Reflecting on the RSIS Big Build Project in Vietnam
December 2017 saw the successful completion of our latest RSIS Big Build project. This time our international team of students travelled to Vietnam and worked together to complete two water dams, helping to improve the local farming infrastructure of a small rural village in Na Mon. The new dams will store water in the dry season and drain water during monsoon season.
“On the project, we spent five days building one dam and four days building another,” explains Molly Turpie, student from AKS Lytham “our help will allow the village farmers to harvest three times as much rice per year; improving the agriculture provided a sustainable increase of income to the village.”
“It was difficult work,” confesses Olivia Zankowicz, student from St. Clement's School in Canada “We were tasked with carrying heavy buckets of sand and rocks over muddy rice paddies, which are flooded fields, to the dam site. As the dam got higher and higher, it felt good to know that our work would serve a practical purpose.”
Students completed approximately 30 hours of physical service throughout the duration of the project, along with another 8 – 10 hours working in the community farms, learning crafts with the villages, teaching students at the local schools.
Our team was led by Vicki from St Philip’s College and with her on the adult leadership team was Caroline from Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School, Kate from St Philip's College, Freddy from Colegio Gran Bretaña, Tracey from Aiglon, Clifford from Felsted school and James from St. Stithians Girls' College.
“Getting to know and work with this team of amazing young people and staff from all around the world is what makes me want to do more and more projects with Round Square,” Says Vicki Hutchinson, Project Leader “I feel very proud that this team has made a real difference to the people in country that we worked with.”
The student team was a truly international blend, with students joining us from Ballarat Grammar, Box Hill School, Brookhouse School, Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School, Doon School, Felsted School, Geraldton Grammar School, Glenlyon Norfolk School, Ivanhoe Grammar School, Mayo College, Schule Schloss Salem, St. Clement's School, St. Cyprian's School, St George's Diocesan School, St. Philip's College, Vivek High School, Woodleigh School, Woodstock School, Latymer Upper School, The British School Jakatar, AKS Lytham, YK Pao and Christ's College.
“We loved the idea of going with an organization where my daughter would meet people from all over the world, experience something different from North America and do some good,” says Teresa Brzozowski, parent, St. Clement's School in Canada.
“This trip was an eye opener for us. We were acquainted with such a diverse group of people and got to learn so much about their countries and their cultures,” says Raghav Agarwal, student, Mayo College in India.
“I’ve made friends from across the globe,” Agrees Kim Kyungmin, student, The British School Jakarta “I’m now inspired to travel everywhere and do what makes me happy. Stepping away from technology and what seems like reality to get together with strangers and be in an unknown place – my view towards life has been shifted completely.”
While working on the project site in Na Mon, the team were housed in homestays hosted by local families in traditional style houses built on stilts.
“By staying in the local’s homes, we were immersed into their life and into their family and most importantly into their community,” says Owen Walton, student from AKS Lytham, UK “We truly believe the local peopled helped us too! Spending evenings sitting on the floor of a wooden stilt house with a bowl of Pho and chopsticks, learning how to weave baskets out of grass whilst playing silly games and laughing with local children really does changes your outlook on life. It makes you realise just how easy it can be to become stuck in a bubble when you at home. The people I met, the laughter we shared and the memories we made will truly stay with me forever.”
“We would eat our meals in a separate homestay, the food was always delicious and served buffet style,” explains Olivia Zankowicz, student from St. Clement's School “After a long day of work, we would fill up our plates, grab some chopsticks and find a spot on the floor. I really enjoyed the fact that every meal was spent together in large circle on the floor full of conversations and stories.”
“We were able to try new foods like dragon fruit and pho (“phe”). Pho is a traditional Vietnamese soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs, and meat. The Vietnamese food we had generally contained a lot of rice, spring rolls, meat, and noodles. We also occasionally got fresh mangoes, which was a delicious treat!”
