1314 – Sunshine Project

Time: 23 Nov – 6 Dec

Place: Gia Bac Lam Dong

Members: 21 students of Saint Andrew Junior College

Achievement:

[EVG Learning and Cultural Hall] included:

–      EVG Class room

– EVG Cultural Hall

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Sunshine was a cooperation project between EVG and Saint Andrew’s Junior College, taken place at Gia Bac Commune, the poorest commune belong to Di Linh District, Lam Dong province. The locals here at Gia Bac live mainly on growing coffee and corns. Their incomes are really low; consequently, they don’t care much about education for their children. In order to fight poverty, the initial task is to change their outdated thoughts fixed in their mind. Step by step, EVG has been tried our best to reach this target. Understanding the importance of education and the preservation of K’hor’s culture, which is gradually falling into oblivion, in 23/11, we, Singaporean volunteers from SAJC and three volunteers of ECO Vietnam Group got together at Gia Bac to build a classroom and a gallery in the hope of creating an educational environment for children, a place for the locals to spread and preserve the beauty of their culture. In addition, we also bring them hours of learning English in the most comfortable way as well as giving some practical gifts for the poor. We almost finished building the classroom and the gallery ( without doors). Within 10 days at Gia Bac, we accomplished our missions: 10 useful English classes in 6 days; visiting 3 poor families and giving them gifts; harvesting coffee, building 1 classroom and 1 gallery On the first day, we arrived at Gia Bac in the evening and rested that night. On the second day, we got to work immediately. We, 21 volunteers (Singaporean and EVG) were divided into 3 groups: one group for contruction tasks, one group for teaching task and the other group was in charge of domestic tasks (cooking, washing dishes and cleaning).

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In addition, there was one group who was responsible for harvesting coffee, but this duty was just done in 1 day ( in the morning and in the evening) for the reason that the construction tasks were much more important. These tasks were shifted among groups in the following days. All volunteers were all enthusiastic about the brand new experiences. On the first working day, everyone was all eagerly awaited… Harvesting coffee just took place in one day, but it was warmly welcome by volunteers. Despite the swelteringly hot weather, the volunteers still did the job enthusiastically. Moreover, they had a chance to learn about the process of growing, harvesting and subjecting coffee to preliminary treatment. They paid more attention to the price as well as living standard of the farmers in this red soil. Besides, this work required some particular skills and effort. In the first stage, the volunteers were quite awkward when carrying out the job. However, the the next days, they made progress quite fast thanks to their enquring mind. They found it interesting to do the construction work, which was expected to be uninteresting and require a lot of effort. But the lessons they gained from the experience is invaluable. In some days, when there were so much work to cover, the volunteers still patiently carried on to complete the duty. In spite of the baking hot season, they still felt satisfied with their products.  Teaching task, which was thought to be much easier and funnier, turned out to be no less than difficult. The difficulty lied in some naughty boys, who much preferred playing with guests to studying, while girls tended to be passive in the lessons. In the first class of class 4B, boys struggled for taking parting the games to receive gifts whereas girls were not brave enough to join though they knew the answers. Fortunately, the children were very obedient and after receiving out encouragement, everyone joined the class happily. They also joined us to dance along with some English songs. The class atmostphere became much more comfortable. Partly, our lesson target was to raise English level of children in the highland. However, another important aim was to help them become more confident in communication skills and realize the positive effect of education on the future. Overall, teaching task was highly appreciated as it brang up the outcome better than expected. Singaporean volunteers prepared carefully for the lessons to arouse the interest of their students. Furthermore, we also organized 2 more events: one library event and one night for cultural exchanges. Library event was very successful when it attracted quite a few children of Gia Bac primary school. Including both creative and physical games, library event helped create an environment for children to engage themselves in and become more active. Cultural exchange night was held at the library. There were not many guests except teachers at Gia Bac primary school and Singaporean and Vietnamese volunteers. The most attentive audiences were children and parents. Together they made a warm performance night On the last days, we organized to visit 3 poor families and gave them some meaningful and practical gifts. It was not just a simple visit, it provided us with a chance to understand more about the locals’life as well as helping us figure out what made this land be under poverty. From that point, we could contemplate more about our contribution to this beloved land. On the last night at Gia Bac, we gathered around the camp fire, together we sang and shared our thoughts. 10 days at Gia Bac had passed, we returned to HCM city. There is not a single word, but we all believe that we’ve gained a lot of precious knowledge and experience. The next destinations were the tunnels of Cu Chi, Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral, War Remnants Museum, Ben Thanh market, etc… These famous places helped the Singaporean volunteers knew more about Vietnamese history and culture. The 14-day period had passed, we had to say goodbye. But what we received was the friendship, the experience from daily life at Gia Bac, and the beautiful memories we would never forget.

