Hi, I am Hoan and I’m 25 years old. I was born in a small village on the beautiful coastline of central Vietnam. Being part of the Nezasa team, I’d like to share my experience about a far-away part of my home country and one of the best memories of my student life: one month of volunteering in Ben Tre, a province in the Mekong Delta where you find channels everywhere around you. I will go back there some time because the place holds so many of my memories.
During my first summer at university, I had to take a tough decision. Would I want to visit my family after not seeing them for over a year, or would I choose to go on an adventure? Driven by the will of learning new things, experiencing something completely different, exploring unknown places and making friends, I chose the adventure and joined a volunteer campaign.
This campaign is a yearly activity organized by Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology. Its purpose is to help improving the quality of life of people in distant regions in Vietnam, and most importantly, to enable students to learn skills and experience things that they would not find in school chairs.
Me and my team’s mission was to replace an old wooden bridge by a new one made of concrete. The bridge is the only connection between two separate villages, one of which is on a small peninsula, only accessible by the bridge or by boats.
The wooden bridge was used by around 100 people everyday, including pupils going to school. But it was not really in a good condition anymore. The local people, who knew that plans for replacing the bridge existed, were super happy when we finally arrived.
Building this bridge in a team of freshmen who totally lacked the experience of working with concrete was a big challenge!
We could only access the village by a half a meter wide road, so it was impossible to bring crane trucks. Instead, we cast all the concrete components of the bridge in advance and then had to use muscular strength and one or two boats to integrate them. That was amazing! And working as a team, we successfully managed to build the bridge. We learned the importance of cooperative work for overcoming all the difficulties and finding a solution with no experience.
There were other activities as well. One of those was teaching, assisting small kids in the village to consolidate the knowledge before going to the next class. The kids seemed to be so shy in the beginning, but then they became very active and enjoyed learning with us. I loved them! They were so cute, learning hard and playing even harder. I still keep a bunch of their hand-written letters.
Part of the campaign was living and playing with local people. We were hosted by the villagers and we ate and lived with them. We went fishing together and caught crabs in the afternoon for dinners. Despite many difficulties, like alum water, mosquitos, strange food and toilets, we really enjoyed living together with our fellow countrymen. They were really friendly and made us feel, like we were part of their family. We got to know a new kind of relationship, the love between total strangers trying to help each other.
This opportunity allowed me to get to know my home country in a very special, intimate way. It was the most valuable experience I have ever gained in one single month. I happily invite you to visit my wonderful country, its riches in nature and friendly people. How much Vietnam is in you?