The Community Service Journey to Dien Bien Province
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Last March, the Board of Directors of PennSchool, representatives of Parents, and the Student Council’s members traveled to Na Co Sa Commune, Nam Po District, Dien Bien Province, to spread their love with the H’Mong ethnic group.
Van Thien Y of class VAP-10A is one of two students who represent PennSchool community on this trip to Dien Bien. For her, the trip brings many values and different feelings when they visit the schools and meet the people there.
The first impression of the Saigon girl on this trip to the Northwest was the hardships and cold atmosphere. But the natural beauty of this area helped them to forget all these difficulties.
“From Tan Son Nhat Airport, we flew to Hanoi and then moved to Dien Bien. My first impression was the cold air of the Northwest. Perhaps that’s why the food here was a bit cold; however, the taste of vegetables and herbs is still delicious. After finishing our meal, our group continued to move to Muong Nhe District, where we would do some charity activities the next day. The trip took about 5 hours and went through many hills and winding roads. The road was beautiful, with amazing mountains, the terraced rice fields, and the life of the highlanders that still kept their wildness, but it was peaceful and gentle, as what I saw in books. Muong Nhe District welcomed us with a 15-degree cold and a delicious meal. After finishing our meal, our group moved to the hotel to rest for the next day.”
They started moving to the schools in the Na Co Sa commune. Here, Thien Y had her own feelings about the students’ life there.
“On the second day, we had to wake up early to follow the schedule. However, everyone was still energetic and always kept a happy spirit. It was even colder than yesterday, about 13 degrees, but we were better after eating a hot bowl of beef noodles served with Northwest chili. After breakfast, we moved to “Na Co Sa Secondary School”. Here, we listened to the School Board and teachers in Na Co Sa share their difficulties and how to support them. Then, we moved to Na Co Sa 3 Kindergarten. The road to the school was very steep; therefore, we had to spend a lot of time moving. Across the road were citizens’ houses made of wood and covered with tin roofs, lacking the durability of the H’mong ethnic people. I suddenly felt sad for the little children here. Despite the cold weather and difficult roads, they still had to go to school twice a day. Na Co Sa 3 was a kindergarten. Even though this school was small and rustic, it was still decorated with full patterns and colors so that the children would not feel bored when coming to school. The classes are made of wooden planks and corrugated iron, with large gaps between the planks; therefore, the fog, rain, and wind could affect the students’ learning. Although the classrooms are rudimentary, the children are still very happy and excited to come to school. They are very well-behaved as well as polite, and each of them has their own cute and innocent features, with rosy cheeks that are typical characteristics of the Northwest children. After communicating, we had some small gifts to give them, and we also played some games together before moving on to the next destination.”
The trip also provided an opportunity for the group to participate in a charity gift-giving event at the Huoi Thung Parish, where we had a chance to talk and share love with the H’mong people living there.
The next destination was the “Huoi Thung Parish,” where we and the school’s principals, and the Father would distribute charitable gifts to the H’mong people. As far as I know, from children to adults, everyone dressed up beautifully and came early to receive these gifts. Personally, I felt very happy and touched to receive smiles from the children, thanks from the elders, and handshakes from the elderly as I gave out gifts. After distributing the gifts, the group and I were invited to have a very delicious meal. I learned that in order to have a full meal with meat, vegetables, and rice, the locals had to travel a long distance to buy them because they usually only eat rice and some vegetables that are available in the area. After the meal, we said goodbye to the Huoi Thung Parish and returned to Dien Bien, once again a five-hour journey through winding mountain passes. On the second night, we rested at a hotel and had a very delicious dinner. Then we returned to our rooms to rest and prepare for the last day.”
Our trip ended by visiting the Dien Bien Phu Museum. The meaningful journey also brought countless emotions that Thien Y would not have had if she did not participate in this trip.
“On the last morning, we visited the “Dien Bien Phu Victory Museum,” where we had a chance to find out about the heroic moments of history through materials, paintings, and objects such as bombshells and bullets. We also saw images of soldiers who sacrificed themselves in battle and knew historical stories. In particular, we looked at Panorama, one of the world’s largest artworks on the war topic and depicts the entire Dien Bien Phu campaign. All of them made me feel majestic, magnificent, and proud. Then, we moved to the “A1 Hill Historical Site.” Here, I entered bunkers, visited the graves of the fallen soldiers, and discovered the “Bunker Buster,” one of the significant factors that contributed to the success of the battle. Although the road was very steep, some elderly citizens still walked cheerfully, energetically, and patriotically. After leaving A1 Hill, we had to return to Hanoi and leave Dien Bien.
The trip may have ended, but I am still impressed by the people, scenery, and food here. Happiness, sympathy, and astonishment were my emotions during this journey. I was happy because I had the opportunity to participate in this trip, giving gifts to people, making friends, and admiring the beauty of the Northwest. I felt a little bit sad because the children in these highlands had a difficult and deprived life, lacking food, clothing, and places to play and learn. The older kids had to help their parents in the fields, while the younger ones stayed at home. Although their lives were full of hardships, their faces still shone with joy and innocence in their bright eyes. And finally, I was amazed by the beautiful and majestic natural landscapes in the Northwest and the Panorama painting. I would like to thank my teachers for giving me the precious opportunity to participate in this trip.
“Life is to give, not to take. The community activities will always be a solid foundation for us to develop our personalities.”
This is not only a point of view of Van Thien Y, but it is also a message that PennSchool wants to spread through community service projects during the school year.