Immerse yourself in the life of a tiny Southeast Asian village on this summer community service program in Vietnam for high school students. Just five kilometers from the site of the My Lai massacre, our work provides an opportunity to engage in satisfyingly tangible service and to build lasting connections with the friendly and enthusiastic local people.
- June 26, 2013 - July 26, 2013
- July 1, 2013 - July 31, 2013
- Students completing grades 9-12
- Community Service
- Typical Group:
- 16-18 Students, 2 Leaders
- 4.5 week(s)
The focus of our community service work is the construction of simple masonry “compassion houses.” Most of the homes in this poor, farming region are very small, consisting only of a dining/living room, a bedroom, and a small kitchen. The poorest people have only the most rudimentary shelter. Working with the local People’s Committee, we identify a few individuals and families with the greatest need. Putney contributes the cost of the materials to build a basic house for these individuals and provides volunteer labor by the program participants. Under the supervision of skilled local people and without power equipment, we participate in all phases of construction. With hard work, we complete three houses during the course of the summer community service program. The gratitude of the new residents is extraordinary and moving. Upon successful completion of the volunteer program, you can expect to receive a certificate for 80-100 hours of community service.
“I felt the greatest sense of accomplishment when we were taking pictures of a finished home with the family who would live in it. The mother kept holding onto me because she wanted me beside her in all the pictures. She usually showed very little emotion, but at that moment she cried because she was so grateful for our help.”
– Aja Beckham, Perspectives Leadership Academy, Chicago, IL
We also teach English to local young people, and work and play with the many community children who gather at the work sites every day hoping to interact with the fascinating foreigners. Our connections with the local Youth Union and with a nearby university provide opportunities to interact with Vietnamese young people to hear their stories and their hopes and participate directly in the life of the community.
In addition to the collective volunteer projects, you select an independent project to explore some aspect of Vietnamese culture or to pursue a particular project in which you are interested. Learn how to make a favorite local dish, organize a village sports tournament, or interview community members about the history of the village and create a photo portfolio of local scenes.
We stay and take most of our meals at a simple guest house that has running water and electricity (except during frequent power outages!). Transportation to the work sites is by van and bicycle. The spectacular beach at My Khe on the South China Sea is nearby.
We begin our stay in Vietnam with two days of orientation in Ho Chi Minh City and end with a visit to Hanoi. On a weekend excursion, we visit the historic seaside town of Hoi An, famous for its temples, tailors, and beaches.
The last three days of the high school community service program we travel to Ha Long Bay, on the coast adjacent to Hanoi. We board a boat (reserved exclusively for our group) for a cruise through the calm waters of the Bay, marveling at the abrupt karst islands, visiting a floating fishing village, exploring enormous caves on foot and in kayaks, swimming in the warm water, and enjoying the comfortable accommodations on board. It is a relaxing way to celebrate our hard work and accomplishments.
- Volunteer with construction workers to build simple houses for community members.
- Teach English to local school children and young adults.
- Swim at an undeveloped beach on the South China Sea.
- Explore the fascinating sights of Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, and Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
- Spend three days cruising the calm waters of scenic Ha Long Bay by boat and kayak.
What to Expect
For most of each weekday, we are actively involved in community service work. This work, as well as afternoon and weekend activities, can be strenuous, and you can expect to spend most of each day outside in tropical heat. You should come to the program with an open-mind, eager to participate in new experiences and interested in exploring another culture and way of life.
At Putney we take pride in our reputation for careful, thorough planning and attention to detail. The descriptions of our high school summer programs are based on our experiences in previous summers and our plans for this summer. It is inevitable that some things described here will not happen exactly as presented. To get the most out of the Putney experience, participants need to be flexible in responding to unforeseen situations, and creative in taking advantage of unexpected opportunities. We expect Putney participants to share responsibility for the success of their experience.
Putney organizes escorted international flights. Please consult us for fares.
Learn about last year’s program by reading the 2012 Community Service Vietnam Blog.
The program begins and ends at Los Angeles International Airport.
Program Departure • Join your group to begin a month of community service and travel in Vietnam. The group flight departs from Los Angeles International Airport where you will meet one of your leaders and travel to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City • Spend two days learning about Vietnam’s history, food, and customs. Get to know your leaders and fellow students during a group orientation focusing on your month together in Vietnam.
“One of the big highlights of our trip was the fact that my worksite was near a school, so we got to teach and play with the children during the day. Also, because my worksite was located right next to a large village family, we all got to know and learn from each other.”
