After 12 years of hard work at Kambala (let the sun be your witness!), I have spent the last eleven months donating my time to the culturally outlandish people of Vietnam. My conclusion? For all its dirtiness and decay, there is one thing that war and poverty cannot corrode off these children’s faces: a smile.
How does one begin to describe this place? Vietnam is buzzing with an energy reminiscent of Double Bay on a Saturday morning. And, in spite of its obvious decadence, it is a gorgeous city, closer perhaps to Kingsford or Randwick in its minimalist aesthetic, but no less an important cultural locale.
The people too are just like us—besides the obvious language barrier, that is. But, luckily, I’m here to teach English (with a stipend as a perk, of course). I started basic, a course list closest to 2 unit Standard English—the likes of Fitzgerald and Salinger—before moving a select few onto more complex stuff (Camus and the Bronte sisters). I wasn’t the best at English, but I was pretty good. And I’m definitely better than these kids! They all said his name like Camus!
It’s something that you just don’t appreciate when, growing up, all of your problems have to do with wifi and getting likes, but other people have problems, too. And those problems have a lot in common. While I, for instance, sometimes don’t want to get out of bed to turn off the lights at night (bummer!), I met a child who was crippled at birth in order to increase how lucrative they would be as a beggar for their parents (also a bummer!).
When you visit places like the War Museum in Ha Noi, you realise just how much the Vietnamese went through when they were fighting with the Americans. It really makes you wonder why they didn’t just stop fighting! But also the Americans should have respected the dignity of a people who really want to run tours around their temples and down the Mekong Delta (there are so many animals and plants around the water!).
In all, this was an experience like no other. I left more fulfilled as a person. Satisfied that, in spire of their ostensible plights, these folks are no less fulfilled than suburban John or Jane. I also left knowing that I had made a real difference—doing my bit to end global poverty. I hope others might follow my lead.
If you want to see more, check out my Tumblr photo album @ Humans of Saigon.