Carlota was very friendly and knowledgeable.
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After following the sun over the West Coast of the United States, crossing the Pacific Ocean and the International Dateline, you arrive in Hanoi, Vietnam's small, elegant capital and one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Asia. There's time for a brief tour of the city (you'll be back later) before you head to the train station to catch your overnight train to Dong Ha Town, located in Quang Tri Province in Central Vietnam. The capital of the reconstituted Quang Tri province, Dong Ha is at the busy intersection of Highways 1A and 9. Dong Ha served as a US Marine Corps command and logistics center from 1968 to 1969. In the spring of 1968, a division of North Vietnamese troops crossed the DMZ and attacked the city. Later it was the site of a South Vietnamese army base which was eventually overrun by the North Vietnamese army as they began their push south, with the long war ending with the surrender of the South Vietnamese government in 1975.
Arrive Dong Ha train station and travel to Tam's café, located in the center of town and also the location of the Global Community Service Foundation (GCSF) office and residence. GCSF is passports joint venture partner for our programs in Vietnam. After checking in to the hotel/residence, you will have breakfast and an orientation meeting with the GCSF staff member overseeing your program. An afternoon visit to the site of several community service projects will familiarize you with where you likely will be working. A possible project site includes the Center for Blind and Visually Impaired Children. Others could be the only private primary school in Dong Ha Town or at the Secondary School for the Gifted. Final location of the project will be determined based on the time of year and the qualifications and interests of the volunteers. Evening dinner with members of the GCSF staff and leaders of the community.
After breakfast, depending on the final project selected for/by you, you will walk to the center of town or to the school to begin your service project. If you have expertise in music (especially keyboard or singing), IT (specialty programs), art or sports (swimming, softball or basketball), it is likely that you will be volunteering at the private primary school.
If you have expertise in teaching ESL and are proficient in writing and explaining grammar, it is likely that you will spend your days at the Secondary School for the Gifted, where they have all studied English but need native speakers to work or practice with.
If you prefer a bit of manual labor, there would be the possibility of working at the Center for Blind and Visually Impaired Children by helping to re-paint the facility, working on the grounds or in the garden, planting trees, or refinishing old furniture for reuse at the Center. In addition, music is a very important element in the ongoing lives of these children and any music you are capable of playing will be greatly welcomed along with your improvising other recreational opportunities.
There are other options for you to consider as well. You might help at a small orphanage run by Catholic Sisters (there are about 20 children) - helping cook, play with the children and/or helping to teach them conversational English.
Finally, there would be the opportunity to work at the Job Resource Center or the kitchen located at Tam's café (a micro-loan credit program that was started by GCSF to employ people with hearing loss).
In the evening, those interested may join in the activities at the local English Club.
After a hearty Vietnamese breakfast consisting typically of the "Pho" noodle soup for those accustomed to similar dishes back home, or a more familiar French style continental breakfast for those less adventuresome of palate, you will return to your "job site" at which you volunteered yesterday.
After lunch, you will have the option of initiating a pick-up soccer match with local high schoolers, or returning to your work project for a couple of hours.
Free evening tonight to catch up on your emails or to explore the town of Dong Ha.
If you would like to continue with the projects you have been working on earlier in the week, you may. Or, if another project you have heard about holds more appeal to you, or if you are looking for something different, join one of your groups other "work parties" and help out in a new way today.
Perhaps you might join in on a Vietnamese cooking lesson tonight at Tam's café. Pay attention to what's being taught, because if you don't like tonight's dinner, you will have nobody to blame but yourself.
Today is your last day to put the finishing touches on any ongoing projects that have not been completed or to try your hand at something new as long as the work you do today will really make a difference.
Full day excursion to walk in the steps of history: visit the former DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and 17th parallel which once divided the country in two; walk along the old Ho Chi Minh Trail, famous for being the supply line allowing the "North Vietnamese" to logistically support their surrogate fighters (The Viet Cong) and their own regular soldiers fighting against the Americans in the south. Visit an ethnic minority village and explore the Vinh Moc Tunnels. Time, desire and weather permitting - you will have the opportunity to spend some time at the beautiful beach near the tunnels.
You will enjoy a special farewell dinner tonight along with a de-briefing of the project with GCSF staff and representatives of the community served-all taking place at the GCSF residence or Tam's Café.
Free day in Hanoi or you can take part in an optional full day's city sightseeing. Tonight you fly back to the States.
You will not forget the balmy air, the hot sun, or the equally hot spicy food. But what you'll remember most will be the satisfaction you had in knowing that you had been of real help and support to those who were genuinely in need.
For now, enjoy your flight home, eager to share your discoveries (some of them about yourself) with family and friends.
Most good things must come to an end. Your suitcase full of memorabilia and your camera's memory filled with photos, you will cross the International Date Line again today before arriving home, with tales to tell.