Annie's little problem
The biggest challenge I have faced in Vietnam is the language & I confess, I have not applied myself diligently enough to becoming fluent… That has been a major obstacle for serious dialogue with local people and students about issues I feel passionate about, namely plastic & the wildlife trade. However a broader obstacle is simply ignorance of the impacts to the environment & what is even more frustrating is a general unconcern. I did run a weekly Talking Green English Club for seven months, which covered many important issues, but the government shut it down, because I didn’t “have permission.” I have been working with a small group of young Vietnamese who are aware & active & they have translated & interpreted for me & even orchestrated a TV interview.
Then there are the ex-pats I have worked with, teaching English. Predominantly male & macho, especially the director at the last school. I had the mistaken impression that westerners are better informed about environmental degradation & climate change, especially the ones who teach IELTS, which has a strong environmental component. If we teachers are teaching about the environment, surely we ought to be walking our talk. If we supposedly educated westerners do not act on the knowledge we have, how can we expect people of a “developing” country to a) know, b) care & c) make changes? For these teachers, it is only academic & I watched with growing irritation how they all over-consume (food, Styrofoam, energy, paper, etc) without a care. Any comments or suggestions I made were not taken seriously, as if plastic were just Annie’s little problem.
I had brainstormed ways to raise their awareness (a series of films for students & staff (rejected at the highest level); an offer to do a Professional Development workshop re the environment (the director said he’d think about it, but never got back to me); even a couple of students approached him to present a new film they’d translated on plastic pollution (he vetoed it); the last straw was when I emailed a plastics slideshow to the head teacher for World Oceans Day, to mail to all the staff. (He didn’t. On prompting, he said “Oh, I couldn’t open it.”)
There is too much I cannot change & I cannot bear to watch it or work with these people any more. After over three years in Vietnam, I am moving on to new challenges in another country. When I told the director I was going to Kenya, he said,”Oh, what are you going to do there – save the world?” As yet I have no idea what I will do there, but I have already connected with some women through Pulsewire. I feel my skills will be better used in environmental education/workshopping in small groups & through writing.
My community has grown through Pulsewire & I can now share ideas & inspiration with a broader, more sympathetic & supportive base.