Students took it in turns to lead the whole team during the project, taking responsibility for the organisation of the day, briefing their peers, giving an overview of safety and risk management and organising a student rota to help with different chores at camp.
“I went from being withdrawn, negative and uncomfortable to being a leader and a respected, known and appreciated member of my group,” says Natasha Mutulili, student, Brookhouse School, Kenya “I have learnt so much from those around me and have appreciated every single moment.”
Students developed the confidence to think clearly and creatively to lead the way in tackling problems while on the project site. They collaborated their efforts and considered all alternative to find the best possible solutions.
“At first, we faced many difficulties working as a team as we were such a mixed bag of people,” explains Sophie Danieli, student, Ballarat Grammar in Australia, “but in the end, we all learned everyone's boundaries and how we can work in the most effective way which includes everyone.”
It was up to the students to resolve issues on the worksite and to work as a united team to stay on schedule. “We regrouped and decided to work smarter, not harder, so we created a 20-person long sand-bucket chain,” describes Owen Walton, student from AKS Lytham “Five minutes into the new strategy, we were working in perfect togetherness in a beautiful integration between teenagers from all over the world alongside a team of local men and woman.”
Students learnt to recognise that different communication methods, styles and practices are appropriate to different nationalities and cultures and learnt to tailor their approach to suit.
“By being in a place where very few people spoke the same language I realised just how big and open the world is,” reflects Zara Milton, student from St. Philip's College “I always knew that the community wouldn't be English but going and living there for two weeks opened by eyes to how little language really means. It was easy to communicate with the villagers using hand movements, smiling and pointing to what was needed, even drawing went a long way.”
“We had to converse with the team members and the team leaders from beginning to end the whole day, every day,” Arsh thareja, student, Vivek High School “I was talking to people from different places, different backgrounds and this helped me to develop my communication skills.”
In Hanoi students were exposed to a number of cultural visits and developed their international understanding.
“During the stay we had various cultural activities which included learning basket weaving, traditional dance, embroidery, cooking the local Vietnamese cuisine and bracelet making,” says Raghav Agarwal, Mayo College, India “We also had visited the community school there and had to organise games for the students. We also learnt various farming techniques relating to growing corns.”
Participating students have returned home with a greater understanding of themselves, their personality, values, attitudes, strengths and weaknesses, through personal discovery and finding that there is more in them than they may previously have thought.
“This project made me more curious, curious to understand and curious to explore,” thinks Molly Turpie AKS Lytham “Throughout the trip if we wanted answers, we had to seek to discover not only the answer but the journey that led us there. I am now very curious of the world around me, I want to visit the world that’s away from the beaten track and learn as much as I can to aid my discovery into becoming a global citizen.”
“This trip also reinstalled my faith in humanity, there are amazing people out there and this trip is living proof,” reflects Asa Kucinkas, student from YK Pao School, China.
“I do believe that it has made me stronger and has given me the confidence to do more service throughout my life.” Sophie Danieli, student, Ballarat Grammar.
“I believe my daughter has developed her sense of responsibility to help others and to be part of positive changes in the world.” Craig Roberts, parent Glenlyon Norfolk School, Canada.
“My son has learnt so much from this experience,” agrees Nicky Sinclair, parent, Christ's College in New Zealand. “Different cultures (not just the Vietnamese), the ability to work together, how a village exists on a day to day basis, how history has impacted on the village and the people. He experienced the kindness of the people and how easy it is to communicate even when the same language is not spoken.”
Round Square would like to say a big thank you to all the participating students for their industry, resolve and team work and for making the RSIS Big Build Vietnam an amazing experience.
On behalf of our students, we would also like to thank the leaders, the local in-country support, our partner organisation and parents for their support in this amazing project.
“These opportunities are hard to come by. Let your child be part of a world experience they will never forget. This journey, is like no other!” Fani Khaiseb, parent, St George's Diocesan School (Namibia).