Friendship Foundation of American Vietnamese

Nice to See You... Again

By Volunteer Boyd Bauman
Project III-V Participant

As a second-year returnee for the Friendship Foundation's annual Children/Education Project, there were many faces and places I was looking forward to seeing again. The place I especially looked forward to visiting was the Cao Thai School near Ho Chi Minh City.

We had visited this school the previous year, and during that visit, I had given out Christmas cards which my students in Japan had written. It was at that time, in fact, that I learned the valuable lesson that one well-meaning, but haggard, English teacher from Japan is not enough to pass out 300 Christmas cards to 800 students - especially after the final bell has rung. The effort paid off, however, and my school began an pen-pal exchange with some of the students at Cao Thai. My students were so thrilled when they received letters from the Vietnamese students, and it proved a meaningful and personal way for them to study English, too—it truly became a "living language".

One year wiser, but with the Christmas card experience surprisingly fresh in my mind, I stepped off the van to enter the school grounds for a second time. I was met by Mr. Hang, the school's vice-principal, with whom I had occasionally corresponded. It had been my Japanese students "turn" to write for a while, and I was immediately reminded of that fact. There was no reprobation in Mr. Hang's voice, just an expression of how important the letters were to many of his students, and I vowed to relay that feeling to my students.

My kingdom for a student like this.

The second face I recognized was that of one of the scholarship recipients. I said, "Nice to see you", and she gently corrected me, "Nice to see you AGAIN." She was as bright and outgoing as she had been the year before when she charmed all of us, and I knew the scholarships were in good hands. It would be a shame if a student such as this couldn't continue her education, and I was so glad that the Foundation could provide an opportunity for her and others.

I videotaped this year's scholarship presentations, and I was touched be Gia Hoa's emotion as she explained her reasons for wanting to give these kids the opportunity to achieve. I realized how close she has been in her experience to many of the children of Vietnam. She sincerely loves the people of this beautiful country, and it pains her when she sees anyone "fall by the wayside", especially due to circumstances beyond their control. I thought of this; I thought of former teachers and others who helped me to succeed; I thought of how right Gia Hoa is—that we are all brothers and sisters, no matter where we are from—if one of us is hurting, we should help. Touched by these emotions, I was glad to have the video camera covering my eyes.

Besides continuing the scholarships, Gia Hoa and Joe also brought some information about a contest for aspiring artists and poets. The students could have the opportunity to have their work published in a book, and perhaps even earn a trip to Washington, D.C.

After the scholarships were presented, and a nice English "thank you" speech was delivered by one of the students, we bravely ventured into the school yard. Some of the other Project participants were able to give cards from their students, and I was happy to receive a Christmas card from Mr. Hang's daughter, Thanh, who remembered me from the year before. It was a very sweet gesture.

This was followed by a chance for us to feel like rock stars for a while. I must have written my autograph 200 times. After a bit, I turned the tables and got the Vietnamese students to sign my book. We all had so much fun. It is a great feeling giving toys, food, money, etc., but my favorite part of the Project is the chance to talk face to face with the people. There was a 15-year-old student who talked with me the entire time we were in the school yard. She by no means understood everything, but she would ask, "Pardon?", and was so intent to seize this opportunity to practice English. My kingdom for a student like this.

We returned to the van exhausted, but exhilarated. Once again, I was buzzed from my contact with the people of Vietnam. I have never seen so many smiles in my life as I have in my visits to Vietnam. Workers could be digging a ditch in 100 degree heat, and would return our smiles. Life seems simple and pure, and the people so genuine. If these people aren't my brothers and sisters, I'd sure like them to be.

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