The Local School

Trip Start Oct 23, 2011
Trip End Nov 12, 2011

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Flag of Vietnam  , Kiến Giang,
Friday, November 4, 2011

Another extremely hot day today, we were happy to wrap up work early in order to visit the local elementary school that the two older sisters from our build site attend.

When went by by boat and arriving at the school the teachers came out to greet and lead us across the street into the school courtyard where the first graders, were lined up waiting. The schoolyard was large, rather stark with a large tree in the center, devoid of play equipment but with a few motorbikes, bicycles and chickens.

The school building was a simple rectangular building with four classrooms opening onto the courtyard; we were escorted into a very dreary first grade class, wooden desks and chairs, not much covering the drab concrete walls other than a couple of posters. What I first noticed was the lack of color or visual stimulation.  The children sang a song for us that Ngan said spoke about how Uncle Ho would lead them to a happier more fruitful life. They stood to sing keeping their arms crossed over their chests, hands tucked under.  Apparently this was the formal stance anytime they stood to sing, speak or recite.  

In return for their song we sang to them; feeling that a rendition of the Beatles' song "Revolution" was not appropriate we struggled to find a song everyone knew the lyrics to and settled on "The Itsy Bitsy Spider” complete with the hand motions.  Maybe a silly little song for this age group but the kids enjoyed it and rewarded us with smiles and that in turn made us smile.



The middle child from our build was in this class and the teacher asked her to stand and explain why we had come to their village and to their school.  Ngan translated with a tear in her eye; the young girl spoke simply and eloquently telling her class that we had come to help build a house for her family so that they could have a better life; it was very touching especially from one so young and she had more than one of us teary.  We asked a few questions of the kids like what they wanted to be when they grew up and learned that most of the little boys wanted to grow up to be policeman and some of the girls want to be teachers, not unlike 7-year-olds in this country.  Asking what they did when not in school the girls offered that they might help their mother with laundry or cooking if they weren't being lazy.




We moved on to the fifth grade class and were entertained with a poem and then some questions and answers.  One question asked of us was whether we had floods and if we had water in our homes, interesting question when they have just come through some horrendous flooding and I am sure many of there homes were inundated with water.  Some of our group said yes they had experienced floods and maybe one had experienced water in their homes.  

We also learned the students begin to study English in fifth grade and one girl was quite proud to try out a few phrases to everyone’s delight.

After the classroom visit we were invited outside to take part in a traditional game called “catch the mouse” in which everyone forms a circle with two people in the middle, the mouse and the other person chases and tries to catch the mouse.  In the extreme heat and humidity we almost lost the chaser but another one of our group stepped in to take up the chase.  It brought squeals from the kids. 



In turn we taught them a couple of our grade school games, “head and shoulders, knees and toes” and the “hokie pokie” and again they really seemed to enjoy the exchange, especially the part where you put your whole self and you shake it all about - that brought smiles and giggles as they watched the adults singing and jumping around, they soon joined right in mimicing what we did and having a great time.  It was great fun.  I had some video of the fun but can't seem to get it to work in the blog, so sorry it was priceless.

Curious parents and siblings had also come to greet us or at least watch through the windows of the classroom and from the courtyard as we moved outside.  We must have been a strange, strange sight jumping around and going through the motions of these two games meant for much smaller people, not sure if they were laughing at us or with us, doesn't matter, the kids enjoyed themselves.
As we exchanged well wishes and thanked everyone for allowing us visit Ngan said that one of our group would like to speak and she acted as interpreter.  David and his family donated $500 to build a latrine for the school with the assistance of Habitat who would purchase the materials supply the design and to accomplish this much needed addition.  They were quite touched by the generosity of this family, as were we.

It was wonderful to see these bright shining face and I can only hope that they will be able to continue their education and allowed to develop their keen sense of curiosity that will keep them learning and working toward a happy fulfilling life whatever that means to each of them.  It will be an uphill struggle for most of them and I couldn't help but think about the disparity between this little school and our local grade school.  It was a privilege to be able to join them for a visit and I will remember those little faces for a long time.

Back in the boat, back in the van, hitting the road right as the traffic was building and school were letting out it was a long ride back to Rach Gia.  I was really tired from the brutally hot day and we arrived back at the hotel with a DJ and deafening music blaring from the restaurant across the street, it was mind numbing!  Friday night all we could think was that there would be no sleeping tonight.  Finally we got away from it when we walked far enough down the street to dinner and strangely enough it had stopped by the time we returned so it must have been a private party that ended early, a real stroke of luck!

Tomorrow R&R on Phu Quoc Island, I’m ready for a little rest and hopefully an ice-cold air-conditioned room.
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