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1313 – Green Seed Project

Time: 16/11/2013 – 18/11/2013

Place: Gia Bac Lam Dong

Members: 20 students Dunman High school

Achievement:

1 EVG toilet
– English Teaching

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The first task was to build toilets. But why building toilets here? Because the locals at Gia Bac didn’t have a habit of using toilets. They would prefer using the back of their gardens. The problem is that if toilets haven’t been used, not only would the environment be polluted, our health would be negatively affected as well.

Building the toilets was not easy. We must observe how to mix the mortar and how to lay bricks properly… with the help of building workers, after 5 days, our work was accomplished. How proud we were for this accomplishment!

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The next task was to harvest coffee, which was considered to be the main source of the locals’ income. We helped them harvest more than 30 coffee trees within 3 working sessions.

Next, we had to handle with the teaching task. It was thought that language barrier was the biggest obstacle which prevented the Singaporean volunteers from communicating with Gia Bac pupils. However, it was their youthful enthusiasm along with their wholehearted devotion that built the bridge between kids and the volunteers.

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Then, a cultural exchange night was held on the last night the volunteers were at Gia Bac. Apart from traditional performances of the locals, there was an event in which both Vietnamese and Singaporean volunteers prepared more than 350 presents for children at Gia Bac commune.

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5 days at Gia Bac had already passed, we turned back to HCM city, showed the Singaporean volunteers around the city and finally saw them off.

The project had successfully come to an end. The time we exchanged gifts was also the time for warm hugs, shaking hands and saying goodbye. A week spending time together was not long enough for us to understand each individual thoroughly; however, the Singaporean volunteers showed us their youthful enthusiasm and great sense of responsibility. Thank you so much for joining us and contributing your strength to the better society. Thank you for supporting us in carrying out this project.

 

1312 – Angel’s smile project

Time: 15/12/2013 to 27/12/2013

Place: Gia Bac Lam Dong

Members: 28 students of Nanyang Girls High school

Achievement:

[EVG Learning and Cultural Hall] included:

–  EVG Classroom

– 1 EVG toilet

– English Teaching

Gia Bac, with 99% of population are K’Ho ethnics, is one of the deprived commune in Vietnam. The main income of the locals is from coffee bean and corn harvesting. However, the harvesting is much affected by changing weather, which brings about lots of difficulties in their daily lives. Also, it is because of the poverty that kids in Gia Bac do not receive enough love and care from their parents who are busy days and nights working to meet ends meet and more importantly, good education. The vicious circle of poverty – low education – low awareness – poverty is the one that EVG has been aiming to break down since the very first day we set foot on this land to start our community development projects.

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As one of the four OCIPs hosted by ECO Vietnam Group taking place in Gia Bac commune at the ending time of year 2013, Angel’s Smile Project was carried out from 15/12/2013 to 27/12/2013 (EVG) and supported by teachers and students from Nanyang Girls’ High School ( Singapore), one of EVG’s long-time partners. Our mission this time is to build 1 EVG toilet and 1 EVG classroom, to harvest coffee beans, to teach English to 4th& 5th grade students, to organize “ Library Event” & “Cultural Night“ for the kids and to visit poor families. After 10 days of hard but fun and meaningful work in Gia Bac, we came back to Ho Chi Minh city with smiles. We smiled because we know that we did contribute something to this community with our great efforts and that we all learned some precious lessons from this trip. Just as the slogan of this project, we gave hands and took smiles.

