Building a House – Mai Chau, Vietnam

Some of the schools I have worked in have always had a program where students collected money to help a poor family in a part of the world by providing them a home. The great thing about it is that they don’t just buy these people a brand new home, but they also travel to that part of the world so they can build that home for them. The program is named many different kinds of things such as Habitat for Humanity or ETR Educational Travel, but the goal is the same thing, bring people together through kindness.

It is a different kind of charity. Instead of just recognizing a problem in the world, and then collecting money so a person can throw that money at the problem and then go to sleep at night thinking that they have done some good in the world, it forces people to go an experience the people who are actually affected by the problem, and do something to fix the problem.

But it is not only meeting the people in the world who you are helping out, but it also taught me the hard work that goes into building a traditional house in Vietnam. Though there were a couple of power tools on the sight, we were not given access to these tools. The material also came from the hills of Mia Chau, so the family whose house we built could have fresh bamboo floors and a roof of palm leaves. I worked mainly with a rusty machete and a block of wood that became a club to unfurl bamboo to eventually turn it into a floor.

I still got to witness the progress as we went and added to many aspects of building the house. I also got to interact with the people of this small village as they showed their appreciation for what we were doing for one of their community. They gave back to us as much as they could, cooking sticky rice for us, and giving us advice when we needed to adjust the way we were building the house.

It was amazed at the progress we made in such a short amount of time as well. We only worked on the house for a couple of days before the family that was going to be living in it could make it their home. Every time I made it up the path from where I was working on the floors, I could take pride in that progress.

And after a couple of days hard work, we were excited to gift the house to the new family. To be fair, the house was not completed, there were a couple of things that needed to take a longer time to finish such as the wood used for the walls, and the stairs which take skilled labors to do correctly, but the structure, the frame, the floors, and the roofs were completed by my students and me. It was an intensive couple of days of labor, but the final product was worth it. I enjoyed the fact that I was able to contribute positively to the world by doing something like this rather than just contributing to charity. If everybody took time out of their busy days to contribute in such a fashion than we would quickly make the world the better place that we are always hoping to live in.

Until next time, keep on living those experiences.

A Place in the Valley – Mai Chau, Vietnam

I have been told that Vietnam is a developing country, and it is hard to see that aspect of the country when visiting one of the bigger cities. Sure, they do things a little differently than I am used to growing up in the United States, and life may be lived simply, but it is still comfortable. I thought that when I got out of the cities I would be able to see what people were talking about. Going a little over a hundred kilometers to northwest district, traveling through the windy, mountain roads, I arrived at the more rural part of the country and the town of Mai Chau.

I thought I was going to leave the comforts of big city life, and the throng of the tourists by coming out here. When I saw all of the views, I started to think that I had found some hidden gem in the country side of Vietnam where I could experience the more traditional way of living. I did find that in this valley, but I was foolish to think that I was the only person outside of Vietnam that I had found this place.

The natural beauty of the valley brings the tourists here as well. Among its farm houses and fields of rice there is a charm that makes for the perfect place to wander around, either walking or biking, with a camera, capturing the beauty to take back with you. It is not overrun like the touristy places in the cities, but there are enough visitors out here that it does not feel like you are the only person outside of southeast Asia to have visited this place in years. Still there is enough space in this valley where you can get the true feel for the place.

It is a small little village in the middle of rice fields, and I was able to get off the beaten path rather quickly to find that moment of peace. The people I did encounter who are from this little village were always welcoming with a friendly smile, and as long as I stayed to the beaten paths through the rice fields, I could wander anywhere I would like.

Though those paths were windy, I never lost my way back to my home stay. These are the perfect places to stay at when visiting the smaller communities in Vietnam. They have comfortable rooms and wonderful common spaces. They fed me both breakfast, and dinner every day, and the meals were large and varied. It was the perfect home base on my three days that I stayed here. I hope to come back some day with a larger group because it is the perfect place for that kind of vacation.