March 30, 2012

Making New Friends at the Friendship Village

Santa Barbara students in Vietnam
Day 8 - Hanoi/Friendship Village

Today, our second full day in Hanoi, we ventured to the outskirts to visit the Friendship Village. As we were further informed by the headmaster through translation by our tour guide, Friendship Village is a completely free school for victims of Agent Orange. The school is funded half by the Vietnamese government and half by corporate and private donations. The school's main purpose in educating these children is to teach them skills that will help them make a living in everyday life. They set up classes for the children that have less mental restrictions that can give them the future opportunity to provide for themselves, such as embroidery, sewing, and computer technology.

Walking around these classrooms and visiting the children while class was in session was really an amazing way to see the effects of the war and how often it is still present in the lives of these people. Many of the children are mute and deaf, while others have physical deformities, all of which limit their opportunities in the real world.

After a general tour and brief introductions to the children, we ate a brief lunch at the school before heading out to do some service to the garden areas. On a full stomach we weeded all the grass and plants from the vegetable gardens as well as some quick weeding in the back of the school where they raise pigs. Finally we got to the part we were all looking forward to the most: playing with the kids and and teaching them about the gifts we had brought for them. As we were previously informed, there are two different groups at the school that are both in about the same age range; the first one is for children with very little mental capacities, where they learn very basic things like how to tell time, and the second group is for the more advanced students who can learn basic math and geography. I went to visit the  more advanced children, where we presented the class with a digital camera, art supplies, and balls. I got to teach the children how to work the cameras and share the art supplies with them, but the biggest thing that made this experience so rich, but also very challenging, is that very few of the children have the ability to talk and none of them have any english at all.

It was definitely a challenge to communicate with the children, which was something I was concerned about on our ride to the village, but as it was happening it became apparent that there really wasn't much that needed to be said. Just to be with the children and see how happy our simple and  small donation made a difference to them was quite touching. Making conversation with them was possible but not really necessary, just the fact that we were there was enough to make their day and everyone could see it.

I think I will take a lot from this experience because it was all so real and significant. It was almost as if  everything I had ever learned fell away and the reality of these people lives became my reality, as well making my own experiences and understandings that much more clear.

Excited to see you soon!


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