Service learning trip to Vietnam

From the 10th to the 18th of February 2018, a group of 24 ISB students accompanied by three teachers traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

We took two flights, first to Bangkok and then to Ho Chi Minh. From the airport we were then bussed to an outskirt of the city that was our residence for the duration of the trip. It was a charming area close to a bustling street with easy access to a market which proved to make an interesting excursion. Travelling to Vietnam allowed for exposure to a new and different culture as well much welcomed warm weather. In addition to our cultural experiences we took part in several different types of service including cooking and preparing meals for a hospital, as well as keeping company to children in an orphanage in the city.

While we took part in cooking and preparing packaged meals for the people at the local hospital we got to try out several different jobs. Every time we prepared the food we were able to help with packaging and tying small bags of meat, soup, and vegetables, that were served with either rice or noodles. Each day we made between 50-150 individual meals. When we weren't packaging, we were actually cooking as well. The people that worked there showed us how to cook the dishes as well as how to make foods we weren't as familiar with. In preparation for the Chinese New Year, we were taught how to make banana rice cakes. These cakes were also put into the meal packages for the people at the hospital. Each day, once the meals were ready to be distributed, a group of students would take the bus to deliver them to the hospital. Though at times making the food could get a bit difficult, it was incredibly rewarding to see the people who received it. It definitely made me personally want to take part in one of the visits to the soup kitchen here in Brussels to try to help out there. There were two hospitals that the food was divided between. Every day, we were divided into two groups and while one group was preparing meals for the hospital, the other group was in the orphanage.

To reach the orphanage we took the bus for about 45 minutes into the centre of Ho Chi Minh City and then had a short walk to the building. Inside, there were three different floors. The first one was for the babies, the second one was for the girls, and the third one was for the boys. Each time we went we were divided into three groups going to a different floor. All of the children were absolutely adorable. They were sweet and genuinely excited to see us and play with us. We prepared a new activity for each visit. Once we, for example, brought stickers and the children had fun sticking them all over themselves. The next time we spent the afternoon colouring. All of the children were happy and loving. They proved to be my favourite part of the trip. They were just balls of energy that were equally happy to run around as well as just relax and enjoy our company. I think that the children in the orphanage were a driving factor for many students signing up for the trip and it really was essential to the experience. I think that everyone became really emotionally attached to the children at the orphanage and it was an experience that no one will forget.

It was an eye-opening experience with regards to cultural exploration as well. We were able visit several different markets. We visited a food-oriented one that was close to the place where we were staying and a night market a couple of days before the Chinese New Year. Both were fascinating, especially the food. There were live animals everywhere, especially in the seafood section. There were also several different types of fruit which are not normally available in Europe. In the night market we got to go shopping and saw the masses of counterfeit items for sale. On Chinese New Year we got to watch the fireworks from the roof of the building we were staying at and every day we got to interact with local people in small corner stores and caf├ęs. The second to last day, we spend the evening wandering around Ho Chi Minh City. It was very vibrant with a lot of celebrations. It was an incredible cultural experience. On the final day we were taken to a temple that sprawled out into a beautiful garden filled with intricate statues and burning incense. The temple itself was four stories tall with gorgeous views of Ho Chi Minh all around. It was my favourite sight-seeing monument and it made for a magical afternoon.

The entire time in Vietnam, we were oriented towards service but we also got an eye-opening cultural experience. The memories that were made in Vietnam were ones that will last a lifetime. It has been integral to both our service learning and personal development, and is something that will be cherished forever.

Written by Claire, Gr 11