Rider University's 2010 International Collaborative Service Learning Program
with Vietnam University and Microcredit Fund Project in Vietnam

by Christopher Runckel, President of Runckel & Associates (www.Business-in-Asia.com)

From January 10-20, 2010,
Runckel & Associates arranged contacts, appointments, visits and logistics for Rider University's 2010 International Collaborative Service Learning Program with a Vietnam university which we were asked to identify.  The project was further focused on a microcredit fund project in Vietnam which we were also asked to develop. The Rider University program led by Professor Dr. Lauren Eder who has worked with us in projects in Vietnam in the past and who we were pleased to work with again was linked with an international business focus.  For Runckel & Associates, our microfinance involvement and helping disabled individuals are parts of our longterm company pro bono or  "give back" projects.  In this trip, our company gave a cash donation of $2,000 to help on microfinance, a $1,000 donation for home renovations for a disabled family
(for more information, read our "Doing Good, While Doing Well" article) and $500 especially to a young girl who is blind and needs to obtain weekly kidney dialysis treatment in HCMC.  Rider University presented these donations for Runckel & Associates along with the group's gifts and other funds and items collected by Rider University's students.

(picture left) Rider University's students and professors with Vietnamese students from Hoa Sen University.  (picture right) Ms.Stacy Parrado from Rider University, Ms. Ngyuen Thi Nhu(Ruby): Senior Associate of Runckel & Associates, Dr. Lauren Eder of Rider University and Mr. Van Nguyen: our company's tour partner (www.vietnamalive.com)

The group arrived Ho Chi Minh City on January 10 and stayed at the Norfolk Hotel downtown.  We chose this hotel because of its location in an area that is easy for students to walk around to sight seeing places, shops and restaurants downtown and because of its excellent food and service. Our guide and Vietnam associate met the group at the airport and at the hotel.  Our associate, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Nhu (Ruby), who has worked with Runckel & Associates for over 10 years, assisted our U.S. Head office to confirm ground contacts and appointments for this Rider University trip; while Mr. Van Nguyen did an excellent job for Runckel & Associates on arranging all logistics and the Mekong Delta visit.  Ms. Mai Huong of Access American Education LLC (www.AAEVietnam.com) also helped in arranging appointments for Dr. Scott Eder, a medical doctor, to Hung Vuong hospital, Pham Ngoc Thach University, An Sinh hospital, Hung Vuong hospital, Tu Du hospital, and the University of Medical and Pharmacy in Vietnam plus assisted in other parts of the program.

The Rider University program started on Monday 11 January with their first meeting with Hoa Sen University (HSU) teachers and 22 Vietnamese students who would soon be some of the Rider students new best friends. The students greeted the group with a special program they designed complete with songs and dance.  Prof. Lauren Eder led a series of "ice breaker" activities to get everyone to meet each other. After lunch Rider students got a nice tour of the local markets.  Then, at night, the Rider group concluded their first day with a dinner cruise on the Saigon river.

(pictures above) Students from Hoa Sen University welcomed Rider Group and got to know each other.
(pictures below) Visit to Bimh Duong province and Becamex's new city and industrial parks

The Second day, the group went to Binh Duong, a province approximately 1 hour and a half drive outside of HCMC.  Binh Duong is Vietnam’s Rising Star (read more: our Binh Duong province's articles).  The province offers the advantage of proximity to Ho Chi Minh City but lower costs and is now building a new city, university, hospital, etc. Becamex, a state run company in Binh Duong spoke to Rider about its vision and its large-scale plans of the new city and showed thr group the 1000 hectare area that has already been prepared with water and storm water infrastructure distribution, electricity, highways, and other necessary infrastructure. It reminded many of us of  the Pudong area of Shanghai, China, 20 years ago.  Then, the group visited industrial parks and an acrylic factory in Binh Duong that Runckel & Associates had helped to introduce to Vietnam and support through start-up.

(pictures above) A visit to an acrylic factory in Binh Duong.
(pictures below, left) Visit to a Disabled Resources & Development linked family where the group presented donation of Runckel & Associates and from the Rider students to the DRD officers (3rd from right is Ms. Yen Vo).
(pictre below) Mrs. Hong and her daughter who is blind and needs to obtain weekly kidney dialysis treatment in HCMC; therefore our company gave her some small fund to help out her daughter.

After a big lunch, the group visited a site affiliated with Disabled Resources & Development (DRD) which will be a future group home for orphaned disabled young adults plus the home of a disabled young woman.  DRD is an organization that Runckel & Associates is supporting and Rider University has come to support as well.  Here the Rider group presented the familiy with our and their donations.

(pictures above) When they were with DRD in Binh Duong province, Rider and HSU students also had an opportunity to help paint the home, which was still being renovated as a result of a donation our company and Rider made.

Dr. Scott Eder arrived late that evening and was picked up by our guide.  We had arranged for him to give lectures at several of the hospitals in HCMC during the week at the Hung Vuong Hospital to a group of doctors and midwives. Dr Scott Eder later said the interaction was great and there were a lot of good questions.

