Service learning and community impact in Vietnam

The Impact of Educational Travel: A Tour Guide’s Experience

August 30, 2023

On the ground: a tour guide’s experience

Anthony (Qui Ngoc Nguyen), has been a full-time tour guide with us since 2006. It’s no surprise that he has built an exceptional reputation, becoming a well-loved guide on many Discova educational tours in Vietnam. Moreover, like Chi Ngo, our Discova Educational Travel (DET) Regional Project Team Leader, Anthony has been a part of our Discova Vinh Long housing project, in the right from the start, which we reported on in July. He has become incredibly invested in the community, with many a beautiful story to tell.

Today, we look back at Anthony’s personal experience here in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and his own story of overcoming adversity.

Tour guide for educational trips
Anthony (or Qui) has been with us since 2006, when Discova was still two separate DMCs, Buffalo Tours (Asia) and Olympus Tours (Americas).

What made you want to become a tour guide?

Anthony: “There are many reasons to choose to become a tour guide. When I started working in this job, I started to realise I can help travellers. You know, different people have different lives. Some are lives are difficult. When people travel, they can reconnect with their family, or refresh their minds, and experience something meaningful. I have seen how travel can make people feel better. And becoming a DET tour guide meant I could be like a middleman for students.”

Service learning and community projects in Vietnam
Students get hands-on as they support the foundational build of a house in Vinh Long.

What is the most special part of your job?

Students come from international schools or universities, and view the world from a privileged, often limited perspective. When I take them to some of the poorest families in Vinh Long, it opens a whole new world to them. And it builds a connection between these families, some who don’t have a proper house, and visiting students, who have very different circumstances. And it’s also good for me, because I get to help people. Whenever a new house is built, I think of it as a symbol of my purpose in life: each brick represents an act of something good for others.

Housing projects in Vinh Long, Vietnam
Many homes in the poorest areas of Vinh Long look like this. Discova identifies families in most dire need and works with visiting educational groups to build secure, stable houses.

Anthony was one of six children (four of his siblings died at a young age), and was all too familiar with the desperate circumstances of poverty, having been raised in a very poor village south of Ho Chi Minh City.

Like the families in Vinh Long who have been gifted safe housing, Anthony had a few lucky moments in his life too, and is a strong believer in karma. As a young boy he nearly died of dengue fever after a misdiagnosis, and was saved by a local fisherman who drove Anthony and his father on the back of his scooter along 40 kilometres of bumpy road to the nearest hospital. In later years, a generous neighbour funded his university tuition.

Anthony (Qui) Nguyen, Discova Educational Travel Tour Guide
Anthony has an infectious joy that has enhanced many educational group trips over his past 17+ years as a Discova tour guide.

The acts of kindness he has experienced are ones Anthony has taken with him throughout his life as a reminder to do good for others, wherever possible. In his charming words: “I had a lucky life. So I want to transfer my lucky to you”. Whenever he takes student groups to build a new house in Vinh Long and sees the impact it has on a family and the connections that are built, he knows his career as a tour guide achieves precisely that.

The Vinh Long housing project: What impact have you seen on educational groups?

When asked of the effect he has seen student groups undergo whilst they help to build the homes, Anthony beams: “You know, to be honest, often when the students first arrive to start working on a house, on the first day, they look like they don’t want to be there. Sometimes their motivation seems quite low [he laughed here, noting that many are teenagers]. But then when we connect them with this very different, difficult life in Vinh Long, and they begin to recognise the positive impact they can have, they change and become so excited.

Service learning in Vietnam
Hands-on support ensures students have a direct, measurable impact on the communities they visit.

I tell them: when you just donate money to charity, you don’t always know where your money is going, but this way, you have direct power, have an effect by working hard. And on day two, the students already start changing, and sometimes I have to tell them to take a break so they don’t exhaust themselves. It’s funny because I’ve experienced students hiding from me and trying to find other small jobs to help with on the construction site.

Service learning in educational travel, Vietnam
Every step and hand lent is a valuable, life-long contribution to families in Vinh Long.

And on the last day, they don’t want to go back home. They tell me that they want to stay longer, and help more. Often, on the final day when they have to say goodbye to the family, they will put together whatever money they have on hand, and donate it to the family directly. Or buy needed things like bicycles. There was even a teacher once who took off his shoes, and donated them. He walked back to the bus barefoot.

How has the local community responded to the housing project?

The last trip I went on to Vinh Long, we passed by one of the houses I helped to build with students. I saw the family outside, and I could see how different their lives were, their smiles. They had chickens running around, and were working in their vegetable plantation, and there were other people helping them. They looked like they had a very happy life.

And another time, when I was at a project site, a man from a family we had helped came up to me. He was so excited to see me. I said to him “Long time no see, how are you today?”, and he told me “Wonderful. I just wanted to ask you if you have free time to come to my house? My family wants to hold a small party to say thank you to you.” When I first met this man, he was very different. His face was really sad, and he looked down a lot. That day when he came up to me he seemed happy, and later he also helped us to build the foundation of the house we were working on at the time.

New houses for Vinh Long families in need
A local homeowner stands in front of his newly built, safe home.

The people from the community here show their support in many ways. Anthony fondly recalls when the neighbour of one of the houses they were building showed up and gave the team and student group 30 kilograms of corn flour, simply to offer a gift for their hard work. It reflects how the whole community comes together to help out in any way they can, and to show their gratitude for the project as it continues to improve lives.

Anthony has seen this generosity time and time again, and other positive effects of this housing project. When families have a house, they can register with the local authorities for certain benefits, like free education and healthcare. It also means they have more time to focus on other pursuits, whether it being growing their income, or children being able to concentrate on their education, versus contributing to the family income.

We’re grateful to all existing contributors and future educational groups who will continue to have an indelible impact on the Mekong Delta’s communities. 

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