Educating Through Collaboration in Vietnam
By Mary Annette Dworshak, SNJM
Returning to a place where we have been before carries fond memories and sometimes apprehension. Last summer I returned to Hue, Vietnam, where I had taught Lovers of the Holy Cross nine years earlier as part of the ongoing collaboration between their order and the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.
Would I know some of my students from before? How warm and humid would the weather be? Would I enjoy mangostreens and dragon fruit again? Would I manage to get up at 4:30 a.m. when the rising bell clanged across the courtyard from the chapel?
After our long journey from Seattle to Taipei to Saigon City to Hue, we were met at the small airport by one of my students from nine years ago. Reconnecting with Sister Kim grounded me in the gift of teaching.
In the slideshow below, you'll see us gathered outside the Lovers of the Holy Cross chapel. Sister Agnes Ly is on the left, next to me, Sister Kathleen Hilton and Sister Kay Burton. The Sisters in blue are final professed members; the women in white are novices in the community. These were our students and travel companions when we visited some of the historical sites in Hue.
Another photo shows three of my students in my non-air conditioned classroom. Our purpose was to help them improve their spoken English. We drew pictures of our daily life and then practiced sharing stories with each other. Students enjoyed pairing with each other to prepare for their presentations to the class. Since many in my class would be teaching students in parishes, we practiced ways of helping others feel confident expressing their ideas. Sister Kathleen’s students and mine shared singing class together. I brought some action songs from our vocal ensemble at Holy Names Academy to teach to these students. We certainly enjoyed laughter as we practiced saying the words and teaching each other the actions!
Since I knew I would be teaching young women who were college students or who had graduated from college, I planned lessons in which we would talk about current issues. We focused on the death of millions of fish in the South China Sea. Why was this happening? Who was involved? How were their families affected? What did Pope Francis have to say about care for the Earth and the needs of poor people throughout the world? We took a photo with the National Geographic cover story about Pope Francis and his concern for care for God’s creation.
Our summer school concluded with a program in the auditorium with traditional dancing, singing and storytelling, with our students in traditional dress and playing Vietnamese instruments, also shown in the slideshow. As a grand finale, the group presented the English song we learned — “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace”— sung with instruments.
Since returning to Seattle, I had a reminder of how much I remain connected with the beautiful country of Vietnam and these faith-filled young women. Recently I received this email from Sister Kim:
Dear Sister Mary Annette,
It's more than 7 months since I met you. How are you?
Many times I'd like to write to you but I lost your email. I'm sorry about that. Recently, I have contacted Sr. Kay to get your email.
I have just received information from my sister superior general that I will be taking the TOEFL [English language] test in April. I feel a bit nervous because this is a difficult exam and requires me to try a lot.
I would also like you to be able to help me to add ideas and to correct the essay that I am about to write these days.
Our connections continue in sowing the seeds of education and making it possible for others to teach children and young adults. May all of us continue to be blessed in bringing peace through education.