Drawing at the school for deaf
Tonight we were the VIP guests at a concert given by students of the "Disabled School" and a local high school. I'm going to refer to the "Disabled School" as the school for the deaf, as from what we saw the only "disability" of the children was diminished hearing. As part of the volunteer program we spend one hour on Fridays with a class at the school. Previous volunteers have brought the kids art supplies and (I think) helped with the dancing practice and taken the students on outings to cafes. I personally found this part of the program the least satisfying. We really didn't need to be there, we would turn up and give out paints or crayons and the kids would draw (better than I could) or paint. Because we changed classes every week we never really got to know any of the kids (or rather teens some of them are 18).
Painting at the school for deaf
I think maybe if we had more time we could have done something else. If they are worried about job opportunities for the kids, teaching computer skills would I think be the most useful thing we could do. I think one of the previous volunteers is organising hearing aids for some of the students. While Tuy Hoa is quite big (compared to Australian towns, all Vietnam towns are huge population-wise) I think the students also come from "the surrounding mountain areas". The student-teacher ratios are good from what we have seen, with about an average of 10 kids per class. Each classroom has a mirror to practice the sign language I guess. Not only is the sign language different from Australian or US sign language but according to a book I read there are at least 3 different sign language versions in Vietnam, I'm not sure how this happened, maybe in the south it resembles US sign language and the north Russian sign language? I'm surprised that the government hasn't set a Vietnamese one.
Anyway working with the kids (and painting and colouring) was fun for us even if I'm sure it didn't achieve much. The concert (which is actually meant to be the point of this entry...) was also a surprising highlight.
We were placed in the front seats and given water (everyone here constantly gives us a bottle of water, I haven't really had to buy any). Later during the concert we discovered that GVN had given a sizable donation to the school (all the benefactors and their contributions got read out), and we had to stand up and bow (looking very embarrassed, very funny), but at least this explains the VIP treatment. The music was blaringly loud, I'm sure even the kids who couldn't hear could feel it. The funniest thing were the kids in the wings constantly poking their heads out.
Because we were yet to meet the kids we weren't sure which were the deaf students and which were from the local high school. I think anyone singing was from the high school and most of the dancers (except the "street" dancers") were from the "school for the deaf". We could also see kids in the wings carrying on conversations with audience members with their hands, I guess there are advantages of knowing how to sign.
All the dancing and singing was great. My favourites had to be the little chickens and the buffalo. There were also 3 mandarins (or the Vietnamese equivalents). Later riding on a local bus to Nha Trang
I saw a similar 'sketch' on the dvd, which I'm guessing was the inspiration.
There was a young man who played a flute through his a nostril, I'm not sure if this is the usual way this instrument is meant to be played or some special trick, it was a bit stomach turning to then watch him put it in his mouth but it sounded nice. There was also a fashion show in the middle of the concert but I'm not sure if the clothes were actually designed by the students or if they had just been watching a lot of "America's Next Top Model", and if cat walking has become a talent these days (well I couldn't walk that well in high heels so maybe it is). We had a few duets, very intense and with much waving of stars and roses.
Through out the concert the audience was great and very supportive of everyone. It would be interesting to know just how much the two schools interacted, but that is one of the goals of GVN and I guess the school to get interactions happening with the hearing impaired students and the local community.
One of the reasons they send us out to teach english at the technical college and high school is so that we can explain volunteer work to them and maybe one day get them to help out. In Da Nang where the program has been going a lot longer this had happened I think and some of the university students come and help out at the children's centres.
When people at home find out that you are volunteering they often think its a selfless thing to do but really its not, you get to see the most interesting things. The concert was a great insight into Vietnamese culture, not only the old culture with the folk-dances but the modern fusion of western and eastern influences and what the teenagers are interested in and how they think of and remember their culture. Not to mention how they hold concerts and celebrate together. Its the unexpected things that often turn out to be trip highlights and this was one where you really had to be there to appreciate.