Stepping out of the airport your skin immediately feels tacky from the humidity. The drone of motorbike exhaust is the first thing to hit your ears. And then you finally see the motorbikes, all of them, weaving passed one another in a seemingly organized chaos. This is nothing like back home. Walking over the tiled sidewalk, you watch each step, but your attention is torn away by the smell of durian (Google it!) or a street food vendor placing a menu directly on your chest. Every sense you have has been tested by the time your bag hits the hotel bed. Your mind finally has a chance to review what you’ve seen but the only conclusion it comes to is “Vietnam is a different world.”
Our team had conference calls and meetings with the purpose of understanding the details about the trip and what to expect. However, presentations, emails and calls couldn’t fully prepare me for what I was about to witness and all the vibrant personalities I was about to meet!
Our first stop was at a secondary school’s recreational area. In this space, created for relaxation and free time during busy school days, we got our hands dirty planting flowers and painting murals. Lacking any true artistic ability, I stressed about my paint dripping across the lines when painting the blue skyline. That’s when I met a charismatic young girl named Châu, who told me not to worry.
Turning and seeing the blue paint on her forehead, I knew we were going to get along just fine. My favourite quote from Châu that day was: “I’ve prayed to meet someone as tall as you!” Afterwards we moved indoors to watch a student-led performance. The subject matter was about child neglect and the students were engaged and convincing in their roles. The play’s main character was a boy left to find his way home after his parents failed to pick him up from school. Activities like these give teachers the chance to approach certain topics with their students while retaining their attention and enthusiasm.
Speaking of interactive ways to inspire, teachers at Linh Trung Secondary School conducted a mock trial focusing on a social media dispute between students resulting in a real life physical altercation. Members of the Lawyers Association, local law enforcement, and a representative from the Justice Department were present to provide authenticity at the first mock trial of its kind.
The trial had another purpose—to unveil a hotline number to report child abuse. Special events such as this provide students with a memory that they can easily associate with the number. I also met a boy named Khoi, a hard-working student who placed second in his regional English competition. His English was impeccable while his leadership and confidence were astonishing for his age. He was a translator for most of the day, which provided him with a great chance to practise and helped me immensely. Informative yet creative programmes like this will help change the community’s view towards child rights.
“Parent Meetings” are another initiative supported through the IKEA Foundation. They give parents a forum to have an open dialogue about parenting and the expectations that come with raising a child in their community. Honest feedback from parents about issues such as comparing their children to others and viewing certain career paths as less prestigious allows community leaders to shape a new perspective that helps reduce child stress. While the expectations of the parents were high, one thing was clear when speaking directly to the them: the pressure placed on their children comes from a place of caring and love.
While at the beginning of the trip I couldn’t wrap my head around all the differences in culture, by the end I couldn’t help but see the similarities. Despite the geographic location, the children feel the same pressures and desires that children in the United States feel, while parents deal with the same issues of raising a child. With the help of Save the Children and the IKEA Foundation, programmes like IWitness will make sure that children everywhere have the necessities to achieve their dreams.