From 9th to 27th December 2019, 26 Orioners embarked on an Overseas Community Involvement Project to Vietnam. This was Operation Orion’s pioneer trip to Vietnam! Our trip aimed to help the villagers living in Hòa Tân Commune, which is located in Trà Vinh Province in southern Vietnam.
Our partner was Eco Vietnam Group (EVG), a Non-Governmental Organisation based in Vietnam which aims to bring genuine benefits to the local community. They seek to achieve this goal by connecting with volunteers from around the world and providing them with opportunities and support to contribute to the less-fortunate communities. With us throughout the project were 3 student volunteers from EVG – Emmy, Huy, and Jennie, led by the project manager – Quy. The EVG team assisted us immensely in translation and logistic supply; and their help was vital to our project’s success.
Following Operation Orion’s tradition, our project with EVG was split into two main sections: Operations and Programmes.
House 1 & 2
The first objective of our Operations was to build two single-story houses for the less-fortunate families in the village. The skills involved in the construction of the two houses include:
- Manual Cement Mixing
- Wall plastering
- Sieving sand
- Time, Manpower and Resource Management (due to shortage of manpower and equipment)
Amidst our hectic work schedule, Orioners did not miss the opportunity to interact with the local communities and learn about their daily lives. The residents of Hòa Tân commune live a simple life, stemming from the fact that most have a very low income. In fact, the households benefitting from the two houses built have a weekly expenditure of around $20 SGD. Most of the villagers there live in simple attap houses built from dried palm leaves and supported by wooden poles. These structures are not fully waterproof and do not age well with time. In addition, the region regularly suffers from heavy rain and low flood in the wet season. This severely affected the residents as the attap houses provide very limited protection against the weather. There is also a shortage of access to clean water and low sanitation standard which expose the residents to high health risks, especially children.
Thus, in the hope to improve their living condition, we embarked to build 2 concrete houses made of cement and bricks for the households with the greatest need for a better shelter. We also constructed a proper toilet for each house to help improve their hygiene and standard of living.
When we arrived, the foundation and the weight supporting beams were already completed to ease our construction works. Our goal was to replace their wooden sheds with concrete houses as the latter can last around 15 to 20 years, which is much longer compared to the 5 to 8 years lifespan of the former. Throughout this process, we learned many new skills such as cement mixing, bricks laying, plastering and smoothening of the walls. The accuracy required for these processes is very high, especially the laying of bricks as they will be supporting the weight of the structure.
One of our proudest moments throughout our journey was the completion of the 2 houses, which includes painting and eventually a hand-over ceremony to their new owners. Due to certain logistical issues, our original schedule was delayed; and, thus, the locals did not expect us to complete the houses within the 10 days with them. However, we, as a team, wanted to see the whole construction project through as this is the goal we agreed prior to the trip. Hence, we reorganized our schedule and seek to optimize our manpower and equipment. Each Orioner also agreed to put in 120% effort to ensure that our hard work paid off.
The physical conditions were another tough obstacle that we faced. We had to constantly fight against the heat and the dry weather throughout the arduous process of manually mixing batches after batches of cement. In the end, thanks to the strong sense of determination and teamwork, we finally managed to complete both houses on time for the handover before we departed. Looking back, this was one of our greatest achievements throughout the journey. We shared a common goal. Our soul, our mind and our body were in the struggle together as we sang and cheered and encouraged each other to keep on pushing. The various setbacks and struggles we overcame were no doubt the proof of the camaraderie that we forged and nurtured throughout this seemingly impossible test.
The casting of the Concrete bridge required skills such as
- Laying of metal bars as part of the reinforced framework
- Using a wire straightener
- Mixing cement and flattening the surface
- Cutting metal parts for the handrails
Apart from helping the individual households, we also decided to embark on a project that was able to help the whole community. One of the most used bridges in Hòa Tân commune has been reduced to a shaky path of concrete due to wear and tear. As such, EVG and Operation Orion stepped in to build a new and wider bridge for the residents there to improve the safety and accessibility of the village. We had the chance to work with many new machines to cut up the handrails and even an automated cement mixer to assist us along the way (thank god for this as there was a high amount of cement required for casting the bridge).
We also helped to lay down the reinforcement bars needed to support the bridge before covering it up with cement. Lastly, we installed handrails and painted them in bright colors. During the ceremony after the completion of the bridge, the smiles on the faces of the villagers as they eagerly rode across the new bridge were truly a heartening scene to all of us.
For Programmes, we mainly focused on educating and providing the children there an experience they would never forget. In Singapore, we also work with different organisations to create events and help with community projects.
Hand in hand with our construction projects, we have lesson plans for the children at Hòa Tân Primary School. Orioners prepared learning materials such as worksheets, materials for origami and science experiments. We created a variety of activities for the students, ranging from teaching them life cycles of insects to diffusion to creating a balloon car, to cater to the different age groups of the children to spark an interest in these students to get them to be more curious about science. Since their community is placing more emphasis on STEM education, in addition to the programmes planned, we also collaborated with the Operations department to form the ‘Progs-OPs Engineering project’. The goal of this collaboration was to involve creative thinking to come up with interesting science experience to spark an interest in science for the local Vietnamese children at Hòa Tân Primary School. We thought of some simple science experiments to spark their interests and teach them basic science principles while having fun. Some of these experiments included testing structural integrity of construction structures using foam blocks and toothpicks or learning about basic air pressure by building rockets propelled by the acid-base reaction.
We also taught them the importance of handwashing and the steps involved in doing so! Who would have thought such lessons could not have come in handy at a better time than now for the children there, when handwashing is such an important thing to do! We also taught them basic English, to which many of them were enthusiastic about! They even sang us the alphabet song upon seeing us writing them out on the board
Beyond lesson time, we also recognise the importance of having fun with them as well and thus we also prepared arts and craft lessons and a fun-filled day for them as well – our CARNIVAL DAY! Just as Christmas was around the corner, we taught them how to make a 3D Christmas tree card which all of them were very excited about and many even came up to us, asking us to draw them something! We also came up with an amazing race style game for the children which required them to work together, and we all had a good day of joy and laughter. It was an apt way of ending our program in Hòa Tân, by ending on a high!
During the trip, we had an enriching cultural exchange where we painted piggy banks and wore traditional Vietnamese costumes. Piggy banks are part of the Vietnamese culture where all the kids would store their money in the piggy bank as savings and break them when the piggies are full!
We even celebrated Christmas with the locals where we played games, sang songs and danced through the night around a campfire. We had lots of fun playing the games and activities prepared by our friends from ECO Vietnam group! It was a great opportunity to interact and strengthen our bonds with the locals and among the Orion team!
This trip had been nothing short of amazing for all our members. For the majority of us, it was our first time participating in an OCIP, and it really opened our eyes to what is going on around the world, allowing us to be more appreciative of the things we have in Singapore. It lent us the perspective on what living a full life meant. We were amazed at how the people in Hòa Tân Commune manage to lead simple yet happy and meaningful lives despite their living conditions. We came out of this experience fulfilled and able to empathise with others better. From aspiring to be a better version of ourselves before the trip to perspiring under the hot sun while working on our construction projects, and finally inspiring the children in the local schools to be more interested in science through our science experiments, Operation Orion has successfully taught us to Aspire, Perspire and Inspire!