Tribe of Red Spokes and the Village School

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‘She wants to know if you are from ‘different tribe’. Our assistant Huong was translating for a tribal girl. She was in her early twenties dressed in a black trouser suit with red and yellow trimmings. Her baby balanced on her hip she was as interested in the group of cyclists gather around her as they were in her. Although to our ears her question initially seemed odd it was for a peasant girl who had never left her village quite reasonable. After all, look at us, long noses and funny coloured eyes, tight cycling shirts, Lycra shorts, strange sunglasses and the tribal plastic hat of the cyclist. Yes, she was right, we were from the tribe of the white cyclist.

We were standing in the playground of a small village school in the hills of a remote part of Vietnam’s mountainous north eastern region. We had not dropped by and disturbed their mornings schooling unannounced and out of idle curiosity, we were here for a reason, to try to help a little. I am leading this group of British cyclists on a tour of the hill country of North West Vietnam. In many of the countries that Red Spokes run tours we have a project such as this school where we try to put a little back into the country we visit. Indeed Red Spokes CEO Dermot MacWard often talks with such passion and enthusiasm for the charities he supports that it is easy to forget that he is first and foremost running a business.

Part of the visit includes the giving of a prize for the best performing boy and girl, for the boy we took a football and, once the formalities of the visit were complete, any air of shyness that existed soon broke down as the Red Spokes team took on the local kids in an impromptu game of soccer. What the Vietnamese lacked in technical knowledge of the game they made up for in enthusiasm, energy and numbers as without fear of there bare feet being crushed beneath the mighty cycling shoes of their opponents they set about the huge Europeans with the same vigour as Korea showed against Germany in the 2002 World Cup.

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Meanwhile the tribal girl was explaining how, aged 18 she had met her husband at the “love market” and now, four years down the line he has left her literally holding the baby. Life for theses people is not the bed of roses that it is for we in the West. Here poverty does not mean just one plasma screen TV and a smaller car, it means having nothing other that hopefully some food and shelter provided by the caring people of your village.

Due to limited classroom space the school runs its lessons in three shifts. Unfortunately due to the six o’clock sunset it is often a little troublesome for the last sitting to see their text books, chalk board and teacher. To help with this, this group has agreed to fund the necessary cable, switches fixture and fittings needed to light the classrooms.

Visiting the school was a great experience for the group the teachers and the pupils. Hopefully it has helped to forge an understanding of the lives of peoples of very different cultures.

I will be back here just after Christmas leading another group. We will take with us from Hanoi all they need for the electrification project and hopefully raise a little more money towards improving the quality of the education of these great kids.

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