School Trip By Alyssa Kopelman
Before I came to Vietnam, and based on a lot of the research we had conducted, I had the impression that a lot of the children and families outside of the city were in “poverty.” That being “poor” meant they didn’t have warm clothes to wear, enough food to eat, a covered place to sleep at night. But my trips to the countryside and discussions here thus far have taught me this is not necessarily the case. In a lot of areas these basic needs are met, but there is simply a lack of resources to invest in growth and knowledge. In the tools that can help these children aspire for more and move beyond their means. The school system is set up to teach to the “manual.” A very structured curriculum that can be seen to present a one sided view, a look at everything as black and white. Unfortunately this is often all the students have access to because there are no funds to support a reading culture. To show them that reading is fun and thinking outside the box can help their future. That being exposed to literature and understanding that their are multiple views in the world can push their minds to new heights.
Today I visited Tien Hiep junior high school in Ha Nam province, about 60km south of Hanoi. Better Life Vietnam has just revised its book library program, focusing its investment in schools that commit to encouraging and promoting a reading culture over the long term. Our team recently received a proposal from this school, and thanks to the success of my fundraising campaign and the support of my family and friends back home, I was able to step forward and be the sponsor for this project. It was a privilege and honor to stand on stage before the school leadership, teachers and students and present them with hundreds of new books for their classrooms.
Upon entering the school courtyard, we were greeted with smiles and waves from the students running out of their classroom to say hello. Our team was ushered into a formal meeting room where we had welcome tea. I had an introduction with the President and Vice President of the school, shaking hands over the giving of the books. It was so special to see the treatment from the leaders of the school who were so grateful for the exchange happening here today.
We had a big ceremony at the stage in the courtyard, where the President and Vice President spoke to the 150+ students gathered today to set the mood for the presentation. They talked about the importance of reading, explaining that today in a culture driven by technology and smartphones, how easy it is for reading to soon be forgotten. He encouraged them to make reading part of their play, and how much reading can help make their lives and future better. They set the stage for a representative from Better Life Vietnam who talked to them about our organization, before handing the mic over to me to speak about how happy I was to be there today and help fund all of the books they were about to receive. Talk about all eyes on you!
To see the students faces when we handed out the books was worth everything. They eagerly passed them through their class sections (there were seven classes ranging from grades 6 to 9) and started flipping through the pages immediately. Along with the other English-speaking volunteer from Better Life Vietnam, we visited each individual classroom after the ceremony to play games and interact with the students in smaller groups. Some students were so engulfed reading their books already they weren’t even paying attention to the new activity! I was asked many questions (and you can tell based on the repetition from class to class what they are taught in school) – How old are you? Where are you from? What is your name? Usually in that order. One boy even asked me where I learned English . It is not often they get the chance to interact with a foreigner to practice speaking English, so I tried to push them to expand their questions and answers. It was truly a treat for all. Such a sweet, respectful group of students.
The teachers and school leaders invited us for lunch as a thank you for our efforts today. They were so happy we even had some shots in celebration (a little too early, a little too strong ha). You could tell how committed they are as a school to encourage a reading culture and how grateful they were to have these new resources for their students. They want to discuss what we can do with the elementary school too! I’m excited to get progress reports in the coming months on how the new books program is going.
To market and promote a project is one thing. But to see the project come to life takes it to a whole new level. I’m so happy I had the opportunity to visit a school here while I was in Vietnam. This is what experteering is all about.