SYA is an academic program which allows U.S.high school students to live with a Vietnamese host family for an entire academic year to study local culture and language while still earning graduation credits back home.
Anna has written in to share her community work experience at Lang Hoa Binh (Peace Village) in the capital’s Thanh Xuan District, one which she “would never change … for any other.”
The following is her essay dated December 12:
Several months ago, I stepped off of a plane from California and into Ha Noi.
I had no way of knowing what lay ahead, but I began to create a home for myself in a country whose language I did not speak and where my blonde hair stuck out like a sore thumb.
A few weeks after I arrived, I was given an internship working at the Lang Hoa Binh (PeaceVillage) in the Thanh Xuan district of Ha Noi.
Three other girls from my program School Year Abroad also would come with me to the Peace Village and play with the children who suffer from the effects of Agent Orange.
We eagerly took up the opportunity and began our twice weekly trips to thePeaceVillage.
I don’t think that any of us were prepared for those first few days at the Peace Village.
We just went into our separate classrooms (two in one, two in another), and attempted to make instant connections with all of these children that we had just met.
Unfortunately, getting to know people takes time; and trying to get to know twenty people who can’t communicate efficiently is almost impossible.
Those first few days, we trudged back home defeated by our inability to create limitless happiness in the children.
Soon though, we began to understand the flow of the Peace Village.
It is difficult to make every child happy every day, because they all have their own individual personalities, wants, and needs that vary from day to day.
A child could be sitting on your lap singing songs with you one day and throwing blocks at your head the next—it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doing a better or worse job it is just how they choose to express themselves in that moment.
Of course it is always more encouraging receiving the first kind of attention, but the latter is inevitable.
Everyone has off days, and children with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy can’t always express it nicely.
Because of this, there have been off days as well as great days at the Peace Village.
Last week I went to thePeaceVillage, trying not to predict any sort of outcome for the day, as I have learned to do by now.
My fellow volunteers and I went into the classroom and sat down on the floor, making attempts to engage the children in activities.
What we didn’t realize was that this day already had some distinct negative energy before we came.
Our efforts, we soon realized, were beyond futile.
No amount of book-reading, song-singing, or block-building would make them settle down.
Chaos reigned at the Peace village.
A girl sitting in a chair would reach over and shove anyone who got within reach.
This meant teachers as well as children and volunteers, and there were several incidents of people falling over and being pushed to the ground.
A little boy sitting on the ground would throw blocks at our heads in hope of getting attention, which was given to him in large doses because of his impeccable aim.
Simply put, we were tired and feeling rather helpless.
Our job is to make the children happy if nothing else, and that did not appear to be happening.
What is one supposed to do in this situation?
I’ll tell you.
Take a few deep breaths and tell yourself that tomorrow is another day, and that you are not the source of the mayhem.
It is one thing that you can do to keep calm in a situation so far out of your control.
Although there are a number of relatively chaotic days, the sweet and joyful days have their tally as well.
These days are the ones that truly stay with me and make my week feel full and accomplished.
Most often, this happiness comes from something small.
One of these days that sticks out was when my friend and I brought in empty water bottles and dried beans to have the children make shakers.
Both the kids and the volunteers had a great time putting all of the different beans into bottles and then making the biggest racket possible.
I have never seen so many smiles on everyone’s faces – and to this day, the laughter and singing that came from that day still ring the loudest in my head.
There are so many reasons that I would never change this experience for any other.
but the one that I am most thankful for is that through the bad and good days, the throwing and the drawing, the fighting and the music-making, and the crying and the laughing.
I have learned to become a more accepting person to the things that I cannot control.
I know that there will be days that will be frustrating, but I will always be waiting for the days that I can share my little bit of peace.
Source: Tuoi Tre Online