Hanoi College voluntary project: Paint, Sweat and Inspiration

(VOVWORLD) -We arrived at the Projects Abroad’s Hanoi office at around 8:45, the volunteers shuffling into the kitchen for morning tea. Riyaad, our project assistant, pointed at a collection of supplies in the corner of the room, buckets of paint, brushes, bamboo sticks, rollers, and told us we should pack them into the trunk of the car. We being, myself, Charlotte, Duyen, the volunteers, along with Riyaad and Anh, the projects directors, were headed to the Hanoi College of Technology and Trading, on the outskirts of the city, to re-paint a few classrooms with the students. 

Projects Abroad is the world’s leading international volunteering organization, with headquarters in the UK and offices and projects in over 50 countries around the world. Its mission is to encourage young people to volunteer for worthwhile work in developing countries in order to create a multi-national community with a passion to serve, to learn, to understand, to teach, to inspire, and to be inspired.

After a couple failed attempts to hail a Grab, we finally piled into a car, eventually cramped with our supplies and our bodies. The driver seemed somewhat remorseful against his decision to let us in, but eventually trudged on. The drive was the first time we had all formally met, having had brief interactions on Facebook, and gave us time to converse about our projects and what inspired us to come to Vietnam. Charlotte, a UK resident volunteering in the respiratory department at the local hospital, was charming and sweet, more than willing to give her day to the students of the college. The same went for Duyen, a native of Vietnam now living in Norway with her parents, volunteering in the autism ward of the hospital. 

The roads leading to the college felt distant, rural qualities lined with the distinct Vietnamese architecture pointedly characteristic of the French, roadside food stops serving hot bowls of spicy noodles and snacks, motorbikes buzzing and honking their way through the scene as the rain continued. 

Hanoi College voluntary project: Paint, Sweat and Inspiration - ảnh 1 American volunteer Andrew Diatroptoff (third from left) and his peers from Project Abroad on a volunteer mission at the Hanoi College of Technology and Trading in late July, 2018.

A green soccer field in the middle of the school greeted us followed by four other large buildings situated approximately thirty feet apart from each other surrounding the field long pathways of cement navigated us towards the building entrances. We pulled to the back left of the school, an area we would soon found out was devoted to “Health Care,” and “Accounting,” and were greeted by a chorus of students and faculty eager to introduce themselves and participate in the project. Vice Director Doan Thu Huong facilitated the greeting and dolling of supplies and pleasantries among us. She remarked on our need to first clean the walls of any leftover tape and concentrated dry wall before laying the first coat of paint, setting us off in the right direction.

When asked how she felt about the volunteers volunteering for the college and about how she saw the kids reacting, Huong said the students “have more belief in themselves,” with the presence of foreigners. Many of the students here come from central and northern provinces, rural mountainside regions. With it comes her belief that the volunteers visiting the college gives the students time to practice their English, a valuable tool among the now global market the Vietnamese have pushed themselves onto with the initiation of the free market or “socialist oriented market economy,” reforms known as the “Doi Moi,” policy, passed in 1986. 

This might partly explain the students excitement with us coming to visit, finding an opportunity to meet new people and cultures, but also to experience the cultures that they may live in the future.

After sharing our last slurps of tea with the Vice Director I headed back down to the classrooms to help with what was remaining of the painting project. The rest of the afternoon was spent sweating and painting, then sweating some more, most of us not used to the humidity. We co-mingled with the students about their interests, some loving sports and other’s aspiring singers. One student gave us a full fledged, somewhat satirical performance of the eventually nausea inducing “Let it Go,” the unfortunate hit Disney movie from a few years back, all of us laughing at his exhibition. 

Lunch was served in the cafeteria, sautéed chicken and pork, the quintessential Vietnamese soup with greens, sweet potato and eggplant all scooped into bowls of rice. We tried our best to understand each other through mouthfuls of delicious food, fighting the linguistic barricade with body language and hand gestures, poking fun at each other in the process. 

The girls loved to take pictures, every couple minutes preparing ourselves for another group photo only to find it, moments later, on Facebook, abuzz with comments.

Once lunch was over we collected ourselves back to the classrooms to put on the last coat of paint, utilizing lunch-time to let the first coat dry. We got to work on the rest of the walls, each of us carrying personal bowls of mint green paint around to different locations, touching up what was needed. 

Finally, just as the rain let up, we finished the task, cleaning the floor with brooms and mops, dusting the tile for any flakes of paint left over. Maybe it is my tendency to over romanticize unromantic moments, but we stared at the walls that once seemingly seemed impossible to finish, and knew the hope that guided us to finish the project, was the same hope Ms. Doan Thu Huong said the students felt when we interacted with them. The same hope she saw in the students’ eyes everyday when going to class. This was the same hope she believes will lead to the students’ better futures and a brighter more prosperous future for Vietnam.