The past two days we’ve been volunteering at Maison Chance, a school for children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford public school and a home for those with disabilities. Our first day at the center was very relaxed as we toured the school and attached apartments then went over to the adult center. Each grade (grades 1-5) stood up to greet us as we were introduced as guest teachers for the next few days. There is quite a language barrier that exists between us and the children/staff but fortunately we have a wonderful translator that has been working with us to help communicate! We were also given a tour of the apartments, adjacent to the school, which house ,more than 100 people… most who are wheelchair bound. Everyone is very accessible for those living at the center which is often not the case in mainstream society here in Vietnam. After we visited the students and saw the apartments, we went to the adult center just about a kilometer away. The adults are disabled in one way or another, again many are wheelchair bound. The adults come to the center to learn a skill and hence earn money through this manner. We saw the sewing room where ladies and men were sewing stuffed animals which are then sent abroad to be sold (through church groups, etc)… of course I have a few stuffed elephant souvenirs that will be joining me on the rest of my journey as well! Next we visited the IT center where the adults were learning how to use computers and technology… in fact, I saw a few Facebook pages opened as well… it always amazes me when I travel to see just how connected this world really is! Because Vietnam is very communist based, the government actually banned Facebook and other social media back in 2009 but fortunately the country isn’t as strict as China and thanks to a quick google search, I found many ways around the block. Next was the painting center where creations were being made… I was blown away at the quality of the artwork that these individuals had made. We met one man who had been working on a gorgeous painting… with only his mouth and a paint brush. The dedication and talent was outstanding and he was quite inspiring. There’s no way I could paint even half that well using my hands! We met the people in charge of running Maison chance and the administration before going over our schedule for the next few days. We are giving talks to all of the grades about basic public health from risks involved with smoking to healthy living and a basic anatomy course of how the body functions. We had lunch with the adults at the center before having the afternoon off to plan for the following days. When we got back to the hotel, we attempted to find a grocery store which was incredibly hard as the markets/grocery store/co-op search on google was quite misleading. The language barrier is quite evident as most Vietnamese individuals, including taxi drivers and restaurant workers, don’t seem to know a word of English… so it’s been a game if sherades trying to communicate. Eventually we caught a taxi and we were able to explain what we were looking for and we successfully made it here and back! We had a relaxing night putting together a few powerpoints and grabbing dinner before we called it an early night!
The next day was our first day teaching at Maison chance. Although google claims that the center is only about 15 minutes away from our hotel, it is a constant 45 minute-1 hour battle to try to find the place so we had to leave quite early to make it for our 7:30 class. We got everything set up and then grade 1 arrived eager to learn. They filed in and sat in a perfect grid… literally a perfect grid (as each class to follow would do). The class held each other responsible for good behavior and would poke or hit one another when one was acting out. In America, children would be sent to the principle for this type of action but here in Vietnam, it seems to be the norm. Each class also has a class leader that ensures everyone is sitting properly and being well behaved. Class periods are an hour and a half which is a long time for six-year-olds to sit and pay attention. So about an hour into our presentation, a few of the students were getting a bit rambunctious so the class leader got up, went and twisted their ear, then sat back down and everything was fixed… we weren’t really sure what to do but we went along with it. As I mentioned, the time periods were an hour and a half so we can quite a bit of time to explain to them all about the risks and harms of smoking tobacco. It might have been one of the first times they had really heard this information as they all seemed quite surprised. Smoking is quite common here in Vietnam so hopefully we were able to enlighten them and they’ll remember the presentation when faced with a decision to smoke or not. We had a bit of extra time towards the end of the sessions so we took the students outside to play. We played a bit of soccer which was more accurately about 50 students running around chaotically after one soccer ball with no rules or boundaries. We also played cat and mouse, a version of tag, and taught them duck, duck, goose… which they loved! It was a long, hot day but a very enjoyable day. After each hour and a half class, the children have a 20 minute break so many of the children came to hangout which us during the breaks and play… it was precious to say the least!
Tomorrow is Sunday so we have the day off from school (the only day that the children don’t go to school) so I’m adventuring off to the mekong delta. Then we’ll be teaching Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It’s mind-blowing to think that we left Omaha just a week ago and got to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) just a few days ago as we have already done and seen so much but we are certainly living the days to the fullest and enjoying the time that we have here!
Hope all is well at home!