Intel Education Service Corps – Teaching in Ho Chi Minh City

After our week in Quang Tri, it was time to return to Ho Chi Minh City, which most people still call Saigon. The Mercedes passenger van that took us from Hue to the little village was ready to take us back. While riding to Hue, I tried to recall all the new sites and sounds of the little town with one hotel. There were memories of the children so eager to learn, and so well behaved. The morning ritual of Pho (pronounced ‘Fah’) for breakfast at the little two room storefront with the crowing roosters, and the bedroom in the back, will always be re-experienced when I have the tasty bowl of beef and rice noodle soup so popular in Vietnam, and fortunately in Silicon Valley. I will never forget the ceremonial Moon cakes, singing, and speeches after the last night of teaching, nor the final Sunday morning instructions to the teachers who will carry on our mission. With the Classmate PCs, they will hopefully take the kids to new levels of learning facilitated with camcorders and the internet. While the internet was pervasive, even in the little village, the need for more computers, mice, and software is evident. I know that both the teachers and the kids have been given tools to help them solve life’s problems, and to help them grow.

The bus ride to Hue took about 90 minutes, and we were able to spend the night there instead of just a couple hours as we had originally planned. Having some time to spend in Hue as tourists, we managed to pack a few side trips in. First a short taxi ride to the beach, and Sovinti, Todd, and I were soon swimming in the North China Sea. Our hosts from Intel Vietnam, Trang and Ly, plus another Trang from Orphan Impact were ordering dinner on the beach: crabs and prawns. Later that night we walked along the Huong(‘Perfume’) River front and took a dragon boat ride for about 30 minutes. The next day we arranged for a 3 hour tour of the Tomb of Khai Dinh, the Forbidden City, and the Heavenly Lady Pagoda. Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for SDC10581 (Small).JPGA short trip to the airport and we were soon flying back to Ho Chi Minh City, where the hustle and bustle of the many taxis and motorbikes reminded us that we weren’t in the sleepy village anymore. Our destination was the Saigon Mini Hotel No. 5, which was literally 15 feet wide, by about 40 feet deep. It only had three rooms on each floor, but it had an elevator, air conditioning, and English speaking TV channels. The top floor was the breakfast room, with many windows to look out on the city and the “Backpackers’ Market” below. The city was much more lively at night than the first night we had arrived a week before, when most of the lights were out on even the busiest boulevards.

Saigon is called the Paris of the East as the French brought many touches of their home city here. There are tree lined boulevards, streets going in many odd directions, traffic circles, and cafes. The fluid dynamics of the traffic became less of a novelty to us, after driving in and seeing vehicles that go through red lights, no lights, one way streets, and pedestrians, as many sidewalks can’t be walked on due to the number of motorbikes parked on them. The streets became more familiar as we spent more time traveling them. I could even tell when a taxi driver was taking us the long way to our hotel, most likely deliberately given his reaction when we called him on it. I was determined to find some silk fabrics and linens, plus other gifts for the family, and I did, at reasonable prices too. We all became shrewd negotiators after realizing the power of just walking away.

Our visit to the one room Tu Xuong Learning Center was on Thursday. We met with the teacher, a lady named Quynh, who teaches kids who have been marginalized by the system. Because they are not living in the town they were born in, they are not entitled to go to school in Saigon. They are “street kids”, mostly from age 11 to 18, and they shine shoes, sell lottery tickets, or do anything they can to make a few thousand Dong. (1 US Dollar is about 18,000 VIetnamese Dong, so it isn’t too difficult for we Americans to be walking around with several million Dong.) The kids choose to take time to come to this Learning Center, where they don’t learn everything they would learn ins school, but they do learn English, and they were very excited to learn how to use computers in new ways. SDC10728 (Small).JPG

It was obvious they had had some experience before, especially with Skype. They took to ePals quickly sending and receiving emails from pre-designated “pals” around the world. They also had a great time learning how to make videos with the Flip Camcorder: some sang songs, and others danced for the camera. There were four groups of up to 10 kids, each getting two hours of instruction on Friday and again on Saturday. We improvised advanced training for the second day, as up until then, we had only done 40 minute sessions for each of the three subjects: ePals, Skype, and Flip. There wasn’t a lot more to learn with Skype, so we used the time to do more advanced things with ePals, such as sending videos, and learning how to edit the camcorder videos in Flipshare. The kids were as nice as they could be, and the teacher clearly cares for them very much. We were able to do more instruction in English compared to Quang Tri, with some questioning in Vietnamese to ensure they were getting it.

Saturday night we had our final dinner together, six Intel employees, plus Tad and Chu from Orphan Impact. After dinner we had round of drinks at La Club Habana, and then we were saying our goodbyes. Sunday was our final day. The three Americans spent it finalizing gift shopping and packing. Our flight was to leave at 6:05 AM, so we set our wake up calls for 3AM, so we could get a taxi at 4 to the airport. Our last taxi ride through a sleeping city was quick, without the normal jams we had become accustomed to. Soon we were on our way to Hong Kong, where even though we had the same plane to SFO, we had to disembark, and go through security twice, once when leaving the plane, and one more quick check of the carry-ons when boarding. While we would have loved to spend some more time in Hong Kong, that will have to wait for another trip.

So here I am on a United 747, somewhere over the great Pacific Ocean, capturing my final thoughts for this blog. I said it would be the opportunity of a lifetime, and I was right. It was more than I expected, and I will never forget this chance to make a difference to so many less fortunate children. I am very grateful to Intel to be given this assignment to teach and to be able write about it, and I hope the program continues to open up the eyes of children around the world.

Here is a video of some of the kids using the Flip Video Camcorder:

Brad Houser

4 Responses to Intel Education Service Corps – Teaching in Ho Chi Minh City

  1. Franklin Tilley says:

    I am very certain that you will be happy to be home soon Brad. I always like to go visiting, and enjoy returning just as much. I look forward to hearing from you of your great adventure. Reading of your work with the kids makes me realize that this is one little planet, and that when we learn to live together, we can do almost anything we can imagine.
    Franklin Tilley

  2. Geoff says:

    Brad,it’s great to see that Intel is out there being proactive with the future generations around the globe. A great chance to help make a difference.
    Geoff

  3. Helen says:

    Really enjoyed all your writings and hope that there will be more in the future. Great job – great to hear that Intel was involved in this.

  4. Nicole Scott says:

    Nice article, I enjoyed the whole story behind your travels to the school.
    Do you think you could go into more detail on how they used the PCs? Skype & content creation are important but the Classmate PCs have tremendous potential for education as well.
    Did they learn to do anything else but social networking?
    Were the PCs used for education at all?
    I think the article could have been a bit more heavy on how the technology was used and how it was making a difference in the lives of the kids.