2014 Vietnam Workcamp Blogs
by Michael Coulter
Well the trip is nearing the end. It has been an incredible experience throughout. The group as quite varied in age, but all great people and great interactions. The school work really was rewarding and seeing the children makes it all worth the effort. I know my daughter Blaise, wife Theresa and myself all got to experience first hand how the life in rural Vietnam is light years from our daily life. It was great to know that our contributions and work will give this community the opportunity to make a better life for themselves. This is all you can do, you cannot not make the future better, only help give the tools and access on an equal level to enable them to work for a better future if they wish to seize the opportunity.
There were many great memories outside the school and the way this group accepted us and really took in Blaise as family was great. She really has made some new close friends that I am sure she will see in the future. What was also unexpected is how much I learned about the Vietnamese culture even after being around it for over 23 years. Theresa also realized that there are many others with a similar story to her life experience that she has never really had much exposure to until now. I think this will also be a long term impact of her trip.
We have had a great experience with Sunflower Mission from our first interaction 4 years ago through the entire process to the building this school and this work camp trip. I hope we can join another future camp with Sunflower in the future. This is an experience that I expect will continue to change us into the future in ways we do not yet realize.
by Antonio Delgado
This is my first journey across the ocean. Hailing from Texas and with a Mexican-American heritage, I find myself taken back.
Having no grasp of the Vietnamese language, I have learned that a few things are global.
1. Breaking Bread. The simple act of taking the time to share of meal is beautiful way to build a friendship and community.
2. Smile And Wave. Sounds simple, I know. But as we traveled from the bus to the school site and back again daily. This 2 mile journey allowed to small moment where we would greet the residents who lived in the village. Happily, they we would return the gester. It is amazing how powerful a smile can be.
3. Laughter And Learning. The Sunflower Mission wants empower the with Vietnamese people through learning. And I am blown away by leaning brought so much joy to these kids. The kids would smile, laugh and clap. When am kid smiles at you and shows you what you learn, that is a unique moment you share with that person.
Whether you came across this post through the interwebs or you are following the work camp, share these simple truths with the people around you.
by Don Dao (age 17)
Each Sunflower Mission work camp provides its own pleasantly familiar yet distinctly new experience; each year a brand new wave of smiling faces, each year the same heartfelt welcome into their lives. With undying optimism and gratitude, the soon-to-be students and the villagers alike never cease to show their excitement and appreciation at our presence.
Although each beaming face was uniquely interesting, as always, there were a couple that stuck out from the rest. My favorites were Kiêt, a curious, thoughtful young man and Ngoc, a physical embodiment of the adorable little girl from Despicable Me. Kiêt had a particularly deep impact on me; the day I chose to walk the 5km trek from the school to the main road alone, he tagged along, presenting me with a gift – a cell phone crafted from a bamboo branch to remember him. On the last day, he presented me and my brother with a letter and drawings, keeping with his promise to visit us in the States after he reaches success through education.
A couple days after the final heart-wrenching goodbye at the school, we touched down in a worryingly rough fashion on Con Dão, home to thousands of species of wildlife and breathtaking views. Lunch was filled with anticipation for the crystal clear waters and angelic sand just beyond the palm trees; we were not disappointed as everyone bounced into the refreshing waves in awe.
After we had soaked in our fair share of the tropics, we sought to take in the view from another perspective: xe ôm - motorcycles. Although my first time driving a motorcycle was only a couple days ago, I caught on in no time. The views were immaculate manifestations of postcards – fields of blooming water lilies lined the valley as we circled the mountains. Our joyride carried us along the main ocean-side road on the island with the wind sifting through our hair. My two motorcycle ventures of the day brought me back to the same exact location twice: a roadside outlook with panoramic views of endless ocean blue.
This work camp has been arguably the most memorable of my five to date, living up to every expectation and memory from previous years. I’ve been blessed to meet many incredible people, both in the village and among the work campers, and I’ve come to truly appreciate and grasp the magnitude of SM’s work in my amazing homeland.
by Anthony Hoang (age 23)
Today was our last work day at the work camp. I was sore from all the shoveling and lifting we did at the other site the day before but I knew I had a relatively easy day ahead of me. This was the second day of the LEGO robotics workshop and I was excited to see what was in store for the children today.
It was great to see the instructor, Antonio engaged the children with quirky but effective activities. During the workshop the kids learned about all the different types of engineering and what their role is in our world. The kids that I got to work with were awesome. Initially they were shy and uninterested, but as they got familiar with the LEGO and computer programs they really allowed their creativity to flourish. I really enjoyed seeing how eager the kids were when they were building their LEGO projects.
Lunchtime came around and so did the usual afternoon rain. That didn’t stop the local kids from playing in the rain.
