Some people describe the human race as being roughly divisible into two parts: there are givers, and there are takers. We at REI seek to be givers. You too, since you are reading this article, are most likely a giver. We all share a desire to make a difference in the lives of others. We want to help. We want to see people live satisfying, fulfilling lives at every level.
So how do we do that at REI?
A friend recently shared a simple model of helping people on a national level. In this model there are three basic types of humanitarian service.
The first is relief work. When people’s lives have been disrupted through natural disaster, through war, through disease, the immediate need is survival. When an earthquake hammers a country, there is an immediate need for food, clean water, medical help, shelter. Many groups do a wonderful job of responding to these crises. The need is now, not later. Relief work is crucial.
The second is rebuilding. If buildings have been flattened, if the infrastructure of roads, energy sources, water supply and so forth has been damaged, there is a need to rebuild. The victims of the earthquake shouldn’t have to stay in a tarp refuge center any longer than the time it takes to rebuild! And many groups invest many millions of dollars in this. This rebuilding work is also essential.
The third is development. This is when people help other people to go further. Not just staying alive, not just regaining what was lost, but pressing forward, going farther, doing more; not just maintaining the status quo, but improving the quality of life. This is also crucial. Otherwise a people is doomed to simply subsist on the handouts of others, or to stagnate as a society. Building people is what we do. This is why we exist as an organization. Our tagline for decades has been “Building People to Build their Nation,” and we do this by investing in individuals, building the capacity of people working in several strategic sectors of society. We don’t just do, we train. We train the Vietnamese, so that they may train other Vietnamese (and increasingly, other Laotians, other Nepalese, other Cambodians...) By focusing on professional training our work doesn’t stop when we leave. It’s sustainable. It’s ongoing. And while we train, we develop relationships with those receiving the training. We develop genuine friendships. Our service is not mechanical; it is professional and it is relational. This is REI’s sweet spot. We don’t see that changing.
The Vietnamese quote a Chinese proverb that is pertinent to our work, and which, in fact, hangs on our office wall:
If you want 1 year of prosperity, grow grain.
If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees.
If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.
So we grow people! But how we do that does change, as Vietnam is indeed growing and developing. Currently we train in Education (primarily English), Business, Medicine, Nursing, Social Work, and Community Health. That may change. We may add to that list as resources become available to us, or we may feel that it is time to curtail one or more of these areas.
And even within these strategic sectors there will be change. What was effective 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, or 5 years ago, may no longer be as effective as a new approach. Our new seminar and mentoring program with the business students at Hanoi University is a step forward. Our Nursing Scholars Program, in partnership with Asuza Pacific University, is another new initiative. We want to be not only responsive to a new era, but looking forward, anticipating the changes that will surely come, and adapting our service accordingly.
Does this stir your heart? We would love to have you join us in Vietnam, whether for a week or for a decade. We are eager to see what lies before us in the new year of 2016, and hope that you will have an increasingly large part in it!