Time: 7oct – 11Oct
Place: An Hiep, Ben Tre
Members: 8 members from Arup Company
– 12 water tanks
– English Teaching
Water of Love Project was carried out in An Hiep Commune, the poorest area of Ba Tri District, Ben Tre Province, by Eco Vietnam Group and the staff of Arup Singapore Company. Due to its geographical location, water in An Hiep Commune is either salinized or contaminated, which has brought about many difficulties to the locals’ farm work and daily life. What’s worse, the local water company can only meet one third of the local’s demand of water, not to mention this water is not clean enough for cooking. Therefore, the only source of clean fresh water in this area is from the rain, and water tanks, which are used to store rainwater in rainy season for later use in dry season, are like saviors of the locals, especially in the dry season.
Acknowledging the great importance of water tanks to An Hiep Commune’s local people, on Monday morning, Oct 10, 8 volunteers from Arup Singapore Company with different nationalities and 3 volunteers from ECO Vietnam Group left for An Hiep Commune with the mutual goal of building up 12 water tanks for 12 poor families of the commune. Also, we planned to hold 6 free English classes for students of An Hiep 1 elementary school and to give out some necessities to 3 poor families of the commune.
We had a small meeting with the local council on the first day and took a rest after that to fully recharge our batteries, preparing for the next three hard days. Next morning, we divided ourselves into 3 teams, which were 2 building teams and 1 teaching and cooking team. Role was swapped over among these 3 teams in next days. Before the G time, the teaching team took a look at teaching materials while building teams checked necessary tools. We all got excited to start our work.
However, work, especially the building of water tanks, turned out to be more difficult than we had expected. Just after 15 minutes of fetching buckets of sand and rocks, making concrete, and pouring concrete into the water tank frame, we, the ones who only worked in front of computer and had little or no experience of manual work before, all sweated heavily and panted. To get through the exhaustion, we even said a funny thing “ We’ve got very meaningful and free gym now”. Luckily, we gradually got used to work, knowing how to cooperate with each other and thus managed to finish building the tanks more quickly in later building sessions.
We also got encouragement and support right from the families we built the tanks for. They gave us water, fresh coconuts and homemade delicacies during breaks. They also kept thanking us for building these tanks for them and telling how grateful they were. One lady even told me “ I have nothing to gave back to all of you as a token of thanks”, but I do believe to us, the presents we want to get back most is the happiness of these families and the great long-term benefits the tanks will bring to them.
It is inevitable for white-collar workers like us to have our body ache all over after hours of working with shovel, rock, sand and such-a-like, but no one talked about it. What we did care is the weather in this rainy season. We even thought of an option of waking up earlier, starting working earlier and faster so that we could finish 4 tanks before it rained. Fortunately, our worries did not come true. Although it rained in 2 days out of 3 working days, the rain always had stopped and the sky became clear right before we started the building. Thus, the goal of 4 water tanks a day or 12 water tanks in 3 days were successfully achieved.
As for the teaching team, while their job seemed to be much easier, they also had their own problem. The so-called problem was that the kids were too active and playful. They competed to get selected to answer the questions and we had a hard time to decide whom we had to pick so that all of the kids would have a chance to speak up. On the other hand, there were some shy kids in the class and hence we had to encourage them to come in front to speak. Happily, those kids came out of their shell little by little and joined the class. Mrs. Phuoc, the school principal, stood outside watching the class, smiled and told me:” It is such a precious chance for these kids to learn with all of foreign volunteers because I have noticed that the kids who had a chance to meet and talked to foreign volunteers in the previous project all became more confident in their life and study later”. Like her, we also hope that these small English classes could help the kids gain more confidence and find studying more interesting.
People living in the Western South of Vietnam are said to be the poorest, but the friendliest one. The kids we met at An Hiep 1 elementary school are the perfect example for this statement. They were so innocent, cheerful and kind-hearted. Even though we come from distant places, and most of us speak a different language from theirs, the kids welcomed us warmly and treated us as if we were their family members. During breaks, they gathered around us, gave us curious looks, and after a long contemplation, tried to ask our names, ages, nationalities with imperfect English. They tried all means to make us play with them, even turned to Vietnamese volunteers for translation. They also gave us lots of surprises. There was a girl disappearing after a talk with us and then coming back to gave Christelle ( 1 Arup volunteer) a lollipop and Christelle and Xiying ( 1 Arup volunteer) 2 more pictures later. Another kid out of nowhere gave us 3 little candies. And another girl, at the end of the English class, took our from her desk a small bouquet of flowers made by herself and ran fast to the front of the class to give to Xiying. These seemingly small presents must have been precious to them, yet they gave us without hesitation!
Furthermore, the kids were very well-behaved. Although we were simply volunteers and taught them in no more than an hour, they addressed us in such a polite way that they only do to their teachers. When the class started and ended, they stood straight, with the loudest voice ever, said to us “ Hello, teacher”, Thank you, teacher”. Those very short moments did melt our hearts and made us realize how meaningful the class was to them. In retrospect, we wonder what should be done to make sure that all those bright kids will receive good education so that they can develop their own hometown by their own actions in the near future.
On the last day of the trip, we went to visit 3 poor families and gave them some necessities such as rice, salt, and sugar as a present. They are all old women and man, aging over 80 and live in badly-conditioned houses lying in distant and hard-to-reach places. Three individuals with three different life stories, but all have ups and downs, and even at this very old age, they are still not able to take a rest and to stop worrying about their own life and their kids and grandchildren as well. Just for once, I wished if only we had more time and all the foreign volunteers could understand and speak Vietnamese so that we could have exchanged more stories and let them know that they were being listened to. We left their houses with unpleasant feelings inside, which were only lessened when we knew these people would receive more support from other organizations’ upcoming projects in cooperation with the local council.
After 5 days in An Hiep Commune, we had to say goodbye to this land to come back to Ho Chi Minh City. Each one had his/ her own feelings but I do believe that we all have got valuable experiences and learned a lot from warm-hearted people in An Hiep Commune. We learned to challenge ourselves and to move beyond our limits to bring something good to others. We learned that the purely caring feelings we had for each other are the most beautiful and powerful thing that can erase all the gaps of age and affluence. Years later, everyone may forget how much we had to pay for water tanks or sets of stationery but we, all of the volunteers and An Hiep’s local people, for sure will never forget the warm feelings we once shared.
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