We arrived in Hanoi on Friday night and were greeted by Ms. Binh from Helping Hands. It had been a long two days of travel, so we had a rest day on Saturday in Hanoi, where we experienced Vietnamese culture for the first time, and got acclimatised to the heat before heading to Thai Nguyen to start work on the project.
We arrived into Thai Nguyen around lunchtime Sunday, and went straight to the orphanage to begin the project. First we met with some of the elderly people who live in the social centre, and gave 45 packages of condensed milk, sugar and biscuits to them as gifts.We then had a meeting with the Director of the centre, Mr. Van Trieu, in his meeting room to organise a schedule for the 5 days and discuss what needed to be done.We were also introduced to the children living in the orphanage.We also brought with us a new outfit for all the babies, and the older children. It was decided the main meeting hall in the complex was in dire need of a new paint job, so we launched straight into sanding and scrubbing the walls, floors and ceilings to make sure they were clean and smooth before even one coat of paint was put on.
According to our contract, our working day finished at 5 p.m. everyday, so after our preliminary sanding, we walked back to our accommodation, the Dong A Hotel. The local people of Thai Nguyen were intrigued by 13 filthy dust covered Irish people all wearing blue and white neckerchiefs walking through the back streets of the town. We received a warm welcome, a enthusiastic mixture of 'Hello's and 'Xin chào's!
Monday morning, we woke at 6.30a.m. , to avoid working during the hottest part of the day (11a.m.-1p.m.). Even at this time, the heat and humidity would even put the sunniest of Irish summer days to shame! We arrived at 8a.m to start our days work. We finished the last of the sanding, and got to work on the first coat of paint, the white undercoat. Fortunately, we were able to procure scaffolding, to access the higher sections of the building. Everyday, we took a break from 11 to 1.30, to have lunch, conveniently during the hottest part of the day. Monday saw us having the majority of the building painted white, and confused the locals even more when they saw us again, covered head to toe in white paint!
On Tuesday we managed to finish the rest of the undercoat, and get the first overcoat on, a creamy yellow. After a few minor spillages and paint roller malfunctions, we had gotten the hang of the painting, and were making good progress. We were slightly hindered by a group of hornets who had decided to make it their business to follow us around menacingly, and fly into our paint repeatedly.
On Wednesday, the final coat of yellow paint was carefully applied to the entire building, and our work was nearly done. We received a helping hand from a group from the Student Union from the University of Thai Nguyen , many of whom were avid students of English, and were keen to make friends and teach us some Vietnamese! With their help, we managed to polish off the final coat on the building.
Thursday, we spent the day finishing any odd jobs that needed doing, cleaning the area, which included scrubbing paint off the floors! We also painted the walls next to the entrance gate, which gave new life to the front of the centre. Our friends from the previous day returned to help finish the job. After all the work was done, emails and phone numbers were exchanged, and the Vietnamese students left. Preparations were started in the newly painted building for the big celebrations that were to come the following day.
On Friday, the final day of our stay in Thai Nguyen, we attended the celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the social centre, visited the babies again, and had a brilliant meal under a marquee in the complex itself, a delicious assortment of Vietnamese food, which everyone had grown to love. After lunch, the Director gave us a vacuum flask each as a gift on behalf of the orphanage. We were also all given a letter of thanks, and a copy of the local newspaper from that day, which ran a story about the celebrations.
As a group, we hope we helped in a small way to improve the lives of the residents of the social centre, and we would like to thank Mr. Van Trieu , Ms. Binh and Sharon O' Driscoll who helped facilitate our work, and gave us such a warm welcome and hospitality. We also would like to thank Yvonne, our Venture leader for doing so much work during the year to make this trip possible!