On Tuesday we had the privilege of visiting Catdang, a village about 90km (not 60k as I previously thought) south of Hanoi. The Children’s Initiative (TCI) has supported Catdang since 1993 and much of our fundraising this year will go back to the village. We piled into a bus arranged for us by TCI and led by Ms. Lien. It took us about two-and-a-half hours to reach the village. Actually we didn’t visit the village at all, but rather, the middle school “commune,” a handful of classrooms, school buildings and library. We entered a room with a welcome sign on a board and were greeted with speeches thanking us for our presence and commitment to the school from the school director and local leader of the Communist People’s Committee. After the ceremonial business and hand-shaking all 19 of us entered a classroom of 30-some 11-year-olds. They spoke literally no English. Phong and Nick attempted to communicate in Vietnamese but it was met with silence. The whole thing was a bit awkward, so we forced some conversation and smiled a lot.
After leaving the classroom, we were mobbed by the middle-schoolers, who gawked at us as we joked with them and tried out a little conversation. It was quite a spectacle. Obviously a horde of foreigners in Catdang is not an everyday occurrence — or something that has ever happened there before.
Following the mob scene and some lunch we returned to the school to a group of girls jumping rope. Of course it wasn’t long before some of our group literally jumped in. It was a huge hit with the kids.
Before heading back to Hanoi, we split into smaller groups and entered four different English classrooms. Though the class had some pretty complex verb structures written on the board, we soon found their conversational English was almost entirely lacking. Basics such as “How old are you?” and “What do you like?” were frequently met with silences and mumbling. The students might get plenty of practice in their workbooks, but little practice actually speaking.
We settled on drilling some body parts before a “Head, Shoulders” sing-a-long. At first, they looked at the four of us big guys in some degree of astonishment. We persevered, kept with it and they joined in. Seeing the kids was a great reminder of why we’re doing what we’re doing. If we needed any extra inspiration, we found it in Catdang.
We’ve just finished our first day of riding. We made it about 60 kilometers to Hoa Binh. Wish I could write more but it’s time for some quick dinner before our nightly meeting!