On January 8th, 2018, Seam The World joined Unesco-CEP Vietnam’s “Winter Warmth Highlands Program” in Moc Chau and Sapa. The charity trip was a meaningful experience that powerfully illustrated the beauty, fragility, and resilience of the world that we all live in and share. It was a trip that once again brought into focus the heartbreaking hardships and conditions that people endure every day and the need for people and charity to do what they can to help their fellow people of the world.
The journey of traveling to a more remote area is often an important and intimate experience that holds and highlights many of the different reasons that a charity trip is needed. After a 5 am from Ho Chi Minh City and a pitstop in Hanoi, our group of nine people caught a morning bus to Moc Chau. During the 6hour bus ride, we wrapped ourselves under the warmth of a blanket and looked out the window at an eerie fog that enveloped our bus and created an abandoned feeling that covered the barren surroundings. The image of having to work hard for survival was brought to life by the sight of workers breaking rocks and a barefoot woman with an empty basket on her back wondering off into the distance to collect rocks or wood. As we drove up the winding roads piles of rocks and rubble decorated the landscape and came together to produce a probably all to look of a life that is in a constant state of being disorganized and unfinished. A further glimpse of life was offered when the bus would occasionally come to a small intersection with corner stores that mainly sold winter jackets.
To our surprise, the bus ended up navigating us through the fog and into the sun and relative warmth of Moc Chau. We were especially grateful for the change in weather as it gave us a chance to visit the unique and delicate beauty of Moc Chau’s Hoa Man (Plum) flower blossoms. The flower blossoms were the perfect way to prepare for the charity trip the next day. The opening of the blossoms helped us open our hearts and reminded us how special of a place we were in. It showed us that when we are able to fully open ourselves up to the spirit of giving, we simultaneously open ourselves up to a way of receiving that we wouldn’t normally have access to. The beauty of the flowers let us know that the people and landscape of Moc Chau were giving us gifts as well and that we should cherish our time there and remember how fortunate we are to be able to come to Moc Chau.
In the evening, an almost freezing cold snap came with a heavy rain that challenged our trip and reminded us that so much of life is out of our control. The sudden arrival of cold rain, mud and fog made some of the villages and roads that we were planning on visiting dangerous and inaccessible by truck. Any successful charity trip requires lots of organization and strong teamwork. There are many layers of work involved in planning a charity trip from the organizers who identify and do the required paperwork for the communities and families that are the most in need, to the sponsors and suppliers, to the drivers, volunteers, and all the other in-between people that come together to make a trip possible. Thankfully Unesco-CEP Vietnam has lots of experience and a strong team of workers and volunteers that work together to make everything seem much easier than it is.
Lead by an experienced team, a new plan, and course of action made as we worked together to pack the trucks full of food, clothes, blankets, school supplies, and toys. The drive to the first school and village that we visited was about an hour drive down a road that no other vehicles seemed to drive on. The semi-deserted road ended up taking us to a local school where a group of school kids excitedly greeted us. The energy of the upbeat children had a way of cutting through the cold weather and helped us warm our souls. After some fun and games, the children enthusiastically helped us offload donations for the school and donations for other villages that would be kept at the school until they could be delivered in improved weather.
The next school and village that we visited was located in an almost “no man’s land” at the end of a road near a border with Laos that is known as a smuggling route for drugs and wood. As we drove down the treacherous and muddy road, the fog took on a multi-layered thickness that permeated everything. The denseness of the fog literally made the opportunities and chances for the local populations hard to see and seemed to symbolize the painful reality that we were driving down an invisible road for invisible people.
When we reached the village, we worked together to offload the supplies and walked up a muddy hill to a simple hut. The 2 roomed hut was a school that looked as if it had been forgotten about and would’ve easily been overlooked had it not been for the pile of small boots outside the door. Inside the classroom, 11 small and underdressed children sat shivering in the unescapable 2C / 35F weather. As we started to give out jackets and other supplies, more children from the village came into the classroom barefoot and covered in mud.
The cold children were a little overwhelmed by the attention and presence of so many strangers. While they enjoyed the games, snacks, jackets, and school supplies that we gave them there was a disconnected look and a paralyzed feeling that comes with living at the end of a fog-covered muddy road where so little is able to grow in life. As we stood inside the school in the type of cold that dampens spirits and chills bones, the realization that there were many more people that needed help and that we weren’t doing enough came over us. The need for charity in the world is so great that it is easy to feel overwhelmed, not know where and how to start and to feel like one can never do enough. When faced with this feeling we can choose to give up and feel helpless or we can choose to be empowered by the knowledge that charity is a mind state and that there is always something that can be done to help. When we personally witnessed the severity of the situation, we mobilized, we shared the story of what we saw with others and were able to find the generosity and power for good that exists when we work together.
After reaching out to family and friends, Seam The World was able to raise money for 105 additional jackets for Moc Chau Province and another 20,000,000 VND ($900 USD) worth of special blankets and other items that Unesco-CEP Vietnam will deliver to children in remote parts of Sapa that we were unable to go to due to ice and snow.
Life will always have barriers and obstacles and will almost never turn out how one expected it to but there is always a way to work with the situation that is in front of one in a way that finds greater meaning. Our trip didn’t go exactly how we planned or wanted it to but the perseverance and resilience of the people that we encountered, and the lives that they live inspired us not to give up. When given the choice, we took the best option that we could and if we are able to let that thought process dictate our actions then we will always find a way to do what we can to make things work to the best of our ability.
Sometimes what one doesn’t see if just as important as what they do see. The fog and harsh weather conditions may have stopped us from directly visiting all of the villages that we wanted to but it also gave us a much deeper understanding of the type of life that the villagers face. It allowed us to more clearly see the numerous challenges that they have to face. It directly showed us how off and disconnected the villages and people’s lives that we wanted to visit are. Overall, the experience provided us with a much bigger learning lesson then if the weather had been nice and it was easy and straightforward to get to all of the villages that we wanted to. The experience also reminded us to be thankful for the lives that we have and the opportunities that we are surrounded by even if they sometimes seem invisible to us. The trip showed us that the best way to be thankful and to take advantage of our opportunities is to do what we can to help those less fortunate.
In the end, Seam The World was able to donate the following items to Unesco CEP Vietnam’s Winter Warmth Highlands Program: 120 warm winter blankets, 105 children’s winter jackets, 60 high-quality special blankets for children in Sapa, 240 pairs of children underwear, and 120 Viking toys. Seam The World is deeply thankful to Unesco-CEP Vietnam for organizing the trip and letting us be apart of it and to all of our donors that generously gave to the children and families of Moc Chau and Sapa.
A special thanks to Seam The World’s friends and family for their generous donations and helping make the Winter Warmth Highlands Project Possible.
Please contact us if you would like to find out more information or are interested in helping support future projects: firstname.lastname@example.org
All Photograph without Seam The World Logo are provided by Unesco-Cep Vietnam and are the work of Quan Hong Tran.