A glimpse of Vietnam

Thirty-nine MIHS students flew to Vietnam over spring break. The group raised more than $16,000 for orphans and disabled students, who they visited in person. - Curtis Johnston/Contributed photo
Thirty-nine MIHS students flew to Vietnam over spring break. The group raised more than $16,000 for orphans and disabled students, who they visited in person.
— image credit: Curtis Johnston/Contributed photo

After a merciless 13-hour flight, 39 exhausted Mercer Island High School students, myself included, and four teachers stumbled off the plane into a humid, Asian oasis. Although jetlagged and over-heated, we eagerly boarded a bright pink bus, ready for the epic excursion ahead. I snapped photo after photo of the passing landscape, from acres of rice patties to a sea of racing mopeds.

This year, 67 Mercer Island seniors took two trips to Vietnam — the most recent over Spring Break — to bring a ray of happiness to 252 orphans and disabled students in the cities of Da Nang and Dong Ha. The Islanders delivered pipe cleaners, school supplies, new clothes, soccer balls, and a whopping $16,000 from individual fundraisers.

At the street orphanages in Da Nang, a coastal city of approximately 753,000, I developed new friendships with girls that immediately grabbed my hands and started conversations in poor English. One could tell that just our presence had inspired the ear-to-ear grins on the children’s faces.

After visiting the orphanages and school for the disabled, we ventured into a Vietnam War museum where we learned about the atrocities of Agent Orange — the toxic herbicide sprayed by the United States military during the Vietnam War — crawled through the cramped Vinh Moc tunnels built to shelter people from bombs, and visited Ho Chi Minh’s tomb.

We tried our skills on mopeds and haggled down prices at the Ben Thanh market. I was even awarded the nickname “the Hammer” for being the best bargainer on the trip.

As Day 10 loomed ever closer, I dreaded the flight home and pleaded to my teacher to let me stay another month or two. I went as far as asking our amazing tour guides if I could live with them for a while. Although they said yes, I came home anyway — all of us did. And I would bet all of my numerous silk scarves that our high school students brought home not just thousands of amazing photos and some knock-off designer bags, but an array of everlasting memories from our immersion in history, culture, and philanthropy.

Kristen Muramoto is a senior at Mercer Island High School.

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