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GIEU Vietnam -- Community Development and Entrepreneurship

by Diamond Buchanan

July 14, 2018: Hello Weekend Market

Today marks the start of my first weekend in Vietnam and what better way to celebrate than going shopping! One of the Vietnamese buddies, Phuong, invited myself as well as more individuals in my cohort to check it out. She told us that this market is only on the weekends, although not always every weekend, but the location changes every weekend too. After hearing about the complexity of this market, I was more intrigued to go especially since it was across the street from our guesthouse this weekend.

Walking in, I was greeted with an array of delicious smells from the freshly cooked food on my right hand side and an array of fashions for every style I could possibly imagine on my left hand side. To be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed with all that I had to explore but excited to see what was in store. What surprised me more was that this market was full of young entrepreneurs selling their own brand. Whether it was clothing, shoes, accessories, or individualized pieces, it was all their own.

One shop in particular struck my eye, Tarot, a group of gifted artists who could draw any picture you gave them by hand. Your picture could be on a wood keychain, paper, or a square wood block all for a reasonable amount in only 2 hours. I knew that this station would be perfect personalized gifts for my friends and family. I enjoyed watching every person contribute what they did best in order to create one beautiful piece. Not only am I thankful for the artists at Tarot for the beautiful pictures, but I am also thankful for seeing the phenomenal works of teamwork.

July 21, 2018: Cu Chi Tunnels

History has never been a subject I truly cared for in school. I always thought of history as something that happened in the past that I cannot change. Going to Vietnam, I knew that I could not escape the history. A member in my cohort who calls himself a “history buff” invited us all to go to the Cu Chi tunnels where people lived in the war. At first I was hesitant because I knew it would be quite graphic but I realized that in order for me to appreciate the city even more, I must visit the tunnels.

As we were on the bus driving to the location, our tour guide gave us some basic information about the war. Once we arrived and settled ourselves I was in awe. Not only were the tactics used to capture invaders clever, but the grit of the Vietnamese people amazed me. During the war, shoes were made out of tire and I was able to see someone make them in person. But the biggest shock was slithering my way through the tunnels that housed people for 17 years.

The tour guide warned us that the tunnels were small and as you go farther, the smaller they get. As I crawled through, I noticed the difference in the air as well as the unknown bugs crawling throughout the tunnel. The darkness and multiple ways to go scared me because once you go, it is no turning back. Being down in the tunnels for 40 out of the 100 meters gave me the reality check I needed. There is always something to be thankful for, no matter how small it may seem at the time. I am glad that I did decide to go to the tunnels to realize what it took to survive for the Vietnamese people at that time.

July 25, 2018: FFSC English Club

Today was the first English club for my internship, Friends for Street Children (FFSC). We actually got to the location 2 hours early because of a time mix-up. In those 2 hours, my group and I played with the students who reside at the Binh Trieu Development Center. Most of the students who reside there are orphans with no one else able to look after them. At first the kids were shy but after a few minutes, the warmed up really well. We played games, sung songs, and they even braided our hair.

Once the 2 hours were up and it was time to teach I was nervous. I was not sure how teaching would work with the language barrier. Once myself and the other 2 U of M students teaching that class walked in, the students stood up. I was shocked to see that from a group of 4th graders but I learned that in Vietnam, teaching is a noble profession that is highly respected. We taught the kids school supplies and they were on top of it. Some students struggled with pronunciation but after repetition and translating it back to their native tongue, they started to understand.

While teaching I noticed how at first Vietnamese students are afraid to speak up in fear of saying the wrong thing. To alleviate that stress, whenever someone did something right I gave them a high five, smiled, or drew a smiley face on their paper. Within seconds the mood of the child changed from anxious to what I was writing to relieved. Once the environment felt safe and non-judgmental, the students really began to open up. In that hour of teaching, I was able to impact the lives of students and that is something I will never forget.