Getting corny

July 2, 2008

Today, July 2nd was our first day at the school. After a breakfast of sticky rice balls stuffed with pork (delicious to some, relatively unsettling to others), the day began at the school with a formal welcome from the school’s manager. Mr Chinh thanked Sealnet for its work last year, and outlined the problems that the school continues to face– among them marked decreases in attendance in the English program classes, the school’s inability to provide food and shelter to children in need, and the cancellation of internet service in the school due to security and cost issues. Mr Chinh spoke in Vietnamese, leaning on a podium surrounded with a relatively charming assortment of communist icons 🙂 and Hung, one of our Vietnamese team-members, translated. In spite of the language barrier, Mr. Chinh came accross to us as a kind, thoughtful man, and one who cares genuinely about the welfare of his charges.
As Kaitlin explained yesterday, the SEALNet team is divided up into three sub-groups, each working on a smaller project which aims to respond to the specific needs outlined by the school’s leadership. My own team’s goal is to restore safe internet access to the school, to design an effective but fun curriculum to teach the elementary-age children basic computing skills, and finally to set up a mentoring system which pairs the 15 May kids with local high school students, to help guide them through their computing work.
In order to get an idea of the school’s IT needs, we began by meeting with the computing teacher, a reserved but kind-hearted man by the name of Kha. The language barrier was a challenge, but with the help of our Vietnamese team-member we made it through the basics–and even managed to laugh a few times.
Then, we took a tour of the school’s computing facilities–which are actually surprisingly well equipped. There are almost two dozen computers in the school overall, with about half that number exclusively devoted to the children’s classroom and recreational use. Chris, Matt, and Hung–our more technical teammates–immediately got to work scanning, networking, installing, coding, plugging and generally just running around the machines in a wild computing frenzy. A moving sight indeed 🙂
At noon the team headed over to a traditional Pho restaurant, where we all enjoyed various exotic fruit juices, tasty broths, and questionable-looking meats. The conversation at this and every meal was lively. It is a weird and wonderful thing to witness ourselves molding from a eclectic mix of twenty strangers– who really are a bit unsure about what they actually have in common–, into a bonded, laughing group that begins to treasure everyone’s little idiosyncrasies and qualities. With kids hailing all the way from Malaysia, Singapore, Portugal, Australia, France, Japan, China and the US, our team offers more diversity in perspectives, manners, tastes than I have ever been exposed to, and it is wonderful to figure out, after a few days, that we really do all share something that runs deeper than culture. I guess maybe it’s laughter. This sounds corny. Anyway. I mean it.
In the afternoon, we met the high school students that we all–and in particular the “Leadership” sub-team–will be training in effective leadership techniques and in the more practical fundraising or organization work that community service requires. We hope to leave our “mentees” with the tools and the drive to continue SEALNet’s with the May 15 school.I found the group of high schoolers to be extraordinarily bright. In our group discussions, though, it was interesting to observe how little all of them sought out the spotlight. They prefer to listen than talk, and provide their (often excellent) opinions only asked directly. How different from my own education…and how relaxing 🙂
Anyway, after a long day of running around at the school, we sat down to a lovely dinner and then retreated to the cool depths of our team leaders’ hotel room, to discuss the past day and plan the next. And this is where the group’s true colors really show. Because even at 10PM when everyone is tired and ready to go do something mindless, people care a lot. Every little detail is examined and debated; inspirational talks are given; plans are revised…and amid the yawns there is excitement and drive.
All in all, a great day. But as this post has been skeetering uncontrollably towards the corny and embarassing for several paragraphs already, I will stop here in my praises of it.
Good night Vietnam!

~Caroline Pougnier

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