Throughout our incredible journey around the world, we have been trying to do as much as we can to help those less fortunate than us. After a fantastic experience volunteering in the Philippines, our next place of action was Vietnam and this time with the YMCA.
We contacted the YMCA before leaving the UK and organised to volunteer as part of an overseas community service project in Ben Tre, a small province south of Saigon alongside a group of students from the YMCA HKCC. Thuy An, a senior member at the YMCA, arranged everything for us and it couldn’t have gone smoother. She was an excellent host for the week and we instantly felt right at home and could get stuck in just how we wanted to.
The aim of the week was to concrete a playground of a very small community school in order to give the children a safer environment to learn in. As well as this, we also spent time teaching the children basic English at various levels of ability.
When we arrived the playground was concreted in patches, with the majority made up of mud, rubble and tree stubs, definitely not safe for children! The school was small, dusty, and grey with no signs of any colour or learning tools. However, despite this we still found that there was a great atmosphere amongst the children. They were eager to learn, happy, all in uniform and in very hight spirits, The teachers here had clearly been doing a superb job with the little resources they had. Being such a small community hub, the children were delighted to have people from outside their province to help, having probably never met anyone foreign before, it was very exciting for all of us.
To say that concreting was hard is an understatement! The heat of the sun was almost unbearable and with facemasks on we were sweating absolute buckets. Our jobs consisted of filling containers with sand and rocks, lifting them to cement mixers and then laying the cement, it sure was a good work out! Everyone worked together as a team and we eventually got the job done through sheer determination and a lot of sweating!
Teaching the little rascals was a lot more enjoyable but just as difficult! From songs and sports, to weather and animals these children went from knowing zero English to being able to hold a basic conversation with us and they were thriving on everything they learnt. It was a pure joy seeing them develop and probably the most rewarding work either of us had ever done.
The children were so sweet and at the end of the week they presented us with hand picked flower bouquets as thank you gifts, this was certainly one of the places we did not want to leave!
We were able to present gifts to the teachers from the school, which was fantastic. They were overjoyed and we simply wanted to thank them for the great work that they had been doing. They were also so kind to us throughout the week, welcoming us into their homes as if we were family, feeding us heaps of food and even letting us do some Vietnamese cooking! For this we will be eternally grateful to them, as we experienced a part of their culture we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to otherwise.
Our time with the YMCA ended with them putting on a cultural evening for us, where we ate delicious food and were entertained by a variety of different performances, it was an excellent insight to their wonderful culture.
Vietnam was the country we feel we’ve had the most fun in, and this experience added to that. Thuy An has now become a lifetime friend along with the wonderful teachers and students from Hong Kong. We will never forget the memories we have made in the little school in the Ben Tre province and would love one day to be able to do more for them.