Insider’s View. Episode 5 – Kerri Galligan

Episode 5 of Insider’s View comes from Kerri Galligan, a volunteer with Helping Orphans Worldwide (HOW). She is part of a wonderful group of people whose projects have an enormous impact on the lives of kids here in Vietnam and around the world.

It’s hard not to fall in love Vietnam and want to do something to improve the lives of the people here, especially the children who are disadvantaged. Kerri has plenty of suggestions on how to help out the right way and ensure your contributions get to those who need them. And, she gives us an insight into her favourite places around town as well.

Kerri Galligan - HOW

Kerri Galligan

Who are you and where are you from?

My name is Kerri Galligan from Ireland. I am a Director of Helping Orphans Worldwide (HOW) Ireland and the volunteer manager. In Ireland, I’m a home help carer for the elderly. We have no paid staff in HOW, so my position is voluntary.

How long have you been visiting Ho Chi Minh City?

I have been coming to HCMC annually since 2009 for differing lengths of time (anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months).

What do you do?

HOW was started in 2008 by an American friend of mine, Hillary Brown. I met Hillary volunteering at an orphanage in Eastern Europe. With some other friends, we had a vision of a charity that is transparent, honest and runs entirely by volunteers.

HOW - art day at orphanage

Art day at the orphanage. Photo courtesy of Kerri Galligan

Through a series of events, we ended up working here in HCMC in 2009 and have been here ever since. We are registered in America, Ireland and here in Vietnam and still have no paid staff. Over the past years here we have worked at many orphanages and with many groups that did not share our ideology of transparency and sustainability. A lot of frustration, hard work, and many many tears have led us to where we are now. We have four main programmes running, each one connected to the next. Each programme shares our ethos of long-term sustainability. We do not believe in offering short-term solutions instead having a long-term plan in place that will help people have a bright and positive future to look forward to.  They are:

  1. Education 4 Life: At the orphanage that we work at, we support the educational needs of the children. As well as funding their tuition and insurance fees, school supplies and uniforms, we also provide volunteer tutors. The tutors work with the children during the school term to make sure that they have the best chance possible of good grades and a job in the future.
HOW - Huy in hospital

Visiting Huy in the hospital. Photo courtesy of Kerri Galligan

2. Starfish: We have provided life-saving surgeries, clinical care, wound care and nutritional support for children with varying medical conditions and needs over the years. Our current Starfish focus is Tam. Tam was abandoned at birth almost two years ago and ended up at the orphanage. He was born without eyes and had a severe bilateral cleft palette. Surgeries have started but there is a long road ahead, and we hope that eventually Tam will find a forever family! You can follow his story on Facebook. Helping Orphans Worldwide: Tam’s Page

Helping Orphan's Worldwide - Starfish Program

Tam before his surgery. Photo courtesy of Kerri Galligan

3. Gift of Life: This programme focusses on patients with HIV/AIDS and TB. Through our work, we have met many children abandoned or living in poverty because of the effect of HIV/AIDS on their family. We have been supporting an amazing HIV Clinic for many years now. The volunteers that run the programme try to educate the community on every aspect of the disease as well as treating everyone that walks through their doors. We have funded medicines, medical equipment and educational information used for distribution.

Helping Orphans Worldwide cow programme

The HOW cow programme. Photo courtesy of Kerri Galligan

4. Perpetual Giving: This programme has brought us outside of the city for the first time. We saw a need for people living in remote areas to have access to a sustainable/long-term income. Through this programme, we can teach families to become livestock farmers, and when they become established and confident enough, these now independent farmers pay it forward and share offspring as well as their training to other members of the community.

You can get more information on all of HOW’s programmes at

Why do you continue to return to Ho Chi Minh City?

We went to The Philippines in 2008 to do research and development. We worked with a well-respected and successful charity there before looking into where we would work ourselves. A friend of ours was living and working in HCMC at the time and with a lot of experience of charitable work, suggested we come to the city. Hillary came here for a few months and did a lot of research and eventually decided that this was a city where we could make a huge difference. We have been working here since!

We have a Board of Directors in America and Ireland. Both boards are constantly fundraising and raising awareness of our work as well as raising their families and following their own career paths. In HCMC we have a big support network of local volunteers without whom we could not work as effectively as we have been able to.

What do you love about Ho Chi Minh City?

Helping Orphans Worldwide -Tam now

Tam now – Still a way to go, but a big improvement thanks to the generosity of the many donors. Photo courtesy of Kerri Galligan

I LOVE the people! We have fundraised locally for different projects, and the response has always been phenomenal. We have been on a massive fundraising campaign to cover Tam’s medical expenses and everything that goes with that.  The reaction from the Vietnamese community both here and abroad has been humbling. The Vietnamese alone have raised over $16,500. Hopefully, Tam can have all the operations he needs and has a long and bright future ahead.

If you’d like to help, you can find details on Tam’s FB page.

From the staff at the orphanage to the volunteers at the HIV/AIDS clinic and the university students who tutor the orphanage children…. I have seen the best in people here. Their enormous hearts, their sense of community and the willingness to give up their time. It makes the people of HCMC very special.

