For two weeks, the running joke among Vietnam 2011 summer campers was “whatever happens in Vietnam stays in Vietnam”. However when the time actually came for us to say goodbye and return to our normal routines, we quickly realized that not everything that happened in Vietnam could easily be left there. Who would have thought the people we met and the work we did in 15 days could have such a lasting impact on our lives. For many of us, the summer camp was a life changing experience for it gave us the opportunity to observe and reflect on the disparity of life. Along the way, we managed to learn some valuable, humbling lessons.
We learned that we are incredibly fortunate to have the lives we live. The daily conveniences that we took for granted such as air conditioning, electricity, bathrooms with plumbing, and clean running water were luxuries in many of the areas we visited. When we grumbled about our 3-hour long, uncomfortable bus ride to the clinic, we were humbled to find hundreds of patients awaiting our arrival since the early morning. When we struggled to handle the heat and humidity during the clinic, we were humbled by the sight of the elderly and children patiently waiting for hours under the baking sun. The inconveniences that we had to endure for 15 days seemed insignificant next to the life time of hardships that the local villagers had to persevere. They had so little yet they seemed content as long as there was enough food to feed the family each day. Their spirit taught us to truly appreciate what our parents had been able to provide for us.
True to the motto “work hard and play harder”, we learned to not hold back. We poured every ounce of energy we had into the clinics and embraced all the things Vietnam had to offer. Together as a group, we bonded and shared some adventures that we could never imagined ourselves doing back home. We became proficient in long haggling sessions at the night markets over souvenirs and t-shirts. With each passing day, we grew bolder and sampled more of the intriguing street food without worrying too much about how they got there. Sure there was a few cases of stomach problem but they were a small price to pay for the delicious “nuoc mia”, “ca phe sua da”, “banh bao nong”, “banh xeo” and “oc”. Our nightly expeditions of Ben Tre and Rach Gia took us to the $5 massages, karaoke bars, and restaurants serving up exotic courses of alligator, turtle, and snake meat. We even toasted our adventures and memories over some concoction of snake blood and local rice wine. After all, we only live once.
We also learned that anyone could make a difference. This fact was evident throughout two weeks of the service camp. We did not need to speak fluent Vietnamese or be professional trained to help make an impact in the lives of the people we met, especially the children in the orphanages. By genuinely caring for people, we could always brighten someone’s day despite the language barrier. A smile, an embrace, or a simple act of kindness was all it took. The bottom line is “positive energy is contagious”.
As we boarded our planes to return home, we realized that the experience had greatly affected all of us. Thanks to Vietnam, we came home a little wiser and kinder. The life lessons, the memories, the irreplaceable friendships are things that we could never leave behind in Vietnam. In fact, we all left a part of our heart with the patients and orphans of Ben Tre and Rach Gia. Until next year……