Last term a group of students, staff and volunteers ventured to Vietnam mainly to participate in a Community Service Project and sightseeing tour.
After flying into Ho Chi Minh, our first stop for two days was Hoi An.
With no time to adjust to the high temperature and humidity we weaved our way through the tiny streets of Hoi An on bikes and ventured through the country side surrounded by rice fields and water buffalo. We enjoyed a break on the basket boats and lunch in a market garden finishing the day kayaking to a small island to do a rubbish clean up.
We also spent a day visiting the village of Ky Anh which was a short drive from Hoi An. This village played a vital role in the Vietnam War with 32 km of Viet Cong tunnels underneath. We explored some of the tunnels, spoke to war survivors, learnt some traditional mat weaving skills and enjoyed a tasty lunch prepared by the locals who taught us how to make rice paper and cook fish. Some students were brave enough to eat the chicken feet!
The next day we travelled north to Hue via the iconic Hai Van Pass. We did a city cultural tour in Hue and then enjoyed relaxing time by the pool in preparation for our three day Community Service Project.
Our community service project involved the construction of a large vegetable garden at a rural kindergarten as well as conducting lessons with the children.
We began by clearing the weeds, banana palms, preparing the site which included a human chain to transport the large bricks from one side of the garden to the other.
Students helped to filter the sand, mix the cement (no cement mixers), lay the bricks and mortar, turn the soil, pave, plant vegetables and some students painted a mural.
It was humid, hot and exhausting work but all the students worked tirelessly.
The next day we were greeted by the smiles of the kindergarten students. Some of our students remained working in the garden whilst some took our gifts to the classroom and ran activities. Classroom activities included play dough, jigsaws, counting cards, dancing, singing, reading and some basic English lessons.
When we weren't working at the kindergarten, we enjoyed a cooking class, fishing in the local river and a dinner cruise on the Perfume River.
After planting the vegetables we were amazed at what we had achieved over the three days and were then thanked by the students and staff in a closing ceremony.
The local children danced, the Kindergarten Principal thanked us for our hard work, each of our students were presented with a certificate and gift and then we had to do a performance.
Elissa and Amity performed a traditional indigenous dance and then we all joined in with the Nut Bush and Boot Scoot'n Baby (5, 6, 7, 8) routines!
We left the kindergarten absolutely exhausted but so proud of what we achieved. We have received photos of the vegetable garden one month on, and the vegies are flourishing.
Once all the hard work was done we flew further north to enjoy the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. The student loved exploring the Old Quarter, particularly the shopping.
It would be interesting to count up the total number of shoes that were purchased. We visited some cultural sites, prominent landmarks, the French Quarter, saw a water puppet show and of course some more shopping.
We also travelled two hours from Hanoi to enjoy the spectacular scenery of Ninh Binh (quieter version of Halong Bay).
We cruised down the river on paddle boats not only admiring the large limestone peaks and caves, but the coordination of the boat drivers who were rowing with their feet!
We returned to Australia grateful that we had another week's holiday to rest and relax.
Students experienced a new culture, met some beautiful people, developed team work and independence, overcame personal fears, contributed to a community, developed an attitude of thankfulness for what they have and hopefully instilled the travel bug.
An awesome experience with a fantastic bunch of students, teachers and volunteers.