Our time in Vietnam was short but lovely. Indeed, those ten days were filled with so many joyful memories that are absolutely irreplaceable.
We were just twenty five kids setting off on a journey to Vietnam, not knowing what to really expect. True, we had spent quite some time preparing for the trip, whether it was for the cultural performance or for teaching materials. We knew what we had signed up for (yeah construction, yeah teaching), but it was only when we actually experienced working that we truly understood the value of those activities.
Together with our three teacher chaperones, we stepped out of our urban comfort zones into the untouched landscapes of Ben Tre Province. Where we were, there were no giant mountains and scenes of the sublime or the blinding lights of city life, but we were still enchanted by the pure and simple scenes in the village. There was the little mud trail on our way to Nguyen Ngoc Thang primary school, the lighthearted residents resting in their hammocks, the children on their bicycles and of course, the occasional big butterfly. We were touched by the genuine sincerity of the villagers – the tightness of their community and their friendliness.
The service was the highlight of the whole trip, whether it was the construction or the education component. For education, I guess we can pretty much say we got off on a pretty haphazard start. For the first lessons, we couldn’t manage the students and because of unexpected circumstances, we didn’t have a clear syllabus outline. But soon we grew to realize that sometimes it’s not about what is taught, but how it is taught. I think it might be more accurate to say that we’ve learnt even more from the students in the primary school than they have from us. Eventually we developed a sort of teaching system, complete with a “crowd control” factor. Everyone was contributing to lesson planning, sharing experiences and tips with the next education group. And watching as the children learnt and had fun was really heartwarming.
Though it was tiring, construction was really fun. After all, it’s a once in a lifetime experience, being able to create concrete courtyards using only rudimentary tools. From plucking weeds to carrying soil to carrying rocks to shoveling cement – we’ve done it all. Although we started off pretty disorganized with a misallocation of manpower and so on, we eventually got the hang of everything as everyone began to take more initiative in different tasks. We got creative too – we used the power of human weight to level soil and we used sheets and bricks to stop a leak. We did everything manually and we’re proud of it – we became human drillers and concrete mixers.
Even cooking was an unforgettable experience too. It wasn’t just about the food, it was about observing the local environment and lifestyle and being a part of it, albeit temporarily. We had the privilege of eating at one of the local’s homes, and the food was delectable.
Before we realized it, those six days of service came to an end, and although we left the village and the school physically, we left a bit of our hearts there.
The sightseeing part of our trip included a tour along the Mekong River and one of its tributaries, a trip to Unicorn island (the land of coconut candy!), a chance to watch the water puppet show, a visit to the war tunnels and museums from the Vietnam war and naturally, no sightseeing itinerary would be complete without a trip to the market. Those were opportunities where we were exposed to the rich Vietnamese culture and history. It’s really something to read about a country and its culture but it’s something else to experience it first hand.
And now we’ve returned to Singapore with just a few dozen (okay, thousand) photographs and small souvenirs to remind us of the time we had in Vietnam, reliving the memories encapsulated within them. But still, they simply can’t compare to the actual experience of being in Vietnam. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, then every single moment spent in Vietnam in those ten days – filled with the sounds of the children cheering, the tastes of the amazing local delicacies, the inexplicable feelings of joy from working – was worth more than a million words could ever express.
We miss Vietnam.
Written By: Laura Tsui (10A15)