After an hour boat ride via the Hoa Binh Lake we had arrived. Well we had arrived, but we weren’t sure exactly where. It’s that moment when chaos takes over because motorbikes were buzzing around and ready to take us all to the school in the small village of Tan Dan, located high in the mountains of the northern part of Vietnam. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture the swarm because it all happened so quickly!
But, based on last year’s visit, I’d already prepared myself by putting my camera in my backpack. I didn’t care to repeat the bumpy, muddy ride to the school with one arm around my driver and the other holding on to my camera. Not smart and not even one image to show for the struggle. But, this time…I did keep out my iPhone! Even that was a challenge throughout the 15 minute bumpy ride to the school. Let’s just say trying to hold an iPhone for that long…well…was a touch difficult but so worth it.
It took only moments for the head master and teachers to gather the students. They were all so orderly and I’m sure wondering what would happen next. We were able to identify a couple of the children from our previous visit, but in general they had grown so much in a years time. Last year the visit was so quick because our time was cut short due to how long it took just to get to the school. The boat ride this year really improved that process for sure!
But time is still limited because of the hour of the day. They are all eager to head home for lunch. So everyone jumped in to give out the school supplies, clothes and shoes.
We were told last year our visit was the first visit by Americans. I’m sure it was a big day for them. It was so fun to just roam around with my camera to catch some reactions as they received their gifts.
I know the girls had to love some of the adorable little outfits we brought with us. The backstory to all of these clothes? Last year when we dropped of my dad’s watch at a local jewelry store here in Scottsdale, Arizona we ended up chatting with the owner about our travels. He mentioned a big clean out was happening at his home. So fast forward, a few weeks later, a ton of clothes and toys filled our garage. Let’s just say the volume and quality of the items was mind blowing.
Time to head home for lunch and share their treasures with their families!
This year lunch was held at the community center a short walk from the school. Even with the language barrier we made a connection with everyone.
Besides amazing food, lunch wouldn’t be complete without a little sharing of rice wine. We’ve learned that rice wine is the focal point of every gathering and is deeply intertwined in Vietnamese history and culture. Tastes very similar to our moonshine here in the states and yes…a little goes a long way! (And yes, there were moments during that 15 minute motorbike ride back to the boat that I held my breath!)
It was wonderful that three of the teachers we’d met from last year’s visit were still with the school. These visits are such incredible cultural experiences.
Next up…back on the boat to visit the second school and the ending to an incredible day!
Once again to think it all started out a year ago with the simple question of “how can we give back in your community?” It was through the generosity and coordination of the General Manager of the Mai Chau Ecolodge who made all of this happen. We would’ve never been able to accomplish any of this without her, the sales staff and the employees of the Ecolodge!
(as a reminder – comments are disabled.)