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Oakdale Teens Travel To Vietnam In Rotary Project

The Rotary Vietnam Project (RVP) is an international project organized by Rotary International District 5170. The project fights slavery through scholarships to aid Vietnamese girls and boys who are susceptible to human trafficking. It also sends young adults to Vietnam, who are willing to make an impact on the children’s lives.

In previous years, RVP helped the Vietnamese in many different ways, but as of summer of 2018, they partnered with the Pacific Links Foundation, a non-profit organization that funds scholarships for the poorest children in Vietnam to go to school. These scholarships provided by both RVP and Pacific Links support poor Vietnamese girls and boys from ages 12 to 18 with schooling and health insurance until the student graduates 12th grade.

Pacific Links has a summer camp, in which people volunteer to teach the Vietnamese children life lessons that are valuable to avoid and fight human trafficking. District 5170’s partnership allows all the Interact students and Rotarians to volunteer and become leaders at the summer camp. Interact is the high school organization affiliated with Rotary. The camp ran eight days in total, with two sessions. Oakdale High School Interact Club students, Shivam Mistry, the club president, and Chloe Liekhus, the co-vice president, volunteered to help at the camp this past summer.

During the two week trip, Chloe and Shivam traveled with two other Interact girls and five adult Rotarians. They first arrived in Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City, after an 18-hour flight. The next day they went to the Ben Thai markets in Saigon, where they learned about currency exchange and then took a four-hour ride to the Dong Thap province, where they arrived at their hotel, situated close to the summer camp at Dong Thap University.

The camp leaders gave a warm welcome and camp started with an opening ceremony where the students arrived at the main hall in groups. These groups were a given family, where the students had a counselor that helped them in every task. At the ceremony they were given guidelines and rules and got introduced to the contributors, volunteers, and how the Pacific Links program works. Shortly after the ceremony, all the students chose between 15 different workshops they would attend at the camp. The workshops were held for about an hour each and ranged from learning CPR to learning bridge building. The RVP workshops were on happiness, self-defense, and teamwork.

The workshop Chloe led focused on happiness. She worked with three other volunteers to teach the children that happiness is earned and comes from within. As an icebreaker, they taught the students how to sing the song “If You Are Happy and You Know It” in English. This activity also encouraged the girls to use their voices while singing loudly. The use of loud vocals is an important defense mechanism that was taught in the self-defense workshop. Following the song they asked the girls what made them happy and gave them the English translation for them to write in chalk. This gave Chloe the chance to help the girls to learn more English and its pronunciation. She was very pleased that most of the campers were very enthusiastic about learning, even though some of the students were very shy. Once that was completed, Chloe introduced another activity to the girls, an easy clapping game to do with a partner, called Slide.

Shivam led a workshop on teamwork, working with one other volunteer to put on the event. In this workshop he taught the children about the value of teamwork by engaging them through icebreakers and the main activity called the human knot. In the human knot, a group of people gathers around in a circle. Each person grabs the hand of another person across from them. This makes a huge knot and everyone has to work together to untangle the knot and ultimately create a circle in the end. After the activities, Shivam asked the students questions to help them understand that using teamwork is important. He also explained how the teamwork workshop was important in preventing human trafficking because it taught the students to work in teams to solve any problem. Students were also taught to stay together and travel in groups because it is safer.

In the evenings, there were night ceremonies ranging from cultural performances, choreographed dances, and singing that the children would do. One night also included a ceremonial bonfire, lit with fireworks, followed by dancing, games and the telling of stories.

During the closing ceremony for each session, the leaders would talk about the value of the camp and how human trafficking is a current problem. In the case of the social profile of the camp attendees, these children could easily be persuaded by any human trafficker that would tell them they could provide a better life. After helping understand their status and how they are vulnerable to being trafficked, the speaker would emphasize how important it is for students to continue their education and recognize all the skills they were able to learn at the camp.

The Pacific Links program also provided scholarships, gifts and other prizes for attendees.

Chloe and Shivam agreed they learned from their experience, including how the culture and lifestyle in Vietnam is centered around family and survival. By teaching the children at the camp, Chloe and Shivam both learned about the values of teamwork, happiness, and leadership. Through these values they taught, they also recognized how frequent these values are applied in their everyday lives and how leadership is taking the role of positively influencing, communicating, and interacting with others.