Vietnam – OGC Student Exchange Program
DAY 1 – Friday 23rd October 2015 – Departure Day
Our very own, Monique Theron set off for O R Tambo International Airport to join a delegation of youth from Project Rhino and fly to Hanoi, Vietnam. Excitement and anticipation levels ran high as these young people gathered together to discuss their participation in the week-long Operation Game Change Event geared to highlight the plight of our rhino to Vietnamese Youth and to join in the many activities and high-level meetings arranged for the 10 day trip. The airport buzzed as the cries “Yebo Siyabathanda – let our voices be heard” and “Save our Rhino” echoed through the departure lounge, led by a large Zulu, Richard Mabanga and Lesedi Cultural Dancer, Phelisa Matyolo.
Emma van der Meulen, Jacome Pretorius, Jared Robinson and Nadav Ossendryver made up the rest of the team from South Africa and accompanying them were Grant Fowlds of Project Rhino, Ilan Ossendryver, photographer, Margie Kolver and Vanessa Theron of OMG-SA 1 Million Footprints.
After a long flight, the team arrived in Hanoi to be met by Lisa Wishman, US Embassy Press Officer, Vu Ha Phuong of Freeland Foundation. What excitement driving through the streets of Hanoi – scooters, bikes and taxis blowing their hooters and competing for their space on the bustling streets.
After booking into the Flower Garden Hotel, the delegation had a lesson in how to cross a street in Hanoi – a challenge to say the least!
DAY 3 – Sunday 25th October 2015 – Rally for Rhinos Bike Ride
A very early start to join in the Rally for Rhinos Bike Ride through the streets of Hanoi. The delegation welcomed Olivia and Carter Ries from OMG USA to the team. Beginning with a formal introduction to the US Ambassador, Ted Osius, then everyone donned riding helmets, climbed on bikes and set off at a healthy pace, dodging scooters and taxis as they wound their way along narrow streets. A brief stop at Nguyen Hoang Ton Park to catch their breath, drink some water and to hear Ambassador Osius address the press.
The team then split up to go home with their respective Vietnamese families – a fantastic opportunity to learn first-hand about the culture of typical Vietnamese lifestyle. The adults attended a truly inspiring cultural evening of music composed by local composers and a walk through the streets of Hanoi, enjoying the nightlife.
DAY 4 – Monday 26th October 2015 – Hanoi University of Pharmacy – Youth Outreach
Dressed in branded T-Shirts, the team set off to the Hanoi University of Pharmacy to meet and engage with students at this prestigious centre for learning. Hosted by the Vietnamese Youth Union, the team had the opportunity to introduce themselves and to offer up their solutions to the rhino poaching crisis and became involved in a panel discussion with fellow Vietnamese university students. Very interesting opinions were presented and the group was excited to gain the full support of the entire group. A formal signing of the World Youth Wildlife declaration took place where after everyone joined in a “Shout Out” on the steps of the University.
DAY 5 – Tuesday 27th October 2015 – Biodiversity Conservation Agency (BCA)
A very important day for our team – a meeting with the Vietnamese Government Biodiversity Conservation Agency. The Team was VERY privileged to get this opportunity to talk to government officials about the rhino poaching crisis facing South Africa and and the illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam. In addition to signing the Declaration book that calls for an end to rhino poaching and wildlife crime, they shared ideas about ways in which Vietnam and South Africa can work together under their Memorandum of Understanding to end illegal wildlife trade and keep the money out of the hands of international terrorists and crime syndicates.
Next on the agenda was a meeting over lunch with our very own South African Ambassador to Vietnam, Kgomotso Ruth Magau – absolutely privileged!
Thereafter, Ambassador Magau accompanied the team to the American Club where the team engaged with fellow Vietnamese students and delivered another ‘SHOUT OUT” with all present. Amabassador Magau made her voice heard by placing her footprint on the cloth as part of the 1,000,000 Footprints to Save Africa Campaign. The Rhino Ambassadors handed the Declaration book to Mr. Vu Minh Ly, Director of National Volunteer Center, Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union with Ambassador Osius and South African Ambassador Kgomotso Ruth Magau as witnesses. The participants were divided into groups to participate in different activities, including placing their footprints, Rhino Art painting, Rhino origami, discussion groups. The day ended with a show by the South African cultural contingent and a “SHOUT OUT”. The event was covered by media from all over the world.
The Rhino Ambassadors met with Nguyen Binh Khiem School students (Primary and High School) who, together, pledged not to 1) use, 2) gift and 3) accept rhino horn. Taking concrete action to save the planet, they put their feet in paint and imprinted footprints on cloth as part of the One Million Footprints to Save Africa Campaign. Each student was given a copy of the translated ‘Bongi’s Quest’ book to take home and were encouraged to read the story to members of their families. Once again, everyone was treated to the rhino ambassadors cultural song and dance program and everyone participated with great zeal.
The Team had some fun during the lunch break by finding some motorized animal cars and scooting around a local shopping centre.
After spending the morning at a local market, being taught how to cook true Vietnamese Meals and enjoying the many courses of amazing food, the team headed off to the American Centre to a panel discussion with visiting students on “How to protect Wildlife”. Another opportunity for each member of the team to introduce themselves and offer their personal pleas. Once again everyone became involved in, the now well known, cultural activity led by Richard and Phelisa.
While the Youth returned to their homestays for an early night, the adult contingent enjoyed a delicious dinner hosted by Lisa Wishman at her home.
A picnic lunch was enjoyed by all before visiting the Turtle Conservation Centre, The Pangolin and Small Carnivore Centre and the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre. It was a sobering experience as the group learnt about these heavily endangered species and the continued killing of these species to satisfy continuing myths. The trip home was quiet as the reality of extinction for so many species was pondered.
DAY 9 – Saturday 31st October 2015 – ENV at the Cong Vien Cau Giay
A wonderful sunny day!!! Team off again to a beautiful park in the centre of Hanoi to join ENV in reaching out to the children of Hanoi. A colourful experience with plenty of singing, dancing and shout outs. The lilting melodies of the Rhino Song and Shosholoza resounded around the park and hundreds of children participated as they learnt about rhinos and their plight. Everyone joined in the SHOUT OUT – Don’t use, Don’t Gift. Don’t accept rhino horn – Save Our Rhinos! What an amazing final outreach to the people of Hanoi.
The group then attended a Halloween celebration and dressed accordingly, causing much hilarity.
DAY 10 – Sunday 1st October 2015 – Wrap Up and Film Viewing
A SAD DAY! Time to say goodbye to the host families and all the wonderful members of Freeland and the US Embassy who worked so hard to put together this amazing trip. Gifts were exchanged and speeches made. The Ambassadors were treated to a first viewing of 6 Rhino submissions to the Film Competition run by Freeland and Love Frankie.