Below is sharings from 2 Vietnamese volunteers who joined Angel’s Smile project. Please take a look and learn how they think and feel about the project!

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This trip didn’t give me strong feelings, life-changing thoughts or a twist in my life. I have experienced volunteering work in previous volunteer trips before and thus, it was not easy for me to get aroused tremendously.

But, this trip gave me a feeling of love for my country. A long road twisting between mountains leading to Gia Bac is filled with green color, the color of trees growing strongly on this highland area. I was overwhelmed with excitedness seeing the amazing scene and couldn’t help being proud of the beauty of Vietnam landscape. Then, when I set foot on the land of Gia Bac, the excitement doubled as the place here was so peaceful and refreshing.

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This trip also let me see myself of 5 years ago. Everyday, I and other 20 middle high schoolgirls woke up at 5:30, had breakfast at 6:30 in a relaxed atmosphere, and started construction work at 7:30. 1 hour of us working actually could be done in just 5 minutes by the professional builders, but we enjoyed learning to do the tasks, making mistakes and getting the hang of them.  After a day of working, the girls gathered in the library to do the reflection. They laughed, they cried and hugged each other to forget their homesickness. And I saw myself in them. 5 years ago, I was also like that, being new to everything at a new place, laughing, crying, going through ups and downs and growing up.

Coming back to the city, I have more free time for myself  and enjoy all the conveniences, but still, I can’t help missing Gia Bac and everything happened there.

Hoang Thi Quynh Anh

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I, a newly graduated girl who has got full of passions, ambitions and desires to learn, embarked on the community development project with the group of students from Nanyang Girl’s High School taken place in Gia Bac commune. And here, I want to share with you three things this trip has taught me.

Lesson no.1: Giving must go with consideration.

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Since I was little, my parents has taught me to help others who are less fortunate than me. Keeping my parents’ words in my mind, I have been on many volunteer trips to help unfortunate people. And not until this project had I thought I had helped a lot of people.  But, this trip made me realize that a mere action of giving doesn’t assure that you will receive happiness.  If you give just to satisfy your feelings without thorough consideration, your giving doesn’t mean anything.

 

Lesson no.2: Open to your team member

In this project, our group included 20 Singaporean girl students, 6 teachers, 1 tourguide and 6 Vietnamese volunteers. Together we spent 10 days in Gia Bac building 1 toilet and 1 classroom, teaching English to elementary students and holding 2 big events for the kids. How come a group of too many individuals with different characters and backgrounds could finish all of the tasks? Because we didn’t just work and work. We talked. We laughed. We cried. We shared every moment together.  We opened our hearts to each other.  Not only did we learn to work with building & teaching materials only but we also learn to work with people.

I learned that the key to a team success is “chit-chat”. We chat to understand each other better, to erase all the initial misconceptions of each other, to see and accept the real of our team members and to find a way to work well with each other.

 

Lesson no.3: A small thing to me maybe is a very big thing to others.

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At the last day of the project, I had a chance to visit a poor family in Gia Bac. There are 5 people in this family, one old father and four little children.  The father is sick, so everyday, 4 little kids have to walk a 10-km-long way to their farming land to take care of corn and coffee trees. Their daily meal is rice and wild veggy, and rarely with some dried fishes. In winter, wood is used for cooking rice so there is no wood left for them to warm up themselves. Four of them sleep on 2 small beds and share 2 quilts. But, however poor they are, the father saves all the money he has got, even money for treating his illness,  for his chidlren’s education with the hope that they will have a better life than him.

You know, a small amount of money to me, 20000 VND for a cup of coffee, can buy him 1-week-food. Seeing the great difference between their lives and mine made me understand so well how blessed I am to have such a life without worries for basic needs and hence urged me to stop affording unneccesary things and use the money for a better purpose. No eating cakes for three days and use the money to buy the family a new quilt is a good instance, isn’t it?

