Social Entrepreneurship Program in Vietnam – Motorcycles, new food, color, and lush greenery are the first things that stood out our first few days in Vietnam. All of these were soon to be trumped by the people and experience we had in our two weeks. In Tra Vinh to develop entrepreneurial ideas for small businesses, we learned so much. As a person experiencing Vietnam for the first time, the learning went beyond a relation to work.
During our visit, we experienced the spirit of entrepreneurship and the beautiful Vietnamese culture. We learned about the businesses by “going to the gemba” this past week. We started out by touring small business ventures: a photocopy shop, a stationary shop, a coffee shop, and a restaurant. Each of these businesses were partially funded by TVU and need ideas to help increase revenues. We spent a morning visiting a handicraft workshop specializing in Khmer cultural replicas. We learned that the importance of the work was to not only increase income for the craft people involved, but also to keep the Khmer culture alive.
We also visited a family-operated organic farm. In a district outside of Tra Vinh, we spend the day with a multi-generational family living in one home, cultivating a organic farm to share with their community. The young entrepreneur leading this venture was nineteen and interested in developing the organic farm into a eco-tourism experience. We were able to experience what this venture would look like, as we watched someone climb a coconut tree to give us a taste of coconut juice, we fished in their pond, picked fresh greens, made traditional Khmer dishes and feasted on our harvest. We also visited a neighboring home to see a rice field and enjoy a cup of tea.
During the course of our stay we saw examples of entrepreneurship at every turn. There were many food kiosks on the street selling breakfast, lunch and dinner. There were also copious fruit stands, restaurants and markets selling clothing and other wares. It was inspirational to see community members using local products to make a living.
The next step in our project was to use what we learned in our visits and develop business ideas for these small businesses. As the Instructor, I had a chance to facilitate for several days in the classroom to help the students develop their projects. Each team came up with great ideas to help improve the economy and lifestyle for the business owners.
From a personal perspective, the friendly, generous treatment we received from our new friends here at Tra Vinh was greater than I ever would have expected. On our very first day with our team, the TVU students took our NSCC students to tour the campus and get some lunch. At the end of the afternoon, all the students were laughing and making plans for the evening. I said to Cynthia, if this is only the first day, I hate to see what happens when we go to leave. From that day, a strong bond was formed between the students. The days together extended into spending evenings and weekends for many of the students.
The most profound aspect of the trip has been the kindness shown to us during our visit. We were not treated like strangers from another country, but long-lost friends and family. When visiting the farm in Cang Long, the father of the student farmer invited me to sit down for tea. No words were spoken, but a peaceful cup of tea was shared. His sister soon joined us and translated the ensuing conversation. We were the same age, both had fathers in our 80s. He said I looked a lot younger than him and I said it was because he worked much harder than I do each day. (Not only did he farm, but he also built roofs for local buildings, processed the rice for the community and helped with the farm. And he made time that day to share a cup of tea with me). It was something I will never forget.
The TVU students welcomed us; for us old gals, they were respectful, friendly and engaged in the learning. Amidst their busy lives, they have invited to dinner, beer and of course, karaoke. We have been so impressed by these wonderful people. Our three NSCC students were absolute stars. They lead the project work, took opportunities to try new adventurous foods, made amazing friendships, and soaked up as much culture as possible. They were excellent to travel with.
On our last day we had a chance to see the final project presentations and thank Miss Khanh, Vice Rector Danh, Miss Flower, Miss Anh, and all the students. It was an emotional experience. A few times while I was in Tra Vinh, I thought, wow, I am really here! I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience Tra Vinh and go, learn, and grow with NSCC International.
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