By Sara Smith
Over the weekend, I had an amazing opportunity to travel to Mai Chau, a small town in the mountains, near many rice paddy fields. The villagers are mostly White Thai, related distantly to tribes from Thailand, Laos, and China.
I traveled there with the Hanoikids Voluntary English Club (Hanoikids.org) as a participant. Quite honestly, I felt like I photo-bombed most of their group photos being not only the foreigner, but generally at least twice as old as most of them. This Club serves many purposes. At the core, the members learn how to manage and organize one another. They have different departments to manage the more than 500 members.
In addition, they all learn and speak English as service as ambassadors to Hanoi. A tourist can book a tour with a member of Hanoikids and get a first rate tour around the cultural sites. They build and foster relationships and build cultural awareness. My interpreter, Tu, during my travels is a member of Hanoikids as well as a student studying International Economics. Her enthusiasm for her country is contagious.
After arriving, we went for a walk to a cave. It was 1,300 steps up the side of a mountain to the cave. For most of the students, this was the first time they had ever seen a cave. It was filled with many shrines.
We slept in a stilt house as a group, although the owner of the establishment clearly saw the age-difference and generously allowed me to sleep in a part of his own house, away from the giggling and late-night antics. The generosity of the people I have met in the country is truly boundless.
This organization truly stands out as a way to both promote leadership it its young people, but also has an incredible way to provide cultural understanding in such a simple way. Many of the group told me that their confidence in their English has grown exponentially and they have learned so much about the world through their experiences. I spent a very intense 36 hours with the group where I learned about the future of Vietnam through these incredible individuals.