Nguyen Thi Mai Khanh (Nicole)

 

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1311 – Water of love Project

Time: 7oct – 11Oct

Place: An Hiep, Ben Tre

Members: 8 members from Arup Company

Achievement:

– 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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1309 – Clean Water Project

About the project:

Clean Water Project is a collaborative project between ECO Vietnam Group and HSBC Bank with the support of LIN Center for Community Development.

– Time of the project took place: 9/7/2013- 31/12/2013

– Location: An Hiep Commune, Ba Tri district, Ben Tre province.

– Content: Building 50 reservoirs for 50 poor families in An Hiep Commune. Donating school supplies, bicycles for students in An Hiep 1 primary school and An Hiep 2 primary school.

The meaning of the project :

An Hiep is the poorest commune in the 23 communes of Ba Tri district , Ben Tre province . This is an agricultural region , is divided into two areas : land and isles . The population of An Hiep is 121.881 or 2,724 households . On the isle land , because of the lack of clean water , people can not farm that have to employed only with very low wages in the surrounding areas or HCMC . Because life is too difficult, the learning of children are not receiving the necessary attention . One of the urgent issues to be addressed here is clean water . Located near the sea , An Hiep has only two seasons: saltwater and freshwater . Salt water can not be used in crop and livestock production ; whereas freshwater resources also affected by acidity , affect the use in daily life . The only source of clean water is rain water here . So , in the rainy season , people have used the reservoir to reserve water for dry season . However, in many poor families can not afford to build the reservoir, so they have to buy water or use salt water. Therefore, the clean water project brings  50 reservoirs for 50 poor families in the hope that reduced somewhat difficult for the people of this land .

Activity report:

A) Construction of water reservoir:

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– On 2/8, 16 HSBC staff and 4 volunteers of EVG has built 8 reservoirs for 8 poor households in An Hiep .

– The remaining 42 reservoirs  assigned to the local to they build and was completed in 9/2013.

– On 10/02/2013, 5 representatives of ECO Vietnam Group go to the local to test 42 reservoirs .

 

B) Giving gifts to elementary students:

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– On 08/03/2013, HSBC staff and volunteers have an exchange day and teach student of An Hiep 1 primary school about hygiene. Late sessions, 160 gifts (by HSBC charge) including pair textbooks were given to 160 school children at An Hiep 1.

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– In addition, 5 bike (charge by HSBC) has also been given to 5 students with good academic and disadvantaged of An Hiep 2 school.1157633_10151786919590977_300226718_n

1308 – Colorful Bricks Project

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Time: July(15 DAys)

Place: Gia Bac, Lam Dong

Members: 15 Students of NTU- Computer Engineer

 

Achievement:

– ECO Toilet.
– English teaching

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1307 – No Boundaries Project

 

Time: 07June-16June( 7 Days)

Place: Phuong Thinh, Dong Thap

Members: 44 Students of NTC Camp Out Reach

Achievement:

– ECO Toilet.
– Road building (1.3km)
– English teaching.
– Classroom refurbishing.

A STORY I WOULD LOVE TO SHARE

 

Dear friends,

What did you do last sem-break? Have you had a great time?

Some of my friends stay at home and relax, others travels around Vietnam and even aboard. My sem-break, on the other hand, was “slightly” different. I went to a voluntary trip in a small village in Dong Thap Province, Vietnam.

Coming back from that trip, my heart is filled with love, memories and lessons. Inside me feels a great urge to write down these precious moments to keep the spirit of volunteerism with me forever.I also want to share this experience with you and hopefully, you will see volunteering as worth-trying, mind-widening and simply, fun.

It’s all started with a friend of mine who talked me into applying for this trip in a non-government organization – ECO Vietnam Group. I got in. Then, we and 8 others Vietnamese volunteers together with 44 Singaporeans, half are hearing-impaired and the others are students of Nanyang Technological University, participated in a nine-day community project. We built road and restroom, refurnished classroom, taught English to children, organized an exchange session with hearing impaired Vietnamese and challenged ourselves in an exciting race. To be honest with you, it was back-breaking work, but, trust me, it was an amazing experience after all.

