We all started our internships this week, and, on Wednesday, six of us went to an organization in the outskirts of Hanoi called Friendship Village. The Village was founded by an American veteran who had it built with the help of various countries as a symbol of peace. The happy community is a home, school, and rehabilitation center to disabled children. It also is a place for Vietnamese veterans to come and vacation for a month, escaping the rigors of life.
On our first day at the internship, we had no idea what to expect, except that we would be working with disabled children. After we met with the director of the village, we were basically set loose on the grounds to do whatever we wanted. Since we had no idea what we were supposed to be doing, we kind of just winged it and started gardening.
After, we met the most friendly and welcoming kids in the world. They taught us their version of dancing, and we said simple words in Vietnamese to communicate with them. The classes that the kids take consist of everything from language and math to painting, crafts, and sewing.
During our two-hour lunch break, those who weren’t sleeping walked around and enjoyed the peacefulness of the campus. There were many different things to see such as pigs, gardens, orchards, a soccer area, a playground, and chickens.
The first time being in the classroom with the children was stressful. We walked in the classroom and the teacher just looked at us and did not say anything. So, we found seats next to the students and tried working one-on-one with them, helping them practice math with objects on the tables. We ended up learning that teaching disabled kids is hard, and it is even harder when we do not speak their language. After a while, the kids got bored and we ended up drawing with them and trying to interact with pictures on paper. The teacher, who worked with the same five kids for two hours, told Mark, our interpreter, that the children we were working with in the back of the class were not even her students. The students were very talented and smart, but they were at a ratio of twenty kids to one teacher, at all ages and at many different levels of learning.
By the end of the day, we were quite overwhelmed with the uncertainty of what exactly we were supposed to be doing at the Village, blistered from gardening, and extremely tired. The next day, our professor was able to help us get a few logistics worked out, and things started getting smoother.
In the afternoon on the second day, we interviewed a group of six Viet Minh veterans. They were all excited to talk, but we had to be careful what question to ask as many of them suffered from PTSD. During the interview, some of the veterans seemed to think that we knew Vietnamese and there sometimes would be two separate conversations taking place. Yet, Mark did his best with translating, and we were able to hear a different perspective on a few things that happened in the Vietnam war.
Compared to the busyness of California and Hà Nọi, a day at Friendship Village is at a much slower pace and is almost like a different world. There is a lot of potential for us to embrace, help, and make a difference for the people at the Village, but we will have to take the initiative to interact and create activities to teach the kids at the times appointed to us. For the next four weeks, the six of us are immersing ourselves into the educational culture of Vietnam, where our patience will be built upon and we will learn to be better leaders in love.