Long-serving volunteer Laura Merriam first served in Vietnam with her husband, Peter Armstrong, in 2015. Her beautiful recollections were printed in MinnPost, an independent Minnesota newspaper. Below are highlights from Laura’s journal from one “average” day of her teaching assignment as a Global Volunteer in Hanoi.
By Laura Merriam
The old quarter of Hanoi, where we are staying, is full of colorful shops and packed with motor bikes and cars trying to wind their way through the sea of traffic and people. You just have to go with the flow by stepping out into the flowing river with confidence that the bikes and cars will veer around you…and they do! The riotous colors of the storefronts and the maze of electric wires overhead is like Old Dehli but less chaotic, crowded and much more well-maintained. Most impressive are the people – they greet us from inside the shops and on the streets. They’re always beautiful and genuinely friendly and warm. I feel at home. I feel content as I anticipate my day with my students.
I am assigned to Blind Link along with Courtney, an earnest and sweet young woman from Pasco, Washington, who just got a passport and is embarking on what I’m sure will be a lifetime of adventures. Our students are blind, or near blind, massage therapists who want to improve their English with the customers who come from western countries, which is about half their clientele. Massage therapy is the primary opportunity for blind people in Vietnam and Blind Link is working to erase the stigma attached with this profession.
It is challenging to try conversing with them since you can’t use visual clues to indicate your meaning. Some of the students have learned English in school and are really quite good…others are struggling due to their physical limitations. I have worked one-on-one with Mr Ha, whose English is excellent and who, as the older one in the group, looks out for the others. I love looking at his searching eyes behind thick glasses as he talks about his family and his wish to set up his own massage therapy business.
Courtney and I are assisted at Blind Link by Vietnamese students who are also volunteering their time and we have enjoyed getting to know them as well. Two of the girls took us around Hanoi yesterday. We visited the Vietnam Woman’s museum (an excellent view of daily life and the importance of Women in this country —from commerce to the war effort) and a 300-year-old tube house in the old quarter, topped off with some delicious egg coffee.”