After speaking with the students, parents and teachers involved I would say that this years Community and Service trip to North Vietnam was another great success. On March 24th, twenty five students and three teachers set out with the goal of helping a small community in rural Vietnam. With the help of our two excellent Vietnamese guides, Miss Xuyen and Mr Key, we were able to learn about Vietnam and its many different cultures. For our first night in Hanoi the students started by exploring the city in a great convoy of bicycle-taxis and also got their first taste of local Vietnamese food. The next day we started early, travelling from Hanoi out to our host village in the Mai Chau. The village we stayed in was along way from the hustle of Hanoi, and was surrounded by beautiful paddy fields and amazing scenery which I recommend to everyone.

That evening we walked out to where we would be working and had our first chance to meet the family that we would be helping. We also got our first look the foundations of the traditional long house that we would be building with them. Over the next two and a half days, and after lots of chopping, hammering, sawing, lifting and laughing, the house was completed and ready to be lived in. The main parts of the house were the flooring, made by splitting and laying down local bamboo. The roofing, made by weaving together palm leaves and lacing them onto the main frame of the house. And the sides of the house, which were made using local timber that was cut and nailed together by the students. For many of the students there were jobs that were quite hard, and some that were even scary. But everyone rose to the challenge and some students volunteered to work up on the roof along side Vietnamese thatchers. There they conquered their fears and even learned some useful Vietnamese at the same time. As we left Mai Chau the family we were helping was preparing to move into their new house, but took the time to throw us a small celebratory meal, and express their thanks to the students for their help and contribution to the community. It was very touching and the students left some small gifts to express their best wishes.

After travelling back to Hanoi for one night, the next part of our trip was to Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the wonders of the natural world. Unfortunately modern progress and pollution had caught up with the area, and our first impressions of Ha Long Bay were not quite postcard worthy. Once at the port of Ha long Bay though, we met with the crew of our house boats that we would be staying on for the night and made our way out to sea. The views of the islands around Ha Long Bay were wonderful, and the students took the chance to relax and socialise as the boats slowly made their way through the islands. After a brief stop to explore a large cave complex, and do some sea kayaking we settled down for more wonderful Vietnamese hospitality and delicious seafood. Finally, after a peaceful night on the house boats it was time to make our way to Hanoi for the last time. On our final day everyone got a chance to do some last minute shopping for gifts and memories of Vietnam before we headed home.

I hope that all of the students learned from the different people they met and the places they saw. I also hope that they came home with a sense of accomplishment, and a renewed self confidence. I am very proud of all of the students and staff that took part in this years trip, and encourage them to take part in more community and service projects when ever they can.