I am often asked how Beth and I ended up in Vietnam volunteering for the first year of our marriage. Also, why did we chose drowning prevention interventions as our area of focus. What better way to tell that story, then through a blog. Beth just wrote and published a blog on her reflections of whether this work is energy giving or depleting here. A good read and insights to how we are feeling 6+ months into this work.
It has been 6½ months since we began our journey in Vietnam. So much has been done and experienced and we are now looking at the next 3½ months to determine what we can do to make the most lasting impact from our time here. As we dive even deeper into the drowning prevention and community empowerment work, we are also starting discussions about whether it’s possible for us to remain in Vietnam to continue this work another year. As we reflect on what’s been done, what we still need to do, and whether or not we extend our service work, I’m reminded of our thoughts and actions that brought us to here to begin with.
Over a year ago, Beth went on a faculty immersion trip to Nicaragua that opened her eyes to the developing world. She experienced people living in conditions no human should be subjected to. Families living in city garbage dumps; kids climbing onto incoming trucks to ride the rubbish as it’s dumped to be the first to pick out scrap metal, or anything that could be sold to help the family eat that day. She saw images that she could not forget, images that would start conversations when she returned to Seattle. Conversations about why she had never been exposed to this, or what is being done to help eliminate global poverty? We spoke with family, friends, colleagues and kept asking the question; how are we moved to respond?
After many conversations, together we decided although we both loved our careers, we wanted to take a mid-career sabbatical to live in community with people in a developing world context. To “share the worry” on a daily level with people living with less opportunity. Although we knew we could never truly “share the worry” (as we will return to the US, be able to find new jobs, and continue on with our lives as we knew it), we felt compelled to have this experience while we were relatively young. We narrow down this list of countries to 4 that interested us in this experience: Nicaragua, Guatemala, India, and Vietnam. Nicaragua due to Beth’s recent trip; Guatemala as I am on the board of Roots and Wings Int’l, have visited remote villages and taken my daughter there; India for its developing world and yoga context, and Vietnam as I am on the board of Peace Trees Vietnam and visited remote villages in central Vietnam in 2012.
We decided safety was one of our primary concerns. At the time we were contemplating where to go, there were a few ‘acid attacks’ in the news from India. While we knew there were things that could happen anywhere and these were few and far between, we decided to put India on hold. When I was in Guatemala, I felt the people were kind and really warm, however there were weekly murders in the bigger cities and recent history of unrest that was a little unsettling. Between Nicaragua and Vietnam, there were many pros and cons to each. Language was a big concern, and we were confident we could pick up Spanish relatively easily (I took 4 years of Spanish and have a good base, and Beth was once fluent in French, which would help). In Vietnam, with 6 tones and the additional characters, we were less confident we would learn much more than survival words/phrases. It was not until I met with the interim director for Peacetrees Vietnam to explore the potential for volunteering with Peacetrees, that we started to lean towards Vietnam.
I met with Bob Stokes for what I thought would be exploring the potential for starting a digital literacy program, but the conversation went in another direction. Bob had just spoke with the CEO of a partner organization, Golden West, that was helping to train our demining team in country. Golden West had been approached by the Vietnamese government to help with the issue of drowning as Vietnam has one of the highest rates of drowning in the world – on average 35 people lose their lives by drowning each day. When Bob asked me if I knew how to swim, I was a bit surprised at the question, but shared my background as a lifeguard, water safety instructor, and aquatics director for a summer camp. Judging by the look on his face, he was equally surprised. I was connected to Al Vosburgh, CEO of Golden West, and these conversations led to Beth and I visiting Vietnam and Dong Hoi to further refine where we would like to be and what we would like to do. In that two week trip, we saw what we needed to see to convince us that Vietnam was our destination. The children we saw were of course like any other kids – happy, playing, laughing and just being kids. We knew we could offer an opportunity to help safeguard their lives from one of the leading causes of death among children in Vietnam.
When we returned from Vietnam, I enrolled in Lifeguarding and Water Safety certification courses to get recertified. Beth started planning a course to teach Yoga in the community. During this time, we were planning our wedding, and figuring out the best time to leave our jobs (after determining there were no available programs that allowed for a 1-year sabbatical at either Microsoft or Seattle U.). Needless to say, it was a hectic time for us both. After our Wedding in August, resigning, a post wedding barn bash in Indiana, moving out of our apartment and making arrangements to leave the country for 10 months, we were set. We boarded the plane on September 29, 2015.
As I remember these hectic times, I’m reminded of why we came here: To share the worry and live in community with people of a very different context. Of course we wanted to be of service where our talents and experience is needed. I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish is such a short period of time, and also wonder how much more could be done with another year’s time. Have we done what we set out to do? Almost. I think we can get the Swim for Life program to a very good place by the time we depart. But what can we accomplish with another year? Can we stay apart from family, friends, comforts of home for another year? Will the difference we can make be worth any sacrifices we need to endure? These are the questions we are actively thinking about and will quickly come to answer.
My wife Beth Kreitl and I decided to resign from our jobs in Corporate and Higher Ed to experience our first year of marriage together volunteering in Vietnam – The Vietnam Adventure. We are working with the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation to create and lead a drowning prevention program in Central Vietnam. In Vietnam, on average, there are 35 deaths per day from preventable drowning. We hope that providing interventions in Community Awareness, Water Safety Education and Learn to Swim infrastructure, teacher and student training, we can reduce this unacceptable number. You can find more info here or see a video produced by the Microsoft Alumni Network of our move here.
Appreciation for helping hands:
Thank you Lea Gallanter from Gallant Editorial services for editorial work to our new site.
Thank you to Suphatra Paravichai and Aditya Bijaj for website review and SEO guidance. Every hour volunteering matched by Microsoft’s volunteer match program, sends 1 child through our 18 class survival swimming curriculum. Wooohooo!
Always a need for additional help:
If you want to get involved in any way; fundraising, friend-raising or volunteering your skills, let me know as we can always use extra hands – employer volunteer matching benefit is a plus as well! (old habits of a volunteer program lead die hard!) Experience in water safety is not needed, just the desire to use your time to help the cause.
If you are interested in visiting Vietnam and seeing our work up close, we’d love to host you.
Please share this blog with your friends and family and anyone that is interested in Vietnam, Water Safety, Education, or would like to help us save lives. 🙂 Thank you in advance for checking out, ‘liking’, and sharing our facebook page!!!