No Boundaries –was the name of the project that our Vietnamese volunteers came up with. I found the name perfectly fit to my case.  I joined this trip feeling both anxious and exciting, not to mention curious, too. I’d been desperate to travel for so long but I was too insecure to step out of my comfort zone, leave all the conveniences of the urban world behind and come to a needy place. Actually, I had never even dared to bear the thought that someday I was going to throw myself in a long trip with people from another country, especially when I couldn’t communicate with some of them normally prior to the trip. But, things turned out just fine; since there were no boundaries between us when we all tried our best to reach out.

Let me tell you how we reach to each other regardless of our differences.

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The “daily” routine – those days of living with my friends across countries.

 

We met and soon lived, treated each other like a family, and of course, we did it in rural style. Every morning, we woke up at 6, made bed, washed up and had breakfast together. When the clock stroke seven- thirty, we were divided into 5 teams, got on a boat and travelled to our working “sites”, leaving a “housewives” team at “home”. After 4 hours of working, we rushed back to the hall since none of us could resist the urge to “reunite”. We chatted about what was going on in the morning while enjoying lunch together. OH, WAIT! I need stop right here and dedicate a whole paragraph about the meals.

 

About .the .meals,

I can say without hesitation that I remember exactly what we ate throughout the trip and it’s definitely not because we ate almost the same thing over and over again! *sarcastic mode* In terms of appétit, our Singaporean friends were unbelievably difficult to please: some were forbidden to eat this (religious reasons, duhh!), while others were allergic to that! So to avoid the burden of preparing different food for the right people we ended up eating the thing that the majority can eat: pork and eggs, for almost every meal, for 9 days. Yes, you heard me, long live pork and eggs!!!

 

Sorry for the side track, I just want to point out that: when you live with 53 other individuals every small detail can be a big deal. Back to the “daily” routine, in the afternoon, we continued the work from the morning; however, hot weather with the burning sun made everyone much more exhausted. After a long working day, we came home and smelled like, well, smelled like “flower”.  So friends, at this point, you’re probably imagining us fighting for the human right to bath first, right? But no, we did everything in order; our Singaporean friends took turn to bath accordingly to a neat system based on who came home first and which work produced most disgusting body odor (true story!). We Vietnamese volunteers decided to show our hospitality by bathing last, a great sacrifice I might say.  Bathing is not the only thing we did in the evening, obviously. Every night, after the reflection of the day (for 2 to 4 hours long), we usually did the washing together. Five to six people gathered into a circle with a bunch of washing basins, talked nineteen to the dozen in the dark of night and reluctantly immolated our blood to hundreds of mosquitoes out there. After that, as if we hadn’t seen each other enough, we continued gossiping and never went to bed before 1 AM.

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The art of building a toilet and its charm.

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Among the 5 different jobs we did at Dong Thap, the most exciting activity to me was toilet building. It was, of course, the first time in life we built a toilet. We considered ourselves as outstanding architects and artists, not simply workers. We did a serious deal of careful measurement, like how much sand and water were enough to make cement; we placed every single brick carefully on the wall, plastered cement on them slowly and delicately as though we were painting a masterpiece. Looking at the wall growing taller and taller, we felt like we were building a castle.

Unlike toilet building, toilet cleaning was much more mundane. After two days in charge of toilet cleaning in our “home”, I got a new nickname – toilet princess– since I was the most professional toilet cleaner and I really pride myself on that! During my shift, I almost stuck to my “flawlessly cleaned” toilets (there was 6 of them) and was willing to “risk” myself to protect my babies. Now, looking back at this moment, I see no difference between me and a loyal guard of a sacred temple.

Dear friends,

Seriously, only living and working in this situation that you could appreciate the true beauty of a brand new, clean and clear toilet!

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The works, on one hand were tiring and challenging; not only toilet building but road building, refurnishing classroom, teaching and even house-working as well. However, on the other hand, they were filled with joy, voluntary spirit and pleasant encounters. Indeed, the people I met during those days are gifts of live.

