Friday, September 2, 2011

Visit to Cargill School in Vietnam

By Steve Laible, Volunteer Project Leader, Vietnam

My first night at the Thuan Thien Hotel is a bit restless. The 12 hour time change and the long plane ride has managed to mess up my "sleep clock". I wake up about an hour before my scheduled wake up call. I enjoy soup with noodles as part of the breakfast. Since my body clock is on dinner time, the fact that I'm eating a full meal with soup, fried rice, steamed vegetables and sweet bananas seems perfectly appropriate.

The car and my guide for the day meet me on time at 8:00 AM. The two hour car ride to Ben Tre province is different than I expected. The roads are modern and the traffic has a degree of sanity to it. The motor bikes are numerous and act like small flocks of birds darting everywhere. There are not many traffic control signs, but there is an interesting form of self regulation. The motor bikes bunch up at intersections when they lack an opening. When a break in the traffic flow occurs, the motor bikes scoot across the intersection forming a moving fence that halts the other direction of traffic. When a space occurs in the moving direction, the new bunch of waiting motor bikes takes over. The resulting traffic flow creates waves of bikes with gaps in between moving in perpendicular directions. The main road to Ben Tre takes us over a very beautiful bridge across a main channel of the Mekong River and into the delta region.

Our destination is a school project that has been sponsored by Minnesota-based Cargill Corporation. The "Cargill Cares" project has been operating for a number of years in Vietnam and about 45 school facilities have been built. We meet the cheerful school Director and tour a lovely facility with three large classrooms and an administration building. There are only a few children on hand as the school is on "rainy season" break. The school offers a half day program at this time of the year for the children who are able to participate or who need a "head start".

The government commitment to elementary education is impressive. Organized school starts at age three. Thus, parents are able to have public day care, play group and learning experiences for their children at an early age. There are 20 to 30 children registered in each of three classrooms with two teachers in each room. The school operating expenses are government funded making school a very affordable experience for all families.

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