Having a late flight out of Vietnam today left me with a lot of time for goodbyes and reflection. It has been an incredible 2 weeks since we first arrived at Noi Ba airport as a group of strangers meeting each other for the very first time. This year, working in the mountain area of Ba Vi and the 4-hour daily bus ride was definitely grueling and truly tested our resolve and limits. Ba Vi is such a conflicting place where beautiful landscapes is contrasted by ingrained poverty. This stark reality and the genuine sincerity of the ethnic mountain people despite their living conditions are the images that would stay with me forever. For the first time the Summer Service Camp (SSC) held 7 clinics and we were able to serve over 3600 people. True to the saying “anything can and will happen in Vietnam”, we encountered multiple unexpected challenges and obstacles during the 2 weeks, but our collective determination and passion as a group allowed us to overcome them all.
Looking back over the past 5 years, I’ve been able to trek from North to South Vietnam to contribute to the amazing work of the SSC. When I first went as a scrawny 15-year old high schooler in 2010, I never could have imagined how much the SSC would grow upon me. With each trip, I gained the experience and confidence to take on more responsibilities and challenging roles, serving as Team Leader then Student Leader. But my growth as an individual wouldn’t have been possible without the encouragement from the organization and support from the amazingly dedicated leaders, mentors, and volunteers I encountered.
Each summer, I am thankful for the opportunity to return to make new memories and share new learning experience with both familiar and new faces. I believe the increasing number of returnees each year is a true testament to the impact and success of the SSC – to provide an educational and cultural experience that motivates future generation to connect with their roots and give back to the underserved communities where their parents and relatives came from. A friend I met on the mission, Emmeline, perfectly summarizes the student experience on the trip: “Each time we came back, we left our blood, sweat, and tears in Vietnam. We grew wiser, more compassionate, and more appreciative of where we came from. We took our experiences and supported the organization, improving it for the future. We became leaders, teachers, advocates, humanitarians, and friends.” So to all the friends and volunteers who sweat and push themselves to work beyond their perceived physical limits on the missions “thank you for your hard work and being part of my incredible experience in Vietnam”.
We had our fun, our moments, our nightly adventures, and the fond memories. Even though I face this moment every year, I always feel bittersweet realizing the camp is officially over. Whether any of us is able to return next year or in 5 or 10 years, I hope we can work together once again in the future and the legacy of our work will continue with each new group of volunteers. Let’s keep in touch until we meet up again.