The people – the villagers, the children and their warm hearts.

The people in Dong Thap were so kind and hospitable. There was a time when we were building the road; a villager living near the place brought us a HUGE bottle of coffee. At first, my Singaporean friends were quite reserved and didn’t dare try it. Only after I had drunk the coffee did they start doing the same. The coffee, since then, ran out in a blink, so she went back to her house and brought us two extra bottles. How kind was that!

There was another villager that we dearly called “Thím Năm” ; she is our savior. During work, one of my friends was attacked by a giant worm and the bites were extremely itchy. Thím Năm suddenly appeared from out of nowhere, just liked a fairy, she washed his T-shirt and treated him with her secret remedy. Other villagers at the site also came and helped out.

The people in this place will always stay in my mind; they were so kind and nice. They helped us in everything, lent us tools and gave us advices to do our works and treated us like their sons and daughters. Even though lives are difficult with them in the village, some even struggle to make end meets or find food every single day but love and hospitality are what they’ll never lack of. I had a change to visit a poor household in the village and the story we heard brought tears to our eyes, however we also saw hope in the love that the villagers had for each other, they lean on each other to survive. To that, I have to bow down.

It is also hard to forget the love the children there gave us. They are not only our students, but also our younger brothers and sisters. During days staying in the village, they often came played with us in where we lived and they followed us everywhere we went.  On the day we left Dong Thap, they gave us presents, wrote letters in Vietnamese to our Singaporean friends, drew us pictures, hugged and kissed us. I almost burst into tears. At that moment, I knew I had already left behind bits and pieces of me to those children.

After 5 days living and working in the village, we finally had to say goodbye and moved on. Luckily, all of us had had enough time to finish building the toilet, the road – 2km in total, and refurnish the classroom with a beautiful wall mural painted by our Singaporean friends. We said goodbye in a culture night and campfire afterward, which were surprisingly delightful with special performances from all of us – the volunteers and the villagers. At that night, in the warm of the burning camp-fire, we – Vietnamese volunteers, Singaporeans, the hearing impaired friends, the villagers, children and adults somehow became ONE. We communicated in different languages; we couldn’t remember all the names, but, at that moment, when we held hands in a big circle and laughed and danced, I knew that’s the moment I will never forget, there were no boundaries between us. Though we will go our separate ways, the love of that night will follow us anytime, anywhere till the day we come back “home”.

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Frankly, what I remember most in the village in Dong Thap province, is a dreadful insect.

If you ask me about the deepest impression Dong Thap left on me, I will answer without any hesitation: mosquito bites. Oh, yes. Mosquito, a small insect with a long proboscis was the most dreadful enemy we faced. Regardless of how much Soffell (Mosquito Repellent) we applied, we were all terribly bitten. Every little bit of skin that was not covered by clothes was instantly attacked awfully. After coming back to the city, I am still obsessed with that darned creature. On the first night at home, I unconsciously woke up at midnight and started looking for my Soffell. To make things worse, during lunch time at RMIT, me and my friend- also a volunteer in the trip were eating and scratching at the same time, attracting tons of attention.

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Let’s continue with my journey.

Yes, my friends, the village in Dong Thap was only our first destination. After that, we headed to Ho Chi Minh City and had a wonderful, yet challenging time with the hearing impaired Vietnamese from the Deaf Community Organization HCMC (DCOH).

Breaking sound barriers

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Some of you may wonder how I communicated with my hearing impaired friends. The answer is using everything I have got. Besides a little bit of sign language I was prepared, I made the fullest use of my body and facial expression. However, not until the exchange session between Singaporean hearing impaired and DCOH did I realize how enormous our barrier was. Vietnam and Singapore use different sign language hence a message must be communicated from a Singaporean hearing impaired to a NTU student then to me, and then to a teacher in DCOH and finally to a hearing impaired Vietnamese – that were four times of translation in total.  Now, I think you may have already imagined how difficult the situation was for us. OK, multiple it by 5, that’s how hard it was when we entered into an ice-breaker game. We signed, waved our hands, wrote our names and did a lot of things to express what we thought and to understand the others. One hour passed quickly. There was absolutely no speaking. No one can possibly imagine that inside such a silent room, we did play, laugh and enjoy a beautiful afternoon together. Mission accomplished!

