What do we do ?

Volunteering By Accident by Lukas Schweitzer

Working with Better Life Vietnam has done many things for me. It has made me appreciate what I have, what I had as a child. What I know my children might one day have. Most of all, it has allowed me to experience a part of Vietnamese life that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. All while putting a smile on children’s faces. So, to start at the beginning. It wasn’t actually my intention to volunteer for BLV. I am a journalist. A newspaper in my home country of Austria asked me to write an article about Vietnam. Now, “Vietnam” is a broad subject. So in the interest of showing people in my home a part of why I love this country and its people so much, I chose to focus on a project in which people help people. BLV’s founder Chi replied to a post I made in a Facebook group and invited me to come along on a trip to Ha Nam province.
Naturally, I was excited. I would get to see a rural school, get to meet children that very rarely saw “Tays”. And maybe have the opportunity to talk to some teachers and students about their experience, so I would have something to write about. In the planning of the trip, it became clear that I would have to help out and do a tiny English lesson for two classes. While nervous, I was happy to help, since BLV was nice enough to let me come along.

The actual trip was incredibly well-planned, though we did have to hurry a little bit. But meeting the kids and their teachers in this dusty rural school was an incredible experience. I could feel their excitement about having these visitors from the Capital, from another part of the world. Perhaps some of them had only seen westerners on TV. Either way, they were enthusiastic about taking pictures, high-fiving, and loudly participating in fellow visitor Peter’s impromptu English lesson in the schoolyard. Never before have I heard “I like chicken” shouted so passionately.
We handed out books to the children, which is an incredibly important part of what BLV does. As statistics show, children in the Vietnamese countryside read much less than those in the cities. And reading is an essential part of learning and improving your language skills. It also opens children’s eyes to literature, a form of entertainment they might not really be familiar with. In the end, I gave a small English lesson, having been instructed by a qualified teacher. It didn’t matter to the children if I had done this before. For them, it was an experience, having a westerner in their classroom, speaking to them in English, hearing a western accent. It is an opportunity they rarely have. And one which was new and exciting for me as well, not being an English teacher like so many of my fellow expats.

In the end, we had to leave all too soon. But the short visit made a lasting impact on me. It was sobering to see the environment that is provided to learning children in many places. Principals and teachers do what they can with what they are given. But of course, it is a far cry from what many westerners expect a school to be. It was also uplifting, seeing how much joy such a simple thing can spread. It didn’t take a lot out of me and my fellow visitors, but it meant a lot to students and teachers alike.

Considering the fact that it was by sheer luck that we were born into the countries and backgrounds we were given, I think it is only fair that we were lucky and help when we can. And it is not beyond anyone’s capabilities to talk to some children, encourage their learning, and make them smile.