Pure Good arrived at the orphanage in Khai Tri on August 4th. We had our backpacks filled with lesson plans, boxes filled with supplies and mindsets aligned ready to fix as many problems as possible in the short time we have. Even though we were instructed to be prepared for the unexpected, somehow we ignored that advice and arrived thinking that we had all of the answers. Oh, the best-laid plans. Little did we know…
Back home in our respective worlds, we have our lives pretty well under control. We gather facts, strategize, build plans, define tactics, establish budgets and timelines, and the outcomes are fairly predictable. So, when a group of well-intentioned, Type-A personalities come to a small orphanage tucked away in the Mekong River Delta region of Vietnam, we thought we could use the same approach we used with the rest of our lives. We had much to learn.
One of the first cultural differences we noticed when we arrived in Vietnam was the seemingly chaotic flow of traffic. I personally come from Southern California, so I know all about traffic. However, when I got in the van at the airport and began the trip to the hotel – I like everyone else in the van – white-knuckled it during the entire thirty-minute drive. The roads were filled with the usual cars and vans, but then any possible open space (and I mean any possible space) on the road was filled with motorcycles and bicycles. The motorcycles had anywhere from one to five family members riding on them. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the rules of the road, and everyone jutted out and cut in front of each other. Team members in the vans who had just arrived from the various countries were speechless for the entire ride. This shocked our systems because it didn’t align with how we thought traffic flow should work.
The amazing thing about the traffic in Ho Chi Minh city is that it works. While it violates every logical rule most of us have been taught, the traffic flows like water and we’ve seen no accidents since we arrived. If the driving laws of the United States, Australia, or the UK were applied, the roads would be complete gridlock. The so-called “chaos” of the roads is very, very efficient. Who would have thought? This was the first of many lessons we would learn on the trip.
We had our backpacks filled with lesson plans, boxes filled with supplies and mindsets aligned ready to fix as many problems as possible in the short time we have this week at the orphanage in Khai Tri. Oh, the best-laid plans. Little did we know. There were obvious challenges such as spotty internet access, language barriers, and so forth, but the biggest challenge was that we came into the orphanage with a “fixed mindset.” We believed we knew all of the answers.
One of the articles that the Kidspire team has us read as part of our preparation for the trip explained the difference between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset.” Much like the advice that the Kidspire team gave us about being prepared for the unexpected, we mostly ignored the article on having a fixed view of the world versus being open-minded. As we began our work at the orphanage, I noticed Tad, the leader of Kidspire, sitting in the corner of the room, just smiling as if he had seen this movie before, and knew it would turn out alright. Most of us were in a bit of a panic because it felt as if all of the work and preparation we had completed over the past two months was not fitting the environment we were in. Those of us who had complete command-and-control of our lives were now completely out of our comfort zones.
By the end of the first day, we realized that no amount of planning, strategizing or preparation could have equipped us for the challenges we faced at the orphanage. No simple plan would allow us to solve the problems we saw. We also learned that just because what we saw seemed like chaos (because it didn’t align with the world that we lived in), that was alright. In fact, it didn’t mean that there was even a problem to be solved. In some cases, what we perceived as a problem, was not a problem at all.
As I said in my first blog post, while we came to inspire and teach the students, I expected that in many ways, the students would inspire and teach us. This is clearly the case. Applying one’s own cultural norms to another group of people because you believe it is the most efficient, effective or “correct” way of doing something is both human nature and a terrible mistake. I think we’ve all learned a very important life-lesson. Our job in coming to the orphanage is not to fix it. That is an impossible task. Our job is to simply help where we can. Our job is to inspire the students. Our job is to show they are loved and not forgotten. And… our job is to keep an open mind and learn as much as we can from them so that we can become better people in the process.