Not a second goes by without hearing the sounds of scooters honking throughout the streets it’s a nonstop parade of scooters weaving in and out of people, cars and colorful vendors. Some holding three or four bodies, others loaded up with fresh farming greens and livestock. Crossing the street for a pedestrian can be a petrifying and exhausting game of Frogger. We grab each other tightly as we dance once step forward, two steps back, until gaining enough courage to quickly leap across the foreign busy streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
I was asked to join my close friend Karon Pardue, Vice-President of Project Save Our Surf foundation on a water filter project in Vietnam. I had never been to Vietnam nor was it on my bucket list of places to visit. I knew nothing about the country, minus history of the war and the small bits shared from my Vietnamese salon girl I took surfing one summer. I have a crazy passion for three things in life: surfing, traveling and children. The more I began to think about embarking on this adventure, it only made sense for me to accept the offer and join PSOS.
Before I knew it, Karon and I embarked on a 21-hour plane flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Along with the help of a global organization, SOS Children’s Villages International, our goal was to set up 50 water filters in the Ben Tre Provence of Vietnam. Located in 133 countries and territories, SOS is known for helping local children and families with care, education, and health. Similar in name and both fantastic organizations, it was an ideal collaboration for PSOS and SOS.
About Ben Tre
Ben Tre is a city in southern Vietnam, along the Mekong Delta. Traditionally, people living in here have earned a living from agriculture, forestry and rice farming. This area has one of the highest child poverty rates due to a number of unfavorable factors: social inclusion and protection of children, infrastructure, education, housing, and child labor rates. With some success, government initiatives have sought to reduce these concerns, but these major components still encompass the entire region
With 2,360 rivers totaling to more than 10km, it would appear that Vietnam should easily provide copious supply of water to the nation. Unfortunately, with a 6-7 month dry season and the country’s coastal location, Vietnam is highly susceptible to natural disasters such as typhoons, storms, and floods. Just these two issues alone effects conditions that play an important part on indigenous people, their livelihood, agricultural lands, livestock, and their infrastructure.
While studies have shown the quality of upstream river water is generally much less risky, downstream sections of natural water sources (lakes, rivers, canals) reveal poor water quality and are still very unsanitary. Today, urban villages still use surface water from shallow dug wells, while rural areas use groundwater pumped in from treatment plants. Both have detected highly contaminated health risks- exposure to diarrhea, malaria, bacterial infestations, arsenic, manganese, selenium, barium and other major toxic substances. For many families in Vietnam, just one simple water filter can make a world of difference and, most importantly, prolong life.
SOS Orphanage Village
After a three-hour drive south of the city, Karon and I finally arrived at the SOS Children’s village. The perfectly groomed grass and gorgeous Plumeria trees surrounded twelve petite family orphan homes. We could hear a lovely chorus of happy youthful voices simultaneously vibrating throughout the village walls. Out walked a sophisticated gentleman with a warm smile, Mr. Huco Bi, the head of the SOS Orphanage.
The SOS Children’s Village in Ben Tre is located roughly 50 miles south of Ho Chi Minh City. Each home is built in the architectural style typical of the region, with the roofs covered in red tiles and brick walls. The village has a special designed nursery and a school for 1,000 primary and secondary level pupils. It even offers a vocational training center to provide practical training and support for young adults hoping that one day they can eventually live independently in the villages nearby. This might sound strange, but if you had to be an orphan in Vietnam, you can’t get better than being in the care of SOS.
Walking throughout the village, Karon and my light colored skin and bleached out hair made the children curious and gitty. They wave, smile and stare, as many have never seen a Westerner in their lifetime, many haven’t have not. With the help of Mr. Huco BI and the SOS team, Karon and I carefully show the older teens how to assemble the water filters and drink from the big yellow bucket. Perplexed by not having to boil their water before drinking, it was apparent children’s first sip of clean water was a huge success. Not one person gagged, spit it out or ran away. Just giant smiles filled the room while a large line of children and SOS workers gathered to taste something as simple as purified, clean and safe water.
Visits to remote SOS Villages
With every visit, Karon and I are escorted into 6 various villages by top local officials. At every home the head of the each household politely sits us down, pours boiling hot tea that tastes like fresh hay in tiny glass teacups and begins to share their life story. Each story is enough to make your heart skip a beat and tears slowly fall down your face. Many parents have lost their significant loved ones and are raising multiple children. Some have adopted young children where the parents left them behind. Many of the people we met were disabled, extremely poor, and had what they called “Spirits” disease. Yet, somehow each village remained positive, strong and work together as one giant family nucleus. Karon and I can’t understand a lick of Vietnamese but the obvious lucid expression in everyone’s eyes evoked a mass amount gratitude, hope and thankfulness. The video itself says a thousand words.
“One, two, three… Get up, Dian.”
After a long scary 4-hour drive to the coast of Vietnam, we found ourselves on what is called the “Back Beach.” Seeing the coast was a big breath of fresh air that Karon and I needed after spending an emotional in few days with families in the villages. Karon was in heaven scowling the beach for rare shells, while I searched the vendors for a surfboard to play on. Randomly, I stumbled upon the coastlines only “Beach Bar” full of wind surfing, stand up paddle boards and a few rustic surfboards.
For about $10 US dollars I rented the biggest board I could to teach our guide to surf. The brown hued ocean was comfortably warm and the 1-2 foot waves were barely big enough to catch a proper ride. The minute I caught my first wave people were watching in awe. Our guide Dian, was a complete natural getting up on his first wave riding all the way to shore. He was immediately hooked. One by one I used sign language and rotated out the locals for a try. Yelling, laughing, and clapping hysterically, surfing was definitely a hit here on Back Beach. I’m pretty confident the Beach Bar’s sales dramatically increased that afternoon.
Like most good trips, it’s unfortunate when they have to end. Loaded up with bags full of souvenirs, unforgettable memories and new profound emotions, Karon and I packed our belongings and embarked on the long journey back to the States. We both are so grateful to have touched the lives of so many and are honored to represent PSOS, SOS and the country of Vietnam. Whether it is by donations, prayers or simply following this adventure via social media, Karon and I can’t thank everyone enough for being apart of this water filter project. Who would have thought just a simple glass of clean water could change a person’s life forever?