Rare is the privilege that ‘The Journey’ to Vietnam offers its participants.
It is an experience designed to engage students at their very core in a holistic and highly meaningful manner. The phrase ‘movement of the heart’ perfectly encapsulates the intentions of the tour.
At the centre of the experience, St John’s is fortunate to have forged partnerships with a range of key organisations over the last six years. It is in these unique relationships that the value of The Journey truly resides.
Before departing, each participant is required to raise a minimum of $500 towards supporting the ongoing partnerships, namely KOTO, the Thien Phouc orphanage and House Building projects in the Mekong Delta. This helps spread awareness amongst the broader community, as well as generating a greater level of understanding for our students.
KOTO or Know One, Teach One has well established links with St John’s, with our students having visited the Centre in both Saigon and Hanoi each of the last 5 Years. Its founder, Jimmy Pham has visited St John’s and explained his passionate vision. The organisation selects disadvantaged street children and invites them to complete 2 years of training in a hospitality school. They learn how to cook, perform front of house and waiting duties and also drinks service. Jimmy’s intention is to provide life skills, whilst also providing a family environment. When our students visit the centre, we participate in a Master Chef challenge, shop at the markets, play drama games and we have even spent a day at the water park with them. Their enthusiasm and inclusiveness is infectious. It is a delight to be invited each year to dinner at their boarding houses. Many students establish meaningful connections with the students and follow their progressions with interest. Many end up working in Vietnam’s top resorts and hotels, with some having opened their own restaurants.
The Thien Phuoc orphanage in Saigon is another well-established partnership for St John’s. The children at the centre are well cared for, though do require donations such as nappies and basic foodstuffs. Sister Kim at the orphanage is always quick to highlight that our time and presence is the greatest gift we provide, as we have the chance to play with the children, a task that is difficult for her staff on a day to day basis. It was impressive to see that two 23 year old German students had been volunteering at the centre for 11 months, a truly selfless act. Many of our students quickly highlight this experience as the highlight of The Journey.
Over the last two years, our students have built four brick houses in the Mekong Delta. This is an arduous and demanding task for Year 9 students, though skilled labourers are on site to assist at all times. The major tasks we complete are brick laying, cement making, tiling and roof thatching, in order to build a 2 bedroom house with a lounge area, front porch, passageway and an outside kitchen. Tara Manning went back to the house her group built last year to see it fully furnished, rendered and with the same grateful family residing there. The families are selected on a needs basis in conjunction with the local population. They generally have multiple generations in the same house and always have young children. A house provides them not only stability in times of rain and flood, but also the ability to generate income to afford schooling. The sense of accomplishment is significant at the end of the two days of building. It is this activity where we see students exceed their previously perceived capabilities.
These three partnerships alone make our travels to Vietnam highly meaningful. In addition to this, we take every opportunity to learn more about the rich history of the country, including the many conflicts the people have endured. It is not possible to participate in this tour without extending your own perspectives on the world. If it is true that we are the ‘sum total of our experiences’ then The Journey to Vietnam is an outstanding way to rapidly enrich our interaction with the world.
Of course, each experience is balanced out with opportunities to see the beauty of Vietnam, from the heritage listed town of Hoi An, to the rolling hills and rice fields in Sa Pa. Many will also reference the fun had in the markets, or riding a bicycle down to China Beach for the day.
For the 2014 edition, I would like to thank all the students for choosing to participate and for embracing the outlined values and purpose of the trip. I also wish to thank Tara Manning for her tireless efforts to organise and execute all aspects of The Journey. I also wish to thank Ian Miller and Jess Cook for their significant contributions to the journey, as without staff interest and support, the tour cannot run as smoothly as it does.
I encourage any students coming into Year 9 to strongly consider the possibility of participating in an exceptional and unique adventure.
For a more comprehensive insight into the 2014 tour, please visit the blog.
Head of Middle School