At dinner that evening, Prof. Eder and Ruby met with several people who were involved in microfinance and charity in Vietnam to understand more about how things worked in the country.  Ms. Nen, who has run a very successful microfinance operation out of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City for the last 17 years provided excellent guidance on microfinance in Vietnam.  They also met with Ms. Yen Vo, who is the founder and Director of the
Disabilities Resource and Development (DRD) and has an incredible vision for her organization and the skills necessary to make things happen. Ms. Vo who is also disabled created DRD in 2005 to promote awareness and equal opportunities for people with disabilities in Vietnam.

(pictures above) The Rider group at IDG Venture office

The second day started early with a visit and presentation at the US Consulate in HCMC (read more: our exclusive article about history of US Embassy and Consulate in Vietnam).  "The conversation between the students and the representatives was lively and informative and nobody wanted to leave when we had to move on to our next appointment," said Professor Eder in her program's blog.  For the next visit, the group went to IDG Ventures, a venture capital firm, to learn about the growth of entrepreneurship in the high tech sector of Vietnam including dozens of companies in media, social networking, e-commerce, and telecommunications. 

(pictures above) A visit to a buddhist temple run by nuns.  The group made a presentation that included several bags of toys and school supplies that Rider students brought from the USA to donate.

The Rider group then visited an orphanage that is in a Buddhist temple run by Buddhist nuns. There are many orphanages in Vietnam similar to this one, which is the home to about 120 children from the age of 3 months to 18 years.  Many of them were born with disabilities and were therefore left on the doorstep of the temple when the family found the care beyond their means and capabilities.  This visit carried on the focus of those with less opportunities and resources in Vietnam.

In the afternoon, the group went to Hoa Sen University for a formal presentation from both schools about their university programs.  They concluded their evening with dinner at a Vietnamese French-style restaurant, Le Mekong. As planned, the group seemed to be happy with Western food. Through our company's experience with various Executive MBA group (read more about our EMBA trips) any groups can only go so long with traditional food of the countries they visit
2-3 meals a day.  We usually try to add familiar or Western food after the first or second day to help boost up their appetite and give them a break. 

Mekong Delta Visits:

(pictures above) Traveling by boat to the Mekong Delta

In the next 2 days, the group set out to visit and stay overnight with villegers at the Mekong Delta. This trip arrangement to the Delta by Runckel & Associates is always slightly different each time (article on our Home Stay program) depending on the objectives of the universities.

The Mekong Delta, in Southern Vietnam, is made up of 13 provinces with an area of 40,000 square kilometers and over 17 million people.  We focused our stay on the province of Vinh Long which is located between the Tien and Hau rivers (two branches of the Mekong River) about 130 Kilometers South of Ho Chi Minh City.  This area gives the visitor a true taste to the tropical splendor that is Vietnam and allows the traveler to see how much of Vietnam’s population, lives, works and prosperity takes place near rivers and waterways as most people in Vietnam make their living in agriculture and this is a hub for this activity.
On the first day at the Delta, the group had a chance to cross the Co Chien River, a tributary of the mighty Mekong, and tour An Binh and Binh Hoa Phuoc Islands with their large networks of meandering rivers and canals.
In their meandering journey through the canals and byways, they stopped at a local market and visited a small family operation making popped rice sweets, coconut candy and other treats.

(pictures aboves) The first day's visit to the sweet factory; and the next day to the brick factory.
(pictures below) Visit to an elementary school in the Mekong Delta area.

The group had
Mekong-style lunch at a over-hundred-year-old French colonial home, once the home of a wealthy landowner. Today it is owned by descendants of the family.  After lunch, the group traveled by boat to a small elementary school to exchange information about education and give the students elementary school supplies. "The majority of these young students had never met “foreigners” before," Prof. Eder mentioned; therefore their visit and donation really gave the elementary school students a new experience.  Lastly, the group visited Mr. Tiger’s plant nursery where they saw how varieties of local fruit trees are grown. Mr. Tiger is a 90 year-old man who had served in both of the last two wars in Vietnam and now is running a fruit farm.

(pictures above) At the home stay, even though rustic, but also very clean and comfortable, with mosquito nets and warm food. (picture below) The students enjoyed themselves; and right, highlighted fish dish.

The next day, the Rider group visited a local Health Clinic.  This clinic is used by villagers for simple medical requirements all the way up to births.  Dr. Scot Eder had kindly prepared a big box of basic medicines and other supplies for the clinic.  The clinic and the village really appreciated his generosity.   Then, the group stopped by
a brick factory and porcelain pot and decorative item kiln that produces items both for domestic and foreign consumption.  This concluded the Mekong Delta's trip.  The boat took them back to Caibe where we arranged for a bus to wait.  The bus was quiet on the way back as everyone enjoyed the air conditioning and napped as most didn't get much sleep the night before as they were too excited and enjoyed talking too late with their new student friends from Vietnam who had joined the trip.