After the rain past, we started to pack up and get ready for the completion ceremony. On the way back to the bus I realized what an impact the school would be for these kids and their future. This trip has been very memorable and I looking forward to the rest of the trip.
by Britney Dau (age 18)
As a third-time work camper and team lead, I can definitely say I have a bit of experience working with Sunflower Mission. However, with each year I volunteer, I have the privilege of witnessing a new group of people enriching the lives of young students through their hard work. Today, I was able to see the faces of sixty local children light up as our team of volunteers introduced them to the field of engineering through robotic Legos.
Each volunteer is appointed mentor of a group of children. We are to help them understand the mechanics of engineering and open their minds to the world of programming. However, as I began to work with my six children, I also picked up a little straggler, a six-year-old local girl named Ngoc. I first met her yesterday, and we bonded when I braided her hair. She came in as we were beginning our lesson, so I sat her down at one of the tables. As the day went on, she continuously approached me with various different objects she had built with the Legos, from scissors to umbrellas and cameras to airplanes. At one point, she even made a mini comb and brushed out my eyebrows.
Needless to say, Ngoc captured my heart in the short time I’ve been able to know her. We were glued together for the continuation of the day, and she even refused to return home when some of the adult volunteers told her to do so. I guess I didn’t make it easy for her to leave considering I held her in my arms for most of the day. We even ran to the gate and back twice during our daily monsoon, saturating ourselves from head to toe. I don’t particularly enjoy running, but as long as Ngoc is with me and there’s rain involved, you won’t find me saying no.
On each work camp I attend, there are always a couple children I grow attached to. They make it that much harder to say good-bye, and this year, Ngoc will be the one that does it for me. Tomorrow is the last day I will get to see her adorable smile and hear her infectious laugh, and leaving her is going to be one of the most difficult moments of my trip. But I will keep her in my thoughts always, and I hope that once in a while, when it rains, she’ll think of me.
by Kody Ngo (age 15)
Today was the second day of the robotics workshop and boy was that a blast! It was a great change from all the labor intensive work I’ve been happily “volunteered” to do at the second school site. Aside from a long work days, it is always a great feeling to know that we as a group, are able to have such a positive impact on these children.
I had a chance to sit in with a group of kids during the robotics and most of them had never seen a lego in their life. The kids were ecstatic to see these oddly shaped blocks sitting in front of them. I looked in their eyes and saw such content, along with their wondering curiosity. A little girl about 6 years old walked up to me during the workshop and said with a shy yet satisfying smile, that i had a good soul and that she thanks me for giving her new opportunities in life. That alone made this whole trip worth while.
by Katherine Nguyen (age 13)
Here in Vietnam, everyone is so happy and everything is so different. Today was the second day of the Robotics Workshop. It feels so wonderful to see all the kids creating and learning new concepts. I feel so glad that everyone in Sunflower Mission and I finished the school to give these kids a chance that they all deserve.
By lunchtime, a mini monsoon began to brew. I felt shocked seeing all the kids running out in the rain, but apparently it was normal! I wanted to join the fun, but instead of rushing out, I slowly walked. With an umbrella. I was surprised to find that the children had actually never seen an umbrella before, and it made me explode into laughter to see them running back and forth with my colorful cover bent over their heads.
However, not only is it fun to spend time playing with the locals, it is also fun to play for the locals. I brought my flute to the workcamp and played a few songs. Soon enough, I gathered an audience, all wondering about the tootling that came out of the strange metal tube I was blowing into. All in all, spending time at the workcamp, whether if it’s playing with the locals or working and joking with my teammates, this Sunflower Mission trip is one that I will never forget.
by AJ Padayhag (age 21)
Today, I woke up late for the first time this trip at 7:00AM. The bus was leaving at 7:15AM.
I usually wake up around 6:00AM, but I think Sunflower Mission’s workload has been creeping up on me. Luckily, the team was not leaving until 7:20AM, so I had some time to rush through some breakfast
On the walk today, I decided to run halfway along the path, which jumpstarted my sweating for the day, but was pretty helpful because today was going to be a workday. After shoveling a whole pile of rocks and dirt, my group stationed at another site for the day came back to the main school area to see the children working on the lego projects that were being led by our engineering team members.
I enjoyed watching the selected students succeed in combining computer programming and legos to achieve some pretty amazing results. For students who were not selected, the team opened up a room in another room and left them to do their bidding with a few boxes of legos. Some of these personal projects were pretty cool.
Afterwards, we played some volleyball with some of the local guys, though this happened after a heavy midday rain, so the court became a muddy playing field.
Sunflower Mission team lost.
