. I am thankful because the people I met and worked with are very passionate about their jobs and willing to share with me their experiences.

Another part of my job requires traveling and talking with local people at the sites that we will set up our information center. I have traveled a lot through out the country, but have never been on business trips like these before! We were able to go to very remote places with only limited access for locals. We created a survey about climate change issues and sent out copies to local people to fill out so that we could know about their needs and their background knowledge on the subjects. I was amazed at the low level of information they have about the alarming issue of climate change, and I really hope that our project can bring some positive change to the villages.

After the internship, I am more confirmed about the career route that I want to follow. I will continue my work in international development, improve my language skills, and travel more. The first thing I will do when I get back to Brandeis is to talk with my professor in Development Economics about my career path and ask for her suggestion on graduate schools and work experience. I will take more classes in related fields such as environment studies and sociology to prepare a better background on the subjects that I have been working on. More importantly, I will do more research on climate change issues in South East Asia and the possibilities of micro-finance in a climate change context, two concepts that I have been working on for the last two summers. That idea has been given to me by my supervisor during the time we worked together. I have gained so much advice from him and plan to stay connected after my summer internship.

For other students interested in working in international development in developing countries, the most important thing is reaching out and showing people that you are passionate about what you are doing. Development work, especially NGO work in Vietnam requires multitasking and interpersonal skills because you will have to deal with many unexpected situations and overcome challenging living conditions. But once you get through all the difficulties, the reward is satisfying. I am very glad to see the impact of my project in the local people’s lives and how they are looking forward to more projects like that.  A plus of the job is the people in the field. They are very open and want to share their experience. They come from different countries with different backgrounds but all share the same wish for a better community. Once you love your job and are willing to learn and contribute your work to the community, people will welcome and help you. For an internship with SJ Vietnam, I suggest contacting the program officer with the specific projects you are interested in and asking for an informal interview. If you are suitable for the job then SJ will let you join because the organization still needs lots of help!

As a Social Justice recipient, I think my philosophies and ideals have been strengthened as I can see the result of my work and how it can improve a community. The goal of my work is not about learning a new theory or solving a difficult mathematics problem but finding the best solutions for a sustainable community supporting people and making their lives better. Along the way there will be difficulties ranging from financial shortages, support from the government, or coordination of local people. But I am sure that with my social justice philosophies and beliefs, I can work through such challenges. Thanks to my summer internship site and the support from WOW to make this experience a reality. Now it is the end of summer and I am heading back to school. But I am glad that I am much more prepared than before I left, and I believe I will be more prepared for next year when I leave Brandeis and be ready for my real life journey.

– Trang Luu

My endless journey summer

Over half of my internship has passed and it seems like such short amount of time. Beyond desk research and collecting data for the project that I am working on, my tasks involve a lot of traveling to remote areas to conduct surveys. We are working on building libraries focused on climate change issues for children, so the work requires on-field surveys to get information on the needs and facilities in the villages where we want to set up our information centers.

Through field visits and data collecting from the field, I have learned so much about the job and the skills I would need to be more prepared for my future career. Despite strong quantitative skills and attention to details, a development worker should build up a very strong background on the community and soft skills to deal with unexpected situations. We have worked with people from different sectors such as the government, private businesses, and most importantly with farmers and children. I have learned that all the theories and knowledge I get in school contributes to the work that I am doing now, bringing our project on paper into real life.  Moreover, I have had a chance to talk with local people about various NGOs’ work and the impact on their lives. One of the most interesting parts about the job is that I could travel to lots of remote places in the country that I have never been to.

During our trips we face many challenges.  The local authorities are not always coordinated.  Sometimes traveling takes lots of time and road conditions are not very good. However, thanks to our partners in the village, we are able to collect all the survey we need.

Here is the picture of our team in a coastal village which is heavily affected by climate change. As we can see, the old church which used to be in the center of the village is now partly covered by sea water.




The following picture captures us conducting a survey about climate change in  Hai Hau village in the Nam Dinh province.




The more I get involved in my work the more I learn about a career path in development and sustainability. The knowledge I receive at Brandeis is very important, but I also have to learn a lots about the field, the situations in developing countries and what development needs are most pressing. In Vietnam for example, environment and climate issues are the two most in-need fields of development as the country is the second most country affected by climate change. The cross-cutting approach that has been recently used in NGOs requires students with variety of skills and multitasking abilities. Hence, I know what I should gain for my last year at Brandeis. Beyond academic focus, I also need to explore the needs in other developing countries and prepare a good background in global issues.

The experience has been so good so far. I have learnt many things about the culture, the people, and most importantly the next steps I need to progress in my career path. I hope the rest of the summer will come with more journeys and explorations.

– Trang Luu

My First Week at SJ Vietnam

I started my internship at SJ Vietnam last week and have been very excited for my work there this summer. The first few days were filled with getting to know my workplace and the people I work with. I was impressed by the huge number of volunteers and part-time staff at SJ Vietnam and their commitment to the organization’s work. Besides volunteers and part-time partners, there are 9 full-time staff at the office, and they are extremely helpful and make me feel like part of a family. My supervisor walked me over the organization’s work and ongoing projects on the first day. During the next two days I had a chance to sit in the office’s midweek meeting and listened to our fundraising challenges. Then I started working on my first assigned project and my supervisor has been very helpful and supportive so far.


SJ Vietnam started in 2004 aiming to connect international and Vietnamese volunteers to work with the most in-need communities in northern Vietnam. Throughout 10 years of endless work, the organization has brought more than 5000 volunteers worldwide and across the country to help children from low-income families access better education and proper health treatment. With its mission “Volunteering for sharing, learning and being responsible”, SJ Vietnam currently has 9 full-time staff in Hanoi office and 10 part-time program managers directing the organization’s work including programs in the National Pediatric Hospital, Fisher Village, and Youth House School to name a few.

During my 10 week- internship, I will work as an Impact Valuation Intern conducting research on the effectiveness of the organization’s ten ongoing projects using SJ Vietnam’s and the local authorities’ statistical data on the children and communities we serve. At the end of the internship, I will present a thorough analysis on the organization’s performance and implement recommended strategies to help improve the programs’ impact. I will also conduct weekly site visits to meet with volunteers and communities to gain a better understanding of the landscape of the nonprofit market in Vietnam and deepen my background in development work.

I knew for sure that I wanted to come back to Vietnam this summer to learn more about development. I started looking for NGOs and nonprofits and came up with a list of two hundred organizations doing development and humanitarian work. Narrowing my search to those focusing on either microfinance or education in the northern area, I finalized my list to twenty and started contacting their human resources departments. Among the 4 organizations I interviewed with, SJ Vietnam was seeking an intern who could conduct quantitative research on impact evaluation, a field that I had some experience in from my last internship. I chose SJ Vietnam because of their significant impact and my very helpful supervisor.

My goals for the summer are to apply my knowledge from my classes at Brandeis into real life work, improve my software skills such as STATA, Excel, PowerPoint, to learn more about non-profits and NGOs sector and the landscape of development work in Vietnam. Last but not least, I wish to give back to my home country and spend time with children to observe the different living and social conditions between Vietnamese and American children. Overall, I believe I will complete my tasks this summer and hope that I will leave giving a little help to SJ Vietnam.

– Trang Luu ’15