In a land where clean sheets of paper and colored pencils are considered luxuries, Shippensburg University students have come through five times in creating relationships and erecting buildings — and are now going to do so for a sixth.
During the 2013–2014 winter break, SU’s United Campus Ministry will be traveling to Vietnam.
Over a two-week period, participants will build a school in the Mekong River Delta region of southwest Vietnam.
The Mekong Delta is home to one of the largest inland fisheries in the world and it has some of the most productive soil globally, growing 6.5 million tons of rice each year.
According to the Asean Resource Center for Biodiversity Conservation, 70 to 80 percent of the Mekong Delta’s precipitation comes between May and November.
The monsoons during this five-to-six-month period often severely flood the delta, creating environmental and economic issues for its 4.5 million inhabitants.
“It’s very interesting for our students to see a completely different way of life to travel by water,” Rev. Jan Bye said.
UCM and its estimated 15 volunteers will have the opportunity to interact with children, teachers and parents.
They will experience a different culture and develop knowledge of justice, peace, service and good citizenship.
Students from Ho Chi Minh University will serve as translators.
While the trip is sponsored by UCM, it is a non-evangelical venture.
Therefore, UCM extends its invitation to all SU students willing to participate.
The cost is $3,500 per person, though Bye said fundraising efforts could decrease the amount.
In prior years, UCM has completed many other projects in Vietnam, including the construction of a medical clinic in 2010–2011.
SU alumna Clarissa Miller was there and described the satisfaction of completing tasks as an amazing experience.
“It made me feel great that I could help these people in whatever small ways I could. It was also really inspiring to know that people with so little personal property were so willing to share anything and everything that they had, and I think that was the major lesson that I have brought home,” Miller said.
“It really has transformed our students’ live,” and has exposed them to “a radically different culture,” Bye said.
“There is a cultural immersion which isn’t possible when doing ‘touristy’ stuff,” she added, also noting the impact of seeing evidence of a nation which was “literally shooting at our own 40 years earlier,” Bye said.
The main objective, aside from erecting the school, is to build a sense of connection, which Bye described as recognizing the Vietnamese people as “world citizens” rather than strangers on the other side of the globe.
Upon return, UCM members plan to present their experience to Shippensburg churches, service groups and schools.
They hope to educate and inspire others “to make a difference within their own communities and around the world.”
Though the organizational meeting has already occurred, students interested in going with UCM are encouraged to call 717-477-1672 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.