Today, one conversation I remember the most happened between my teammates. Programs like Sunflower Mission are great when we are able to build schools and provide opportunities for these children. However, I learned that providing material things, like clothing, can get pretty controversial. According to past experiences or familiarity with other programs, providing material things creates a sense of wanting material things. Material things will get people so far. Providing an opportunity for education will hopefully instill a sense of wanting an education. Whether they are my own kids or the kids in the villages that I hope to reach, I want to live my life as an example of understanding the value of education.
I can’t wait for the rest of this journey and future trips to come.
by Claudia Welihan (37)
This is my first year as a member of Sunflower Mission in Vietnam. Making the decision to join the group was not difficult; the idea of having an active part in changing these children’s future was too incredibly appealing to be missed.
Thus far the experience has been extremely rewarding. I have had the opportunity to be the co-leader of the Orange group, allowing me the ability to interact with fourteen other outstanding individuals with similar goals.
Vietnam is an amazing country, with breathtaking landscapes, and warm-hearted people, which makes our motives for being here more than justified. The locals are prompt to gift smiles and encourage their children to be equally welcoming to us. Watching the children play here is a crude reminder of how times have changed, allowing technology to sweep away all forms of not hi-tech entertainment. Meanwhile, in Vietnam time sits still while a ball is kicked around, worms are being dug out of the ground, flip-flop flies across the skies, and lizards are held captive.
Today, a 10-year-old girl named Trang stole my heart, (who so kindly) hand fed me chocolate M & M’s during one of our breaks. Trang would not take a negative for an answer. Her actions led me to reflect about selflessness, benevolence, compassion and humanity. It was not the fact that Trang shared her candy what became astonishing to me, instead the fact that she shared her ONLY candy. Vietnamese people sure do not have many material possessions but they are the owners of endless kindheartedness, which most of us could use a refill of.
by Dan Q Dao (age 20)
After only 3 days at this year’s work camp, I’m very happy I decided to join my sixth camp and take on the role as one of the youth team leads. Having attended previously, I was a bit unsure of how this workcamp could teach me anything new, but I’ve really been surprised over the past few days.
Each year, the camp experience is filled with its own unique moments and this one has already given me so many unforgettable memories—including being tricked into eating barbecued rat, having our soccer game with the locals interrupted by a huge monsoon downpour, and meeting a great group of talented and generous teammates.
One of the most meaningful highlights for me so far was when my new friend Kiet, one of the kids from the village, surprised me with a ki niem,or souvenir that he had carved out of bamboo and drawn on. It was touching to see how a 12-year old kid who had very little would take out the time to make a gift for me and it made me feel good knowing I had made at least a small positive impact on someone’s life.
Tomorrow, I’m looking forward to working with our Lego workshop coordinators to teach 60 elementary school students about engineering and robotics through legos.
by Blaise Coulter (age 10)
Today was was another work filled day at the school. There were still lots of jobs to be done. Even though you may feel tired, the day gets to be lots of fun. There was painting on windows,doors,and walls through out the day. I met a friend named Katie. I feel that she motivates me and always keeps me positive.
I met kids that are from the village and ones that will go to the new school. At first I was a little shy but met a new friend. She is a 10 year old girl in the third grade named Trang. There were more boys than girls. They all luckily played together and got along. They would always find a way to make time pass by. With even the littlest things like a flip-flop could entertain them. It made me realize that I take things for granted and that these kids would try to do the best they could and work so much to get something as regular as an ice cream cone.
Before the afternoon storm came, Katie and I painted the bathrooms and back of the school with a little help from the fellow campers. Later that day a local man brought his 2 year old granddaughter to see the work. After a little play time with her she decided she was tired. The overall day made me feel so good and proud to be helping out and soon changing so many lives.
by Justin Nichols (age 16)
So many interesting things happened in these past two days that it took me more time to figure out how to start this reflection than to write it! After a short motorcycle ride from the main road to the school, we quickly geared up and got assigned tasks. Everybody was working hard and we accomplished a lot, but did so with smiles on our faces! I was one of the people that was painting the edge of the ceiling, so I climbed up on a scaffold that, if in America, would have failed safety requirements in more than one way and used a small brush to paint up to the top. At first I was terrified of climbing up on that janky contraption to paint up high but after a while I got used to it.
After lunch some of the local children came by and we threw around a frisbee with them. It was amazing to see the sheer joy on the children’s faces as they tried to catch the magical floating frisbee that we would have thrown to them.
On the second day we continued painting, and by the end of the day we almost finished! I again continued painting by the ceiling during the first half of the day, and painted the dark green strip by the floor in the afternoon. During lunch today we all played hackeysack together with some of the locals using a feather and ring toy that a local girl had. That was the longest I have ever willingly played hackeysack (and enjoyed it) without a break.
It has been great working on the school and playing with the children these past two days and I look forward to more memorable experiences tomorrow!