– Julia Greenwald, Brooklyn Friends School, Brooklyn, NY
Community Service • Fly to Da Nang and travel south by private bus to the My Son region, and move in to a simple guest house in a small village near the beach—your base for this segment of the program. Each weekday, work at one of three sites helping to construct simple houses and assist in teaching English in local schools.
Hoi An Excursion • Travel by private bus to Hoi An, a small, historic city on the coast, famous for its ornate Chinese temples, tailors (who can make clothes to order overnight), and beaches.
Hanoi and Ha Long Bay • Fly to Hanoi, and spend the last five days of the program in and around Vietnam’s capital city. Explore the fascinating Old Quarter with its narrow streets, tiny shops, and night market. On a three-day cruise on Ha Long Bay (in the Gulf of Tonkin to the east of Hanoi) enjoy comfortable accommodations on a boat reserved exclusively for our group, marvel at the abrupt karst mountains rising out of the water, explore sea caves and floating fishing villages, and kayak and swim in the warm, calm ocean.
Return • Depart from Hanoi and arrive at Los Angeles International Airport on the same day.
This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule. However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.
Background • Some of the most intense fighting of the Vietnam War (known locally as the American War) occurred along the central coast of Vietnam where we are based. Despite this troubling history, the people of the My Son region welcome our groups enthusiastically and are profoundly appreciative of our efforts. The area is not often visited by outsiders, so the arrival of a group of American teenagers is a major event for the community. For many local people, contact with our group is their first experience with foreigners. Making friends in the community and participating in Vietnamese village life are highlights of the program.
Population • The residents of this region of Vietnam live in rural villages, and support themselves with small-scale agriculture and fishing. Though the city of Quang Ngai is nearby, life goes on in the rice paddies, fields, and fishing grounds of My Son much as it has for centuries. It is a socially conservative area, so we are careful to respect local customs as to appropriate dress and social behavior.
Language • Local people are anxious to learn English, the language they see as key to economic development, and some educated adults and older students are proficient. Most villagers speak only Vietnamese, but we have found that creativity, enthusiasm, and positive energy help to span the language divide. At least one of our leaders speaks Vietnamese fluently.
“The program exceeded our expectations and made us feel that, although our son was very far away, he was well cared for. Daniel’s summer in Vietnam will be an experience he will always remember.”
- Janet Amaro, Tenafly, New Jersey
Climate • It is hot in Vietnam! We rise early, work until about noon, then take an extended siesta during the heat of the day and return to work for several hours in the mid to late afternoon. An early evening swim in the ocean is great for cooling off.
Cuisine • Vietnamese food features noodles, rice, fish, shellfish, chicken, and vegetables in stir-fries, soups, and salads, and fresh tropical fruits. Most dishes are not heavily spiced. Options are available for vegetarians. We encourage you to reach beyond a limited range of foods you are familiar with to explore and enjoy Vietnamese cuisine—a central feature of the local culture.
Currency • One US dollar = about 20,000 Vietnamese Dong. This means that there are lots of zeros on Vietnamese currency! It takes a little getting used to. The best way to access the limited cash you will need is from an ATM located near the guesthouse.
Electricity • Outlets are available for charging digital camera batteries, etc. A plug adapter—most Vietnamese plugs are two rounded prongs—will come in handy.
Visa • All US citizens visiting Vietnam must obtain a visa. The process is simple and can be completed by mail in a couple of weeks or less. Since a valid passport must be a part of the visa application, it is important to get a passport well in advance of the program’s departure.
How To Apply
STEP 1: LOG ON.
STEP 2: HOLD A SPACE IN THE PROGRAM.
You can hold a space in a program by completing the Online Application Form, submitting a signed Agreement Form, and providing the $700 Application Deposit by Mastercard, Visa, or Discover Card through our secure online system or by sending a check to our office. Our admissions staff is also available to take credit card information over the phone. We will hold a space in a program for a reasonable time, pending completion of the full application process. See Step 3.
After March 15, we will hold a space temporarily as above, but we must receive full payment by check or wire transfer within three days to continue to hold a space in the program.
STEP 3: COMPLETE THE APPLICATION PROCESS.
Before we can make a final admissions decision, an application must be complete. In addition to the Application Form and Application Deposit described above, a complete application includes:
- Applicant Statement - Attach a statement explaining why you would like to join a Putney program and what you feel you can contribute to it. Your application cannot be processed without this statement. Approximately 150–300 words is sufficient. Global Action applicants’ statements must be 300-500 words addressing these questions, and detailing their interest and/or experience in the country and issues on which they wish to focus.
- Two Teacher Reference Forms
These documents are available as part of our Online Application. We review a completed application within a few days, and notify families of our admissions decision by e-mail.