“I’m planting a tree to teach me to gather strength from my deepest roots.”

― Andrea Koehle Jones, The Wish Trees

More than 10 years ago when I was a second-year- university student, my ideas about what community development meant and why we needed that were glimmers of a true understanding. My first voluntary work with disadvantaged children in a pediatric hospital and a fishing village in Hanoi taught me a lesson about the importance of resources mobilization from our community to make a better and sustainable change for vulnerable groups in society.

Having been with a number of charity and voluntary projects and non-profit work, I learnt how to reflect the connection between the vision, mission of the organization to implementation of action plans, and in order to make a positive change in society, there needs to be a holistic approach, collective actions and leadership from every aspect of the projects.

Understanding the interconnection between different parts of the project and keeping an  open spirit, I joined Teach For Vietnam with all of my aspirations to bring quality education to children in disadvantaged areas in Vietnam. Deeper than that, I believe in the holistic approach of TFV in key areas: leadership in classroom, school and community in order to create a sustainable educational ecosystem. While we are confident in the classroom with trainings on teaching pedagogy, classroom management and lesson plans provided by our experts from Teach For All network, the idea of community, community engagement and development are still challenging for us. These are our difficulties: “How to define community development in our context? To what extent, could we maximize our resources to make a positive change in our community? If we want to put the community at center in every aspect of leadership, how does it look like?” then next challenge for us in the coming year is “How to build a road map in community development for our fellows so that after the two-year fellowship, they can find a way to work effectively with and within the community?” when the first cohort is going to finish their fellowship.

Everything happens for a reason, and the conference came at the right time in the right place, when we have to think about it most. “Putting community at center” was the main theme of our conference. All the topics about community were discussed from October 23 to 26 in one of the most spiritual place: Kathmandu – Nepal. I was eager to learn all the lessons from our partners, and was overwhelmed by the positive, compassionate and humble energies of more than 400 participants from all over the globe. We started our conference with three main questions:

“WHY: Why is it important to put the community at the center?

WHAT: What defines “putting community at the center” and what will it take to achieve it?

HOW:  How do we put communities at the center in all aspects of our work?”

Teach For Vietnam team in the conference

And in order to answer the questions, we were reminded to keep the spirit of an open mind and an open heart to “envision a future of possibility and opportunity” (Teach For All agenda). Each session was organized as an opportunity for me to acquire more knowledge on community development issues. I was impressed by how fellows in Teach For Nepal bring transformative education to students by projected led and organized by students such as plastic recycling, mushroom planting and handicrafts making. The projects did not only protect the environment, solve food shortage, but also brought some financial support to families in need. More importantly, these are wonderful opportunities for students to be equipped with skills and knowledge to make a change in the future.

After the two days of networking and conference sessions, my key learning point was the community trip in the following day. We got up early and were eager to travel to the community where Teach For Nepal fellows were placed in. The road was rough and full of dust, our car managed to climb the mountains on narrow and hilly roads. We enjoyed all the “up and down” moments while admiring the beauty of the mountainous scenery of Nepal. After three hours on the car, we finally got to the school where our Teach For Nepal fellows taught. All were greeted by three traditional neck flower garlands, then a  secondary school student stood up introducing herself and welcoming guests with a strong Nepali-English accent. This seemed to be the first time for her to try something new in front of an unfamiliar audience. Afterwards, we were divided into three groups and guided into three different rooms labeled ‘Parents’, ‘Students’ and ‘Local teachers’ – board of community. The discussions started for the three groups spontaneously and after each 30-minute conversation, we switched into another room and exchanged our thoughts. Lots of stories to tell and many questions to ask, but in general, all these groups shared the same view about how hard Teach For Nepal fellows worked, how they were dedicated to students, and how all of them were loved and supported by local farmers around.

Thuan- Leadership Development Officer (LDO) from Teach For Vietnam with Teach For Nepal fellows

When I asked questions about what if the students want to be Teach For Nepal fellows in the future, all of them exclaimed “Yes” though I tried to make a warning message that their salaries could be half compared to salary scale of local teachers. Some showed their determination in their career decisions, others expressed their ambitions in different paths in the future, the rest also shared the importance of learning three main subjects like English, Math and Science in the age of Industry 4.0. When all the conversations were over,  my heart and mind were filled up with sparkling eyes and beautiful smiles and the eagerness to learn in the room. After finishing all these conversations, our group were guided to visit a local family nearby.

The sharing with the local family was another highlight of our community trip. I was touched by their stories about difficult environment, their struggles to get out of hardship and compassion for other fellows while working in the community.

We all finished the trips with lots of lessons learnt and deep emotions. These are unforgettable experience I’ve had in my life, they all remind me of the quotation I love when thinking about community work “I’m planting a tree to teach me to gather strength from my deepest roots.”  (Andrea Koehle Jones, The Wish Trees), and we understand that community is the deepest root that we plant from now.

Thuan Do – LDO – Teach for Vietnam