Friendship Foundation of American Vietnamese

Long An Province

By Volunteer Martyn Jones
Project XII Participant

December 25th, 2005. For many of us, we had just experienced one of our most unconventional Christmases yet. A short bus ride to one of Long An provinces' local schools, was the only opportunity we had to elude the previous night's celebrations. However, by now we were veterans. The following scholarship handout ran like a well-oiled machine. We were only required to stay for less than an hour, but this combined with our mounting experience and inebriated minds, made the visit seem even more fleeting.

Some students may be the only ones in their family to afford a university education.

To the uninitiated, the day was fleeting and uneventful. However, the project's protective bubble had shielded us from laboured plans and bureaucratic struggles. Maybe we also failed to see just how traditional our Christmas actually was. Although there was no snow or Christmas trees, there was plenty of good will and cheer. Perhaps our volunteer group bonded the way it did, because of the hospitality and warmth that we were constantly shown by the locals that we met. The large family environment that was created embodied many traditional Christmas values.

We visited a school and handed out some scholarships. However, there was much more to it than that. For example, the average family income in Vietnam is about $40. The school we visited, is in one of the poorest areas in the country (Long An). Further, these people's problems have been compounded by recent bird flu outbreaks. Any donations would have been gratefully received, but we were handing out the means to complete a child's education. Although having spoken to the future engineers, architects, teachers and doctors there, it was obvious that more support would be necessary to compliment their ambitious minds. These students deserve continued support, for their reasons to study are noble and many had pressures that I may never experience. Some students may be the only ones in their family to afford a university education. There will be an expectation for them to help provide for the rest of the family.

I remember thinking if our presence would have increased their already enviable motivation to learn. We were quite definitely, special guests. For this was not an area frequented by tourists. Close to the Cambodian border, the government would have been well aware of our presence. In fact during our Christmas party, 3 uniformed officers came to identify us so that they could report back to their superiors. We were not aware of this at the time. Again, we were being cushioned by our guides and project coordinators. We were not aware either of how much negotiating would have been necessary to arrange our visit to the local school. Especially considering that we did not just help students from one school; eight different schools were represented that day.

Of course, the effort was worth it though. Education is especially important here. The people I met in Vietnam were industrious and motivated in whatever they did. Proud people such as the Vietnamese do not wish to rely on handouts. Given adequate infrastructure in schools, this young generation of Vietnamese will erode poverty themselves.

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