My time in Vietnam has been mostly influenced by my work with my classmate Ramzi & Cole in a service learning project for a rural handicraft village.It is a typically chaotic Monday afternoon: Cole’s computer has been stolen, there is so much traffic on the streets of Hanoi that the motorcycles are shoulder to shoulder, and we are late for a meeting. It is our first meeting with Mitch Teberg from World Fair Trade Organization-Asia, who would be the key to helping us with “Project Sai Nga.” This project that my friends and I designed aimed to alleviate poverty in a rural village that specializes in the art of conical hats. We would achieve that by trying to establish Fair Trade in the area which would bring higher wages for the producers, cut out layers of middlemen, and establish equality if there isn’t already.
Mitch begins to teach us about all the steps we need to do in order to get our project off the ground, for example how to create a Logical Framework which is the key component of a proposal to send to any funding organization for grants. We made several trips to the Sai Nga village to talk with the locals and find out their concerns about the current set up they had with Hanoi wholesalers. We labored intensively in order to create a rough draft of the groundwork we needed to begin a proposal, researching the process of the production of conical hats, the cost of production, location of the resources, the demographics of the area, and the density and level of poverty within the area. It amazes me that within my four months of being in Vietnam we will have completed the all the groundwork for future SYA Vietnam students to build off of in future years, and they will have a longer time to develop similar projects like this; and it is worth all the time we put in, I am learning how to create and design sustainable development projects and making an effort to make a difference in these peoples’ lives is worth all the bear gallbladder fermenting with starfish that I had to drink at most of the homes we had visited in Sai Nga. Mitch wrote in an email soon after our first meeting, “I went through your Problem Tree and it looked very good for a first stab at it. I also went through your Logical Framework. Not bad for your first try. College students haven’t even tried doing what you have accomplished thus far. Impressive.”
And this is an accomplishment that I am most proud of to date. To know that the work I have been doing throughout my time in Vietnam may benefit poor villagers who don’t earn a living wage but a minimum wage. The drive and passion within us has helped us to achieve this massive feat and move forward despite the criticisms, and has proven to them that it is a project that has a lot of potential to be something great. I am proud to be a pioneer here in SYA Vietnam, and working on this project and living and studying here will be unforgettable.
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