In early January our CWS team in Vietnam hosted CWS Board of Directors member, Dr. Paul Chan, and 11 Kansas City Pembroke High School students and their teacher Mr. Samuel Knopik, for a service-learning opportunity of a lifetime. The trip succeeded beyond Paul’s and Sam’s wildest dreams for the students, who all agreed that the trip was an incredibly memorable one, exceeded their expectations too while allowing them to think bigger about “helping others”. It also helped them to learn how Americans help people in poor, remote Vietnamese villages through CWS and its local government partners and community leaders. Paul’s written reflection to the students’ families is shared here:
“Our Journey Has Ended” by Dr. Paul Chan
Sunday, January 13th at 3:15 AM in Vietnam
Eight days ago, you entrusted us with your sons and daughters with a Pembroke Jan term trip. The skeptics would argue that 1) our group was ‘self-selected’, so they would already know all there was to learn from such a trip, or 2) question how much one could really learn in one week in a country wherein none of our group even spoke the language. I must admit, I always am nervous and have some misgivings before any group trip. I am the parent of 2 teenage children. I wondered if I would know how to relate with this diverse and intelligent group of young people.
Yesterday, I realized that we have indeed succeeded—even beyond Sam’s or my wildest dreams. A number of the students shared with me that this was an incredibly memorable Jan term trip for them. They remarked that they embarked on this trip wanting to do something different than the usual PHS Jan term offerings. The trip exceeded their expectations and allowed them to think bigger about “helping others”. It also enabled them to understand how this occurs at the village level. I smiled a big smile, since this concept of connectedness, of solidarity with the global community, was what our Jan term trip was all about.
The work we did during this Jan term trip is only a first step to teach ourselves and our loved ones that we all need to become involved in the lives of others—especially those much less fortunate than ourselves. Most of us live a very blessed (and comfortable) life, me included. But, all around us, there remain so many with great need. They are often invisible because many of the faces of the poor are hidden, without voice. It is easy to feel paralyzed and powerless. Once in a while, someone like Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Teresa, MLK, or Paul Farmer comes around and inspire us to develop a bold vision of a better society. They demand that we look within ourselves to see how we can make the world a better place, to love with such abandon that it is liberating. It is easy to write these people off as “heroes”, or “extraordinary”, or as “saints”, relegating their intense compassion and commitment to the poor as aberrations in our universe of human behavior. But to do so would essentially write these individuals off, absolve ourselves from being involved, and be a tremendous disservice to our calling to be present to the humanity around us. And so, it starts with each and every one of us, often with simple acts to walk the talk, to live a life where, as my younger son Jesse and I once discussed 8 years ago, one is “kinder than is expected”.
Thank you so much for sharing your sons and daughters with us this past week. We have learned about health and development, the universal language of children and friendship, community and solidarity, and the need to translate compassion into empowerment. Sam and I have thoroughly enjoyed this journey with them, and they have reinvigorated my inner compass.