The hot season in Thanh Hoa District, Vietnam can be brutal. Beginning in late-Spring in April and stretching to mid-Autumn in November, temperatures can soar to a blistering 40 degrees Celsius. It was under these punishing conditions that more than 50 volunteers from Vietnam, Singapore and China including a few volunteers from the management of CapitaLand Vietnam and Ascott Vietnam set out for CapitaLand’s second Hope School in Vietnam, CapitaLand Thanh Phuoc A Primary Hope School in early April. Their aim – to give the school in Thanh Hoa District, one of the poorest of 13 districts of Long An Province, a major makeover.
Beyond donations, CapitaLand Hope Foundation (CHF) the Group’s philanthropic arm, focuses on improving the lives of children beneficiaries through advocating volunteerism. The International Volunteer Expedition series is CapitaLand’s group-wide initiative for staff to volunteer for projects supported by CHF in communities where the company operates.
This expedition to Vietnam, the first for 2015, comes after the S$80,000 donation CHF made towards the refurbishment of classrooms and facilities to create a more conducive study environment for the 150 students.
“I have been in CapitaLand for almost two years but I never got the opportunity to participate in the previous expedition due to exams. Joining this expedition was a good decision as I am able to give back to the community,” said Le Hai Yen, CapitaLand, Vietnam.
“What we are doing is not just about coming here to teach or do construction work but to let the community here know that we care,” agreed Leong Chew Ming, CapitaMalls Asia, China
Hard Work from the Heart
Although just two and a half hours away from Ho Chi Minh City, CapitaLand Thanh Phuoc A Hope School is not an easy place to get to. Every day, the volunteers had to cross 17 bridges to get from their hotel in Thanh Hoa Town to the school. At the end of the day, they had to cross those same 17 bridges to return to the hotel.
“We didn’t just go to experience the hardship of the people in this province but to make a difference to their environment and community. This volunteer expedition made me grow a lot as a person,” said Windy Lv from The Ascott Limited, China
But nothing could stand in the way of their goal to refurbish the school’s premises which CHF had earlier helped improve. Until the renovations, the school only had three classrooms and a lone toilet shared by the 150 students and seven teachers. With CHF’s support, CapitaLand Thanh Phuoc A Primary Hope School was able to add two classrooms, nine new toilets, and one multipurpose room on top of enhancement work for the rest of the school. The additions enabled the primary school to extend its hours so the students can benefit from a full-day programme.
Armed with skills, good intentions and the readiness to partake in hard labour, the staff volunteers from across the CapitaLand group and different markets joined hands and worked together to improve the learning environment for the children beneficiaries through activities such as cementing, painting, tree planting and classroom activities.
Working as a team, the volunteers first had to plough and flatten the soil ground manually with shovels and reinforcing bars before concrete could be laid. Project development expertise among our staff volunteers came in handy, executing and completing the job with a high of efficiency.”, shares Lydia Ang of CapitaLand, Singapore who was the expedition leader.
Working under 38-degree-Celsius temperatures also made their tasks more challenging. Even those who worked indoors were not spared the humidity and energy-sapping heat.
“All our work didn’t seem like much when we saw the joy on the kids’ faces. They now have concrete floor to play on and colourful classrooms to study in. It is nice to know that the company that you dedicate yourself to is actually a company that is committed to making a difference to all these communities,” said Danny Ong, CapitaLand, Singapore.
Engaging with Heart
Apart from the contributing hardware, the CapitaLand volunteers also provided plenty of heartware by spending time and interacting with the students. They devoted a whole day to organising activities for the children to enjoy. The morning of day four saw them engaging in a fun-filled sports day which included games such as tug-of-war, ping pong ball relay and a shooting competition.
In the afternoon, volunteers shared the beauty of architecture with the children through the CapitaLand Little Architect programme. Enrichment classes including English and storytelling, culture, arts and craft and music also provided much precious interaction time between the volunteers and the beneficiaries
“Before we conducted the Little Architect programme, we asked the kids if they would like to be architects when they grow up. Not many raised their hands. But after the programme, most of the kids raised their hands when we asked the same question,” said Nguyen Tuan Dat, CapitaLand, Vietnam
“The Little Architect programme is the most meaningful, I think it gives them hope and vision that there is something more out there for them,” added Eunice Tan, CapitaLand, Singapore.
The day ended with home visits to eight households where the volunteers got the chance to meet the parents of the students and gain insights into their lives.
“Other than four walls and uneven ground, there was no door. The windows were broken and the roof is leaking. The families made do with what little they had. This visit made me realize how privileged a life we are leading and how we should not take things for granted.” – Han Jiaxin, CapitaMall Asia, China
The expedition truly put into action CapitaLand’s credo ‘Building People. Building Communities’ and is living proof that neither culture, ethnicity nor geography can stand in the way of building a community of care and love as long as you have heart.