By Kjersti Andreassen
Less than four months ago, I was standing on my hotel room balcony and saying, “good morning, Vietnam.” I visited the country with a team of 12 other people as part of a three-month mission trip.
On my first early morning, I was taking in the scene of a bustling Saigon street, trying to tell the vendors apart. It was a greeting to a country I didn’t know and a people I hadn’t met.
Vietnam is what some of us call a “closed country.” Little information, contrary to the government agenda, goes in or out. It is also a very poor country with a lot of social problems.
So when a group of white people go to Saigon for two weeks with the expectation to “go wherever things lead them,” this is what happens.
I had seen dreams in young people who wanted a better life for themselves. I saw dreams for a country to become a better place. I saw dreams on behalf of others. But they didn’t stop with the dream — they did things to make it happen.
I can think of several occasions when I would go to the park and end up meeting some amazing new people. People in Vietnam are extremely hospitable, and they love practicing their English. So three hours after meeting someone, I’d be on a crazy and lethal motorbike ride on my way to a favorite pho place.
I met some incredible people in Vietnam. Nhu, a 14-year-old girl who works through the summer selling bracelets so that by the end of it, she can buy one new English book. This year it was “The Hunger Games.”
There was also Angie, a 28-year-old banker who had lost her job due to cutbacks. After this, she watched — more like memorized — the TV show “Friends” and teaches English as a volunteer.
Anne Marie, a young German girl who put her studies on hold so she could come serve the Vietnamese people, was another person I met. During her time there, she found a passion for teaching deaf people, and she is back in Germany studying sign language.
Finally, I met Mrs. Bao, a Vietnamese woman, and her American husband. After several decades in the U.S., they went back to Vietnam. Mrs. Bao takes in the children of unwed mothers while those mothers get their lives together, at which point she either continues to raise the child or — ideally — the mother comes to pick up her child.
Abortion rates in Vietnam are through the roof, and 60-70 percent of the population between 15 and 19 years of age have had abortions. She told us, “my own children are adults now. The children here need me more.” This woman has 10-20 infants and small children living in her home.
My experience in Vietnam changed me. It gave me courage. Because when people who face outrageous poverty and persecution can do so much for other people, I have no excuse.
None of the Vietnamese people I met acted like victims, even though by our standards they probably are. Instead, they rise above what the world has handed them. They resist fear, and act. These people are hardworking, and they know how to simply do what is in front of them. I never saw any of them procrastinate. I never saw any people grumble about their lot in life.
I saw dreamers who worked their tail off to learn English. The oldest one was 64 years old — the youngest was 14. I saw those who ran a coffee shop to help disabled people find work. I saw others who went out and played with orphans and who talked to young women at an abortion clinic.
Dreamers who dream not at night, but in the light of day. People who dream with their actions foreshadow what their community and society might one day become. They were making their dreams go from imagination to reality — we can follow their example. 🅼