(pictures above) The next day's boat trip and
right, Dr. Scott Eder showed the clinic how to use the supplies he donated to them

Microcredit and Microbusinesses in Vietnam:

The next day after the Mekong Delta visit was a Saturday.  We arranged for two excellent guest speakers at Hoa Sen University for the Rider group: one was from the Environmental Development Action in the Third World (ENDA), Mr. Khai, who spoke about his organization and their work throughout Vietnam. ENDA is an international organization with HQ in Senegal, Africa, and has been working on community development projects in Vietnam for over a decade. In co-operation with local Vietnamese government authorities and social associations their mission is to work with poor local communities and disadvantaged groups to address their needs for community-based socio-economic and environmental improvement projects;  This organization is making a difference in Vietnam. Another speaker was from
Disabilities Resource and Development(DRD), Ms. Yen Vo, Director DRD.  After the talks, the students from both sides (U.S. and Vietnam) engaged in team and collaboration projects.  For lunch, they went out to lunch at a "western" restaurant, such as KFC or Pizza Hut. "It was fun for the US students to have an American fast food meal with the Vietnamese friends, and also to see the localization of these fast food enterprises in Vietnam," said Prof. Eder in her blog. Lastly, the Rider group concluded with a visit to an art gallery/school that supports the work of the hearing impaired.

(pictures above) City tour on Sunday. 

(pictures left) Dr. Lauren Eder gave a presentation at the Access American Education (AAE) office in Ho Chi Minh City.

Sunday, the group had a free day.  We arranged for a short half-day of sight-seeing by cyclo to the Notre Dame Cathedral, the old Post Office, and the Emperor Jade Pagoda.  The students took off on their own in the afternoon while Prof. Lauren Eder was invited to give a talk to some families interested in learning more about studying abroad in the U.S. arranged by the Access American Education (AAE) (www.AccessAmericanEducationLLC.com). She answered questions and talked about Rider University to the students.  Vietnam is one of the fastest developing markets for U.S. eduation and now rates 9th in terms of international students studying in the U.S.  Organizations such as AAE are leading the way in professionally introducing U.S. Universities.

(pictures above and below) At the workshops

On Monday, the group returned the focus to microfinance, and the group listened to an overview of poverty in Vietnam by Professor Quoc, an HSU professor, who also discussed the value that microcredit can have to Vietnam's poor, estimated at about 29% of the total population and living mainly in the rural areas. Next, Prof. Eder provided a lecture on the foundation of microfinance and microcredit to give a better understanding to everyone in the group and led the workshop. Then, this was followed by an excellent presentation by Co Ba. Co Ba, a Vietnamese social worker, has successfully been managing microcredit projects in Vietnam for 17 years through the support of the Notre Dame Church.

(pictures above) Stuents working together and: right, Professor Quoc and Van Anh (HSU)

The next day, the group began another session at the HSU campus. It was their last day; however, some of the group members had symptoms of food-poisoning, but many recovered and came back to the full program by the afternoon.  We've experienced that no matter how much the plan for food and restaurants were carefully planned out ahead of time and no matter the class of restaurants visited, the travellers themselves must be aware at all times of the food they eat - rule of thumb, boiled or grilled, hot food are best - avoid cold, raw and undercooked foods.  This day, Prof. Eder who has vast experience with large U.S. companies introduced the teams to several interactive professional skills activities which are the types of exercises typically conducted in American corporate training programs to engage participants in active learning to improve skills such as negotiating, conflict management, leadership, and intercultural awareness.  This introduction was appreciated greatly by the Vietnamese side and was a great way to round out their learning together. They then gave out certificates which were awarded to all of the participating students and symbolized their good collaborative work together.

At night, the group had a farewell dinner at the Blue Ginger restaurant. "Overall, I think our program was very successful. A lot of great learning took place inside and outside the classroom. Knowledge about different cultures and new friendships blossomed. Greater insight about poverty and meaningful ways to empower people to remove themselves from poverty resulted among students and faculty alike. Finally, the seeds have been planted for the beginning of a new microcredit fund project that everyone can feel proud to have contributed to. The outcomes from the first International Collaborative Service Learning Program at Rider have not only met but exceeded expectations. I believe many of the students from both HSU and Rider would agree!", said Prof. Eder in her last blog.

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About the Author:  

Christopher W. Runckel, a former senior US diplomat who served in many counties in Asia, is a graduate of the University of Oregon and Lewis and Clark Law School. He served as Deputy General Counsel of President Gerald Ford’s Presidential Clemency Board. Mr. Runckel is the principal and founder of Runckel & Associates, a Portland, Oregon based consulting company that assists businesses expand business opportunities in Asia. (www.business-in-asia.com)

Until April of 1999, Mr. Runckel was Minister-Counselor of the US Embassy in Beijing, China. Mr. Runckel lived and worked in Thailand for over six years. He was the first permanently assigned U.S. diplomat to return to Vietnam after the Vietnam War. In 1997, he was awarded the U.S. Department of States highest award for service, the Distinguished Honor Award, for his contribution to improving U.S.-Vietnam relations. Mr. Runckel is one of only two non-Ambassadors to receive this award in the 200-year history of the U.S. diplomatic service.



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