April 18, 2014

Images of Vietnam

University students from North Carolina
help build homes in a rural province

By Kristen Bryant

Vacations Magazine: Images of Vietnam
Kristen Bryant

(Scroll down to see a slide show.)

A volunteer vacation -- giving one's time and labor to a worthy cause -- may not seem like the most relaxing way to spend a school break. However, my recent student service trip to Vietnam was one of the most liberating experiences I've had.

This January, I was among 11 undergraduates and one adviser from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, who were charged with the task of building homes in Vietnam. The adventure offered a chance to learn new things uninhibitedly, freeing me to believe that I can make a difference far from home.

We were aided by several Vietnamese university students whose English proficiency proved to be an invaluable resource. The homes were constructed in one of the poorest communities in the country, Phu My in the Kien Giang Province in the south. A large number of its inhabitants are Khmer, an ethnicity also found in Cambodia, a short drive to the north. The vibrancy of the people inspired me as the families of the village opened their arms and welcomed us.

Gorgeous landscapes, wonderful weather and breathtaking views provided the backdrop for our volunteer work. We spent a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, the former capital of South Vietnam, where our exposure to the modern metropolitan lives led by its more than 7 million residents was a stark contrast to rural Phu My. We also had the chance to explore the rich and sometimes dark history of the country.

Our two weeks in Vietnam gave us a lifetime of memories. We built and furnished two homes, donated uniforms to the local school, attended a wedding and participated in the annual volleyball tournament. But what remains with me is not what we did, but the people who allowed us to do it.

The Vacations To Go Grant
Vacations To Go established the Vacations To Go Grant in 2008 as a scholarship for Wake Forest students participating in international service trips. Alan Fox, chairman and CEO of Vacations To Go, is an alumnus of the university, located in Winston-Salem, NC.

There are two portions to the grant: a need-based scholarship to help students with travel expenses and a photojournalism assignment that pays a stipend. The student awarded the photojournalism assignment for this service project, Kristen Bryant, traveled to Vietnam in January 2012.




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