Spring 2015 COPI Trip Report
by Mike Kirchner
In mid-February of this year, COPI Executive Director Binh Rybacki and Director Mike Kirchner began a whirlwind tour of Vietnam visiting COPI sites, conducting training, performing audits and distributing New Year's gifts.
In Vietnam, the lunar New Year (Tet) is the biggest holiday of the year and marks the beginning of spring. This year the first day of the Tet holiday was February 19. It is a tradition in Vietnam to give Li Xi or "Lucky Money" as a New Year's gift. This is supposed to bring luck entire coming year. Each year COPI travels to Vietnam and gives our Li Xi to teachers, caregivers and other workers at schools, orphanages and other COPI facilities around the country. This year nearly 600 of these gifts were given out.
The morning after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam the COPI team of Co Binh, Ong Mike and Co Cuc flew to Hanoi and then drove to Viet Tri where they visited their first school of the trip. This is appropriate as the school in Viet Tri was the first one supported by COPI back in 1994. After handing out the Li Xi to the staff and enjoying a delicious lunch, the team then headed back to Hanoi and visited the Leper Colony at Soc Son. For many years COPI has been giving support to the families of Son Son, who are otherwise shunned by the Vietnamese government and much of society. This year was exciting as the COPI team was joined by volunteers from the Australian Center for Education and Training, (ACET) who are Vietnamese young professionals. These folks arrived bearing many gifts for the people of Son Son and erected a huge banner to help celebrate the New Year.
Wrapping up the first day the team flew back to Ho Chi Minh City to begin visiting other schools and facilities to spread New Year cheer. Shown here are the teachers of the Hieu Nghia pre-school and kindergarten in the Mekong Delta area. Each teacher holds her red Li Xi envelope. This school was constructed by COPI with funds from the New England District of Key Club, and was chartered in 2009. A large addition was built in 2013 through a partnership between the New England Key Club and the Friends of COPI from Singapore. This facility is the southernmost school supported by COPI.
Employee Weekend Retreat
After the Li Xi visits were completed the team took a couple days to enjoy the Tet holiday and the hospitality of members of binh's family. They then headed off on another journey. This time the team headed to Vung Tau for an employee and volunteer retreat. A dozen COPI employees, volunteers and friends worked hard over a weekend and participated in a "Leadership for Everyone" training. Mike Kirchner facilitated the training and of course co binh was the interpreter for the entire day long session. Of course, because the team was in Vung Tau, and that is near the sea, the team went immediately upon arrival to the beach! Here is a photo of some of the team members visiting the beach and relaxing before a long day of training the next day. COPI is fortunate to have such a dedicated team of employees and volunteers. They are also fortunate to have co cuc on the Board of Advisors as the team was able to stay free of charge at a condo near the beach that belongs to Co Cuc's family.
School Audits in Phu Yen ProvinceAfter returning to Ho Chi Minh City, there was no time to waste and the team headed out the next day for Phu Yen Province. That is about a 17 hour journey by van so it was split over two days. At the end of the first day the team visited Father Thien the Sunflower Compassionate Home, in Nha Trang, and that evening joined 31 young children for ice cream! The next morning they set out again traveling north along the coast to Phu Yen. Upon arriving in Phu Yen, the team visiting several schools and performed an audit of the children who had been given scholarships by COPI. This also involved interviewing some of the students from each school who had received a scholarship or scholarships from COPI and talking about their goals, plans and their overall experience in school. COPI is the only organization to travel to the far reaches of Phu Yen province to provide financial aid to students and to follow up with the students and the schools to determine the success of those students. These schools are in very rural farming areas. Here is a photo of students at a school in Xa Son Phuoc.
Vietnamese American Non-Governmental Organizations (VANGO) Training
The next leg of this COPI journey was a return to Vinh Long Province. Co Binh Rybacki is a member of the board of VANGO and was invited to participate in early childhood development training for about 100 teachers in the area schools. Also invited to participate were Co Cuc, a member of the COPI Board of Advisors and Dr. Huong, a longtime supporter of COPI and veteran dentist of many medical missions. Mike Kirchner also traveled with the team and participated in a hands-on exercise with the group on the final day of training. Co Binh taught the group about teamwork. This training was a three day event and the teachers demonstrated their commitment to the betterment of the lives of the children under their care by attending without compensation. This photo is of the attending class assembled together and the second photo is after half of the class went to another classroom for another breakout session.