Are there any negatives and how can visitors avoid them?

Every city has negatives. Pollution, noise and a lack of customer service and cleanliness can be frustrating but at the end of the day, you are in a developing country with immense poverty, and you need to get over the cultural differences and embrace every experience.

What are your favourite foods and restaurants and why?

I stay in the backpacker district as it is cheap and I am on a budget, so I love to eat on Bui Vien. You can eat alone and not be self-conscious. Sitting at a table facing the street and watching the world go by is my favourite way to spend spare time here. There is never a dull moment on Bui Vien, and no matter which restaurant you are in, you will be entertained by the colorful street life. Of all of the restaurants to choose from there, my two favourites are Baba’s Kitchen and 5 Oysters. The roof top at 5 Oysters is breezy, and the food is always good. Baba’s is simply the best Indian in the city. The food never disappoints, and the customer service is the best of anywhere I have been here!

Editors Note: I can vouch for both selections. Both are great value. You can find Baba’s at 164 Bui Vien St. 5 Oysters is a bit further west at 234 Bùi Viện.  

What are your favourite nightspots?

Again, I am on a budget, so nothing beats the Bia Hoi’s on Bui Vien. When the sun goes down, the atmosphere reaches electric. You will meet locals, tourists, and backpackers that want to sit and share stories. It’s a great place to go as a group or as an individual (and it helps that it is cheap). You will probably end up partying the night away in a club somewhere with your new friends. But always remember to bring wet wipes and toilet roll. You will inevitably end up using a questionable toilet somewhere along the way.

Nothing beats Bia Hoi on Bui Vien. When the sun goes down, the atmosphere reaches electric #BuiVienSaigon Click To Tweet

What are your favourite things to do in your spare time that visitors would love too?

I love walking around and finding a new favorite coffee shop or restaurant. The best way to get to know your neighbourhood is to get out and walk. Early in the morning is great as you will see the vendors setting up shop and getting ready for the day. Sundays are also great as the streets are not as busy and crossing the street is not a heart-stopping experience! Talk to local people (play charades if you need to) and I promise you will be met with a huge smile and end up laughing.

Xe Om - Motorbike taxis in Saigon

Two of our favourite Xe Om drivers. Reasonably safe and love a laugh.

What are the top 5 things you feel every visitor should do when they come to Ho Chi Minh City?

  1. Get a Xe-Om. You have got to get on the back of a bike. It is the best way to see the city, by day or night.
  2. Check out a Bia Hoi. Cheap, fun and a great way to meet new people.
  3. See the city from a rooftop bar. Doesn’t matter which one, there are lots to choose from.
  4. Karaoke! A national pastime and such fun. I cannot sing but going to a karaoke bar/room with Vietnamese friends and trying to sing a song in Vietnamese is one of the funniest things I have done here.
  5. Have an iced coffee! It’is the best coffee in the world, and whether you take it with condensed sweet milk, fresh milk or black, it is delicious and cheap. Nearly every street corner has a coffee stall.

Do you have any insider tips or warnings?

Download the Uber app to avoid getting ripped off by taxis or Xe-oms.  HCMC is like any other; you have to keep your wits about you and be safe. Do not wear expensive jewellery or have an expensive camera hanging around your neck unless you want to gain the attention of thieves. You may see tiny children on the street selling goods. They are cute, have great personalities and sometimes good English. Do not feel bad and give them money or buy anything. They are NOT getting the money. You are just feeding a really seedy industry here.

Download the Uber app to avoid getting ripped off by taxis and Xe-Oms #UberSaigon #TaxiScams Click To Tweet

What has been, or is your NUMBER 1 HO CHI MINH CITY HIGHLIGHT?

Making great friends, many from Vietnam and many not. I have met people from all corners of the globe here and have the privilege of calling many of them friends.

Is there anything else you think is important for visitors to know?

Many visitors to Vietnam would love to volunteer for a day at an orphanage and do some good. Unfortunately, volu-tourism is helping no one! You need to ask yourself why an orphanage would let strangers in to spend time with vulnerable children. If you find an orphanage that will let you visit, bring toys or money and play with the kids and take pictures….ask yourself why? More than likely this is an income for the people running the orphanage, and they will possibly sell any gifts you bring. We regularly have people from abroad volunteer with us, but they are on a structured trip. All volunteers have been interviewed, vetted and go through background checks. Volunteers are never alone with the children.

Ask yourself why an orphanage would let strangers in to spend time with vulnerable children. #Volu-Tourism Click To Tweet

Editors Note: Well I hope you enjoyed the interview from Kerri. If you want to donate to any of their worthwhile programs then visit their website or follow their activities on Facebook. And if you’d like to know how Tam is getting on, he has his on page HERE.

I do not receive any payment for this post (or any others on the site for that matter!). I do receive a small amount of money by allowing advertisements on the site and any purchases made through those links.

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6 Responses

  1. Jacop Hopman says:

    Wonderful article about the lovely and emotional charity works! It is amazing!

  2. Amanda says:

    Loved reading about your experience 🙂

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