This week, Sara Owen-Flood and Derry Li each wrote about their Spring Break trip for a Model UN Conference in China; and for a week-long service opportunity at an orphanage in Vietnam. Next week, fellow student traveller Lucas Simpson shares his insights into the memorable Service Trip to Asia.
Over Spring Break, I was part of a group of 15 students that embarked on a 20-day trip to China and Vietnam for Model UN and service. Beijing is one of the most culturally fascinating and politically relevant cities I have ever visited. It is largely developing economically, and thriving alongside a distinct and historically significant culture. During our trip, we were able to experience the city. We discovered how China has emerged as a fast-growing economic superpower, as we were surrounded by rapid modernization. We experienced Chinese culture – local cuisine, shows and markets. We walked through the rooms that housed ancient emperors in the Forbidden City. We hiked a World Wonder – the Great Wall of China – and explored the Tienanmen Square, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. I found many of our activities to be particularly interesting, as they related directly to what we had learned in AP Comparative Government and Politics, about China’s history and political institutions.
Our group participated in the four-day Harvard Model United Nations, held in the heart of Beijing. There, we represented Pakistan or Liberia in high-level debate, where we learned about relevant world issues, formed our own resolutions and practiced diplomacy. At the conference, SMUS was represented in a wide range of committees, where we met and collaborated with delegates from over 17 countries, mainly from Asia and the Middle East. Being in one of the heaviest populated cities in the world with a culture so different from Canada opened my eyes and gave me a more worldly perspective.
The next part of our journey took us to Vietnam. As soon as we landed in Hanoi, we were immersed in a new climate, language, culture and an abundance of mopeds! We toured the city of Hanoi, and visited a silk factory and the pottery district. After another plane ride and a five-hour bus ride, we made it to the Vihn Son Orphanage in Kon Tum. As soon as we arrived, children swarmed us, crying out: “Hello! Hello!” and asking to play with us. We played games and sang songs with all of the children. The children all wanted love and attention, so we did our best to focus on every child as best we could. Some of us worked with the preschoolers, while others worked on the farm. In the afternoons, we were part of the English classes with the older students.
The nuns and children were very grateful for all we did during our time there. What struck me the most about this week at the orphanage was how hospitable and welcoming everyone was. They were gracious in accommodating all our needs. Money raised by the SMUS community has gone towards purchasing supplies for the students and helping to pay for the orphanage bus. Leaving the orphanage was the hardest part of the trip. We built meaningful and lasting bonds with the children. Seeing their genuine smiles and happiness, despite their circumstances, will stay with me forever. They taught us many lessons, in particular to appreciate the little things and to not take anything for granted. Seeing the direct, positive impact from service was very inspiring.
Our group was very grateful for the warm welcome we received in both countries from SMUS families who live there. On behalf of the entire group, I would like to thank Mr. Lynch, Mr. Goodman and Mrs. Goodman for all the tireless work they put into the trip. Without their behind-the-scenes work, none of it would have been possible. The twenty days was an amazing learning experience, something we all will never forget.
After four days sightseeing in Beijing and three days of the Harvard Model United Nations, our group left China for the service portion of our trip in Hanoi, Vietnam. Over the next eight days, an inspiring and life-changing experience took place for every one of us.
The first day in Hanoi gave us a visual of what Vietnam looks like. Despite the fact that Hanoi is its country’s capital city, it is impoverished in every way, in comparison to what we are used to. Scooters line the streets instead of automobiles, people sit on bandeng (small wooden stools 20 cm off the ground) instead of chairs, dilapidated structures stand instead of sturdy and well-constructed buildings. We flew for 1.5 hours on the second day to Kon Tum and drove five hours from the airport all the way to the Vin Sonh Orphanage, which is very isolated.
The next five days, we visited the orphanage’s farms, which provide food for the facility; we accompanied the nuns on errands to the only supermarket in town; we organized an Olympic games for the kids, and did so many more activities every day. Gradually, a strong bond developed between us and the kids there. They were the happiest kids on earth, laughing and joyful all the time. While we were there, there was no sense of loneliness or traces of the absence of love and care in their eyes at any time. That made me wonder, “Are we, the more fortunate people, in fact, the unfortunate ones – in the sense that we aren’t as joyful as they are?” The children who have nearly nothing gave us so much more than we could ever give them, through inspiration and memories.
I wanted to go to Vietnam mainly because I was curious and I have a desire to help, when in fact it was the children who inspired me to believe that humans are assigned with certain fates and missions when born. It is our mission, as the fortunate ones who are privileged, to share our resources with those who are in need of them. This defines service.