Local News

Inspiring and humbling experience

September 16 - 22, 2015

Gulf Weekly Mai Al Khatib-Camille
By Mai Al Khatib-Camille

Gulf Weekly Inspiring and humbling experience

CARING students studying in the kingdom set out on a life-changing journey trekking through the rural parts of Vietnam and found the whole 16-day experience humbling, inspiring and invaluable.

They have returned to their classrooms with a clear message to expat and local teenagers urging them to consider back-packing adventures which can make a difference in more ways than one.

The British School of Bahrain (BSB) students, aged between 17 and 18, flew to the Southeast Asian nation as part of a World Challenge programme with their teacher Lucy Jones and World Challenge leader Tom White.

The programme works with schools to deliver life-changing expeditions to developing countries as a means of aiding students in forming crucial life skills such as leadership, teamwork, self-awareness and compassion.

The trips are led by the students themselves and participants can choose from more than 40 destinations to reach out and lend a helping hand while also experiencing different cultures and lifestyles.

The BSB adventurers spent 16 days in North Vietnam visiting hill tribes and trekking through the Sapa Valley, participating in rewarding project work in rural villages and visiting the World Heritage site of Ha Long Bay.

The team of 11, which comprised of Floris van Manen, Dania Naeem, Ali Adenwala, Marc Zakharia, Laura Ashi, Ghazi Alaradi, Panos Panagiotou, Kevin Orme, Kindu Abu Tala, Hisham Karim and Dzianis Pasichny, may not have started off as close friends but say they have bonded throughout the journey and have become more appreciative of the lifestyle that they are lucky to enjoy in Bahrain.

As reported in GulfWeekly, impressively, the challenge was entirely self-funded, and the youngsters even hosted a party with Vietnamese food they prepared themselves to get a taste of the adventure to come.

Filipino-British student, Kevin, 17, from Manama, said: “We now go about every day appreciating what we have knowing that we are extremely privileged.

“Without this experience one can never truly know how hard it is to live in a Third World country. We all know about those who are stricken by poverty but it’s not the same as seeing it in front of your own eyes.

“I think trips like this are extremely beneficial. You quickly appreciate the things you take for granted here like air conditioning and being able to drink clean water. We had to use purifying tablets for our water which was an initial shock to us.

“When you hear stories from the families that we met and look back at our lives and the problems that we have, they don’t compare.

“So we came back really appreciating everything that we have such as health care, for example. I mean, we can go to the doctor when we are sick but many people can’t because there are not enough facilities.

“This programme also offered a chance to explore a different type of travel experience ... without the luxury surrounding a family holiday … as a backpacker.

“This trip really sparked a travel bug in all of us. Now we want to go to places where we can leave something behind. It’s a lot more rewarding knowing that when you leave a place you have left your mark and the community thanks you for coming because you have made a real difference.”

The landscape of Vietnam also left its mark on the young travellers. Kevin explained: “We are not used to so much greenery so when we touched down and saw that everywhere was green, we were stunned. There were so many trees surrounding us, the architecture was very colourful and Ha Long Bay, in particular, was breathtaking.”

On the first day, they stayed at the Rising Dragon Hotel in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. From there, they boarded a sleeper train and at sunrise, the pupils disembarked and faced a further two-hour bus ride to take them to Sapa, a village situated in a mountain range.

They trekked for three days to reach the Mountain View Hotel and slept on mats on the floors at different homes en route.

Kevin said: “The generous people opened their homes up to us, gave us great food and a place to sleep. It was remote and the only luxury was a basic fridge and a few fans. It truly opened our eyes to how privileged we are to be living in the luxurious bubble that is Bahrain.”

After returning to Hanoi they prepared for the next and longest stage of the trip, the project phase.

The group used money they raised at school to purchase basic toys, stationery and books for students of a primary school among other things.

They boarded a bus bound for Mai Chau village where they spent the next week building a toilet for a disabled man and his family.

The man had suffered a serious hip injury during the Vietnam War and still managed to care for his granddaughter whilst his wife worked in the fields growing vegetables to sell in the local markets. The child’s parents worked in the capital city and returned whenever they could to see their 18-month-old daughter.

Floris, 17, from The Netherlands, who lives in Al Jasra, was moved by the family’s rural living conditions. He said: “We had already bought the toilet bowl but we needed to build the walls surrounding it and also we dug the hole were the cesspit was going to go. Then we got the plumbers in to instal the actual toilet. With the extra money that we raised, we bought him supplies including a water pump, rice cooker, fans and things to make the family’s life more comfortable.”

Aside from providing toys and stationery to a school, they decided to continue with their charitable efforts by purchasing 750 baby chicks and donating 25 each in a basket to the 30 poorest families in the local community of Mai Chau. They also contributed medicines and food.

Kevin said: “The words ‘cam on’ – ‘thank you’ in Vietnamese – resonated in the centre as we departed. It was moving knowing that we had left such a positive mark in Mai Chau and that our visit had been highly appreciated.”

Remaining funds raised were used to buy fresh milk for a hospital paediatric ward.

Kinda, 17, a Jordanian with Palestinian roots, from Seef, was moved by the stories they uncovered: “As we were handing the milk out we spoke to the head of the ward about the situation at the hospital and its patients,” she said.

“We discovered that six families were unable to cover the cost of operations for their children who were simply receiving basic care while they saved up.

“We were able to pay for these operations while also giving a donation to the hospital which will be used to develop the paediatric ward.”

After completing the project phase, the teens went exploring. They took a bus ride to Ha Long Bay, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Back at Hanoi they met a shop vendor named Flower who sold weasel coffee and tiny Buddhist statues and trinkets. Student Laura, 17, from Seef, who has Lebanese and Saudi Arabian heritage, was touched by the girl’s story.

Laura said: “She started working when she was six years old. Her family taught her to weave fibres into rice hats and baskets and things like that.

“We all were moved by her story. She is a brave soul. We were humbled to have met her and so many other sweet families. We gained a lot from this trip and have already started implementing some of the lessons of life we have learned into our daily routines.”

Kevin purchased 200 bracelets made by local children to make use of as part of the school’s charitable initiatives. He said: “We are now going to sell them during one of our many fundraising events. This year our committee has a school goal which includes the infants, juniors and seniors working together to raise BD10,000 to donate to three good causes.

“This whole experience has made us want to travel more and make a difference in what we do. We would like to thank everyone involved for allowing us to have such a life-changing experience which we will never forget.”

More on Local News