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A sweet memory with my new friends

Right after the exchange session with DCOH, it was shopping time, in Ben Thanh market.  Now, every time I come across the market, I recalled that night when I took my Singaporean friends there, I decided to pretend to be a foreigner since I was told that vendors there would be really frustrated and irritated when a Vietnamese tried to bargain for foreigners. Truthfully, acting was not the least bit easy. I was more frightened to be “compromised” than actually enjoyed the show. Looking at my nervous face, a Singaporean boy dragged me into his arms, hugged me and told me that everything would be OK. At that moment, I felt like I was his daughter.  It was so sweet of him though J.

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There were times when I was in danger as well (actually, it was nowhere near as dangerous as how we perceived danger).

A little adventure that went wrong.

On the last days, we moved from HCMC to Can Gio Province, where we played “The Amazing Race” in Vam Sat Eco Park in Can Gio. That was really fun even though my team didn’t win. We all came out covered in sweet and flour.

Anyway, after the race, I and a volunteer came back to the forest in the Eco Park at twilight to collect things. The two of us had to carry two chairs, two 15-litter water bottles (empty but enormous) and two big heavy bags of materials for the Amazing Race. To make things more difficult, the road leading to the camping area was nearly impassable and night fell so quickly. We had neither a flash light nor a mobile phone on us. We were desperately groping in the darkness, trying to find the entrance but instead, we penetrated deeper into the forest. We mistakenly got on a rope bridge once and walked into dead-ends twice. Luckily, my life hadn’t ended there yet (I thought I would be rotten in that forest), we managed to find the right way out and met two other volunteers who were looking for us at the forest entrance. Almost bursting into tears, I ran to them like a little duck that had finally found its parents after a long day lost in the forest.

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Dear friends,

There are still so many things in my journey that I want to tell you, but it will be a never ending conversation. And this blog is already ridiculously long, so please stick with me for the last story I want to share, won’t you?

The stormy goodbye

This is the Ferry Story. It was the last day of the project when the storm hit us during our ferry back to HCMC. How fierce and intense the storm was! We, 54 people, half hearing impaired, were almost knocked overboard with the catastrophic wind. The ferry was so tiny in front of the cruel and deadly storm in the middle of the river. Somewhere echoed a scream ‘Die, we are gonna die!’ – It was not close a deadly situation but could give several panic attacks apparently.  Right after the ferry reached the harbor; we ran off quickly and led our Singaporean friends to a safe place. It was chaotic and nerve wracking as the storm kept on raging, people running and yelling. However, no one was harmed, only soaking wet and frozen; we stood closely to each other while it rained like cats and dogs outside.

This is not the way we want to say goodbye to our Singaporean friends at all, but, well, until the moment we sent them off to the airport we were as wet as a fish and our teeth were still chattering because of the cold. What a memory!

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Time flied so fast. I returned to my normal life without my big family, feeling sad rather than relieved. Thank God for bringing us together in this project, to let me know how volunteering spirit can bridge all the differences and how deep relationship can be built up only in 9 days. ‘When will we see each other again?’ I don’t have the answer for this question but I know once I still keep my enthusiasm for travel to do voluntary work, high chance I will meet those sisters and brothers again.

To my friends, Vietnamese and Singaporean, the villagers and the children, I own you an enormous thank you for being with me throughout this journey, for teaching me lessons that I couldn’t find elsewhere. I will always cherish our time together – those summer days we lived and worked for the same purpose: serving the community and learning to be our better selves.

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Dear friends,

This is the end of, simply said, my journey. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. If this story can inspired even one person to pursuit voluntary work it has paid off.

About me, until next time we meet, might be I’ve just been back from some voluntary works. My story of voluntary life has just begun. Definitely!

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Best wished to you,

ME.