Work for the Children
Have you ever experienced life near a jungle, in a traditional village, but yet modern all at the same time? Vietnam is exactly like that and needless to say, I have also lived with the unique ethnic minorities and seen the true Vietnam!
The main part of my project is about teaching the Vietnamese children English. It was so impressive to see so many passionate kids who were so ready to learn. Eventhough they do not have proper education or a classroom for them to study in, they were all sitting on a chair listening to me. They were all so eager to know how the outside world looks like, and how English is different from their own language, as if they have never seen Vietnam on a map before; as if the biggest dream of them is to be a rich peasant.
The language barrier raised the difficulty in educating them and I did not have a translator with me all the time. One strategy I came up with is to use each English word i teach together with its Vietnamese counterpart which I learnt from the kids. For example, when I taught “apple”, I would write “tao” (Vietnamese pronunciation) beside the word. The kids had fun teaching someone who cannot speak Vietnamese which is very especially hard as it contains a lot of nuances in its pronunciation. I also repeated each word I taught multiple times to make sure the kids will remember them. I would also get their attention regularly by using showing them videos.
At night, I helped the elder kids with their English as well. They have been taught by previous volunteers, thus I prepared simple passages as well as listening practices for them to practice writing and learn sentence structure. They were of great assistance to the younger kids as well since they could better understand me and use translator applications. They also celebrated my birthday with many snacks and a cake from the other side of the river! This includes a giant mango!
The main aim of Project: Work for the Children is to motivate them to learn English and hopefully they could use it to work in eco-tourism in the future. The jungle used to be the home for both the Ma and Stieng ethnic minorities until the government asked them to move out for the conservation of the jungle. While living away from the jungle, the villagers still visit the jungle regularly to obtain herbs, woods and fruits. With the knowledge of the jungle, the children can potentially be tour guides that simultaneously work in the jungle and protect it.
I also worked closely with the local villagers. I consulted them with regards to their culture - for example, they taught me what the kids were most interested in and how I can capture their attention and deal with the naughty kids.
On the first day of work, I was scared by the group of dogs which kept barking at me when I rode by. Being extremely fearful of dogs, I could not stop crying since I felt so helpless alone at night where it was so dark that I could not see anything. After knowing this, the local staff comforted me and prepared a headlight to help me light up the road so I can ride through the path as fast as possible.
Lastly, they also taught me how to bake cookies for the kids and I finally succeeded on the third time! The aunties in the kitchen were so patient with me and my bad baking skills. In the end, I was pleased with my results and they did approve of my masterpiece too!
It was totally new to live in such conditions with strangers but we were able to get so close in the end, sharing masks and talking for the whole night before I left the village.
I went trekking with a group of Australian travelers and we saw many kinds of creatures, such as little crabs (yes, there are crabs in the jungle!) and many species of flora, such as the ones called “Royal Army” of which the leaves are wax-covered and the Vietnamese troops used it to prevent fire during the war. We also went into the bat cave to see little bats sleeping (it was so dark and so fun!).
Nearby the jungle, there is also Cat Tie National Park where you could see the "Heavenly Rapids". It was an hour bicycle ride to reach the place since its 13 kilometers from my accommodation. We continued riding into the park to see wide variety of flora and fauna. The national park is well-conserved, allowing for some great scenery while the long bicycle ride is just great training for me.
I was able to make time to visit Ho Chi Minh City before I left the country. Over there, the local AIESECers brought me to the "supermarket" within to get souvenirs as well! It was full of different handmade products including decors and food. At the same time, it was a whole new experience to me with regards to bargaining too!
I will always remember the first day when I arrived at Ho Chi Minh City as well as Ta Lai Longhouse. Shoutout to my buddy Nathan who have accompanied me along the way all the time and taken good care of me, helping me get through and enjoy my journey.