An absolute highlight of our trip to the mountains of North Vietnam last January was a visit to a small school in the village of Sin Chai. Sounds so simple, but it was really a special experience.
We found our way there because our guide, Hoang Ha Van, very quickly understood that the plan the travel agent had set out for us wouldn’t work. Weather, terrain and physical abilities made hiking for three to four hours in the muddy rainy mess of Vietnam winter and having a picnic by a river wasn’t feasible.
I explained to Hoang that we were most interested in as authentic an experience as possible without being intrusive. He suggested that we take some small treats to a school to share with the children. “Would we like to do that?”
Sounded like a good idea so we provided him with some money to get the treats at the market before he picked us up the next morning for the two hour drive to the other side of a mountain to visit the village. I, of course, thought he’d bring candy bars and maybe some plastic toys. Hah! Was I wrong!
He showed up with a bag of small apples and a bunch of lengths of rope, explaining that the children in the village we’d be visiting only eat what their families grow. Fruit is a special and rare treat.
When we got to the small school in the mountains, he explained to the teacher and quickly the room was rearranged and the small fire set in the middle on the floor (it was very cold) swept aside. More children crowded in and soon the children gathered around Hoang to watch the jump roping demo and start jumping themselves.
Oh, I’ll always remember seeing the excitement, the laughter, the pure joy, the intense curiosity. After enthusiastically jumping rope and learning some chasing -each-other-around type games, the children were instructed to line up so that we could hand out two apples apiece. Oh, were they happy. I wish I could go back with more apples tomorrow. I loved sharing the simple small treat.
Hoang told us that we were very “strange creatures” to them…..they rarely see foreigners or fangky as we are called in their language. I’m sure we were the topic of the conversations around the fires in their simple homes that night.
I am still sorting out my mixed bag of emotions ranging from the pure pleasure of watching the children have so much fun to the deep tugging at my heart that their lives are so limited. While lacking in so much,these children found pleasure in the moment and simple gifts. I was the fortunate one to share and to learn from them.
If you are interested in helping the people in the villages in this area check out the Sapa O’Chau organization. You can improve the quality of life and educational opportunities of these children from your home or maybe even on a visit to this part of the world.