Volunteering in Buoc Village

Posted by: LMTV Supporter Category: Testimonies Post Date: 19/02/2020

Volunteering in Buoc Village

Two weeks ago, a group of Japanese students, accompanied by a Swiss volunteer and supported by two others Vietnamese volunteers took part in of one SJVietnam’s (SJV) Groupcamps: “Living, sharing and helping minority and disadvantaged people.” They were led by Mr. Mori Hiro, coordinator of NICE, and their teacher Mr. Paul Crane. They will tell us about their volunteering in Buoc Village, with SJV.

The context

For one week they stayed in Buoc Village, located in the mountains in Mai Chau in northeastern Vietnam. This village is inhabited by about 70 Thai families, one of the minorities living in Vietnam.

Their goal was to build toilets, paint the kindergarten’s wall and teaching basic English to children. Indeed, 20% of houses don’t have toilets yet in this village. SJV’s project is to finish building toilets for each family living there. They already built most of the 80% that exists. Regarding English, it is a very important language for the country to communicate with the outside world.

Along with Fuko Yamada, another volunteer at SJV, we met them to talk about their project and what they think about it. We talked with Momoka Yamaguchi, Kana Matsumoto, Sapuna Oshima and Daijiro Tanaka who were part of the Japanese group, and Toan Belleville, who’s a Swiss volunteer.

The groupcamp

They stayed the entire week in the village, in host families, and worked for five days. The first day they met with the couple they would build toilets for and discovered how was life in Buoc. A lot of nature, lots of animals too, buffalos, chickens, dogs. And most importantly, Buoc’s inhabitants. Their welcome was warm. Sapuna told us her foster mother cried when they arrived. She didn’t understand why at the beginning but then she understood the meaning of their visit in the village for her and the inhabitants. It was a good time to think about the project: they didn’t come just to build toilets and paintings, but also to meet people and understand more their way of life and thinking.

People in a room in Buoc Village, Vietnam

They had first a review of the project, then they began to work.

Their schedule was divided in two parts: mornings were intended for the building of a toilet, and afternoons for the lessons with children. Volunteers in charge of the painting worked on it the whole day.

Building the toilet

Momoka, Kana, Saquna and Toan participated in the building of the toilet and explained the method they used. A part of the group was digging a hole, another one was mixing the cement and the last one brought the bricks. After digging a hole, they laid the foundation. A pipe helps to dispose human waste. Then they leveled the surface, set the toilet, built the walls of the toilet and filled the hole with cements. Finally, they constructed walls and a roof.

Toan took part in this project for the second time, in the same village but for another family, so he knew the method. But the first time he was like the girls: they didn’t know what it would look like or how to build it. Kana mentioned us that in cities we use machines to build toilets, but in villages like Buoc people do it with their own hands. It was a hard work for her.

Toilet in Buoc Village, Vietnam

The final result of the toilet.

Painting the wall

Daijiro was in the group that painted the wall. First, they draw two sketches and submitted them to the schoolteacher to have her consent. Then they agreed on the right one and began drawing the painting with pencils so that it would be more precise. After that they prepared the colors. They had only five colors available, so it was the most difficult part according to Daijiro because their painting was colorful. They had to mix the colors to find the good ones. And then they painted the wall.

Painting colors

The final result of the painting.

The contact

An important part for them was the contact with villagers in Buoc Village. It was also one of their fears: communication. How to speak with Vietnamese people? They worked with the male of the couple to build the roof of the toilet, taught basic English to children and lived in the community for a week. They didn’t speak Vietnamese, so they couldn’t really speak with villagers, but like Momoka quickly understood: “communication isn’t only speaking”. Daijiro only knows how to say hello and thank you in Vietnamese. Therefore, they quickly began to communicate with smiles, expressions or energy. Sapuna even told us she communicated with her heart. For the English lessons they were helped by the Vietnamese volunteers. Cohesiveness in the group of volunteers was also really important for the good of the project.

Their impressions

Afterwards we questioned them about what the reasons that led them to come to do this volunteering project. Toan already came to this village for the same project and very much enjoyed sharing these unique moments with the families on site and the other volunteers. He came for the second time to continue helping them. And the university offered the possibility to follow this program for the Japanese. Some had already volunteered and wanted to continue helping as best as they could. Others, motivated by this same desire, had never had the opportunity to volunteer. They all wanted to see what the reality of the villagers on the ground looked like so that they could then help them and better understand the issues behind this project.

None of them, except Toan had ever been to Vietnam before, and that was another fear they had. They did not know the country or the people. But after a few hours that fear was gone, when they met the family and the villagers.

Kana shared with us the couple’s joy and emotion when they finished the toilet. These are the moments she loves. Their relationship with the children also went very well, and they were all impressed by the happiness that reigned despite the living conditions. Sapuna shared with us her reflection on this experience: what is happiness?

They will all leave with this thought and this project which has enriched their experience. Momoka, Kana, Sapuna, Daijiro and Toan were able to realize (or share) the potential that volunteer projects can bring. Both for the people on site and for themselves. Momoka realized how lucky she was, Kana wants to continue volunteering and Sapuna is thankful that she could see the conditions in Buoc Village and wants to know more about Vietnam and its population.

Toan sees volunteering as sharing happiness, having a good time together, around a common goal. And now the couple they helped has a toilet.


Written by Antoine, LMTV in SJVietnam.

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