There are three things in life that, once gone, never come back: “Time, Words and Opportunity" However, I do not regret the days spent participating in the Active citizens workshop since it has left me with many new experiences and has made me become more mature.
Honestly, I was pretty surprised when I first met the other participants - not only did they come from Hanoi as I did but they also came from various other regions of the country: from Lao Cai, Dien Bien to Lam Dong, Tra Vinh, Ca Mau... Most of them were grown up with pretty defined personalities and work experience, giving this programme more a sense of reality than other student programmes that I have participated in before.
On four consecutive days, together with Tristan, Gam, Nga and Hieu we shared a lot of ideas about the programs, the participants and got a better understanding of the way that everyone globally and locally connects. The open conversation went on as all participants had a chance to express their opinions without fear, and all the status, nationality, age gaps that were there before faded. The way that this workshop approached participants reminded me of the Benjamin Franklin saying: "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn". It was refreshing and totally different from the same old sitting-listening-writing cycle approach. Moreover, all the “lecturers” were warm and friendly, not only did they give guidance during sessions, after the end of each days they also enthusiastically took part in after class activities where everybody got closer.
I, and probably other delegates, all felt surprised at the questions that the lectures suggested we ask ourselves, such as: Who am I? What do I want? What am I interested in? Clearly these are very simple, important yet really difficult questions for each individual to answer. But just by thinking about them, each person can identify themselves more clearly, be clearer on the purpose of their lives, of what they are doing, in time, it could lead to a turning point in their lives. And to achieve our vision, we’ll build skills and knowledge as Active Citizens with a journey on the “Active Citizen river”. Then come the group activities with conversations between two, four, then eight, 16 people… that brought participants laughter, sympathy and even debate. We felt more motivated and able to share with and learn from others after "listening at three levels", which allowed us to capture the multi-dimensional nature of each story. Having taken part in a "systems triangle", I realised that with just one action, to the right target, you can make the powerful tweaks which lead to a big impact that may change the whole community…
To me, the participants were no less special. I still remember the lady who was cheerful, quite small and voluble; the really mature police officer, who always talked in a concise way, or the sharp, strong-willed lady with extremely good presentations and of course I would not be able to forget the funny Southern guys with their sweet accent that made everything so easy to listen to ... Participants came from all walks of life with different backgrounds, interests and ages… with no other common definition other than a “commitment to their community”. They were real people with different stories and experiences that I was able to directly hear and learn from, not just about local issues but about how they deal with everything: from the difficulty of living near the border to deals with natural disasters such as flood-tides, droughts or even how different Northerners were to Southerners… Even in such a small country like Vietnam, cultures and personalities are so diverse, so the world out there must be much more colourful. We have to respect the difference of each individual and their unique values and treat them with respect.
After having identified our local issues, we felt really motivated to take action. We split into smaller groups and together, planned social actions to tackle key issues in our communities. This is when all the skills we had learned in the training were applied. Throughout the sharing process, I had prepared for myself a really serious social problem, being extremely confident since in theory, the project would be extremely meaningful, however, after considering all the comments, suggestions and analysis of the other participants, I realised that it was not a suitable time to implement my plan in the present context, that it was still vague and too idealized. I felt lucky to be able to meet, talk and work with them, as I have learned much more about leadership as well as becoming more realistic and mature.
The last day was very memorable for me. It was when all the projects were judged and reviewed. Before the closing ceremony, everybody sat down, exchanging phone numbers, emails, Facebook contacts... To us, this was more than just future work bonding, it had become friendship. Bonds of people with the same passion.
Before joining the workshop, I remember being, hesitant to answer the question of who I am, but now I judge everything from a more realistic, mature view. I have gained deeper knowledge and new great friends. Now, I will go back to school and continue with my volunteer work to support social projects for disadvantaged groups. In the near future, my group is going to apply this “Active citizen” model to other youth organizations in the country. We are proud of being the F1 generation of Vietnam “Active citizens”, realizing that we are members of a new family. We understand that with the unique knowledge and creativity of each individual, we need to join hands to solve the issues in our local communities and from there, spread the spirit of “Active citizens” throughout Vietnam. I look forward to future “Active citizens” workshops in Vietnam so that not only us, but many more citizens will get to know how to be active. Together we are making changes, from small to huge, for a better, more sustainable world.
Photo caption: Hoa is discussing with team members