To be honest, coming for this trip was a whirlwind decision for me. I had zero filming experience whatsoever, had never touched a camcorder in my life and did not have much of an attachment to Vietnam to speak of. But that was exactly the reason why I decided to take a leap of faith and apply for the programme: because I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and try something completely crazy and new.
So I started the trip with an open mind and no expectations at all, and all I hoped was that I would gain some basic filming experience and have an enjoyable time. However, oh boy was I in for a surprise: it was interesting to see how the trip quickly became much more than just fun and games.
Before I embarked on the trip, many of my friends asked me: "So what exactly are you going to do on this trip?" And I would struggle to produce a fluent reply, mumbling something along the lines of learning film-making and doing community work, but never really able to connect the dots between the two. However, on this trip, I learnt that as different as the two might sound, they are in fact intertwined. From conceptualizing the film, to the film screening where members of the audience came up to us and told us how moved they were by our films, I have learnt that if a picture can tell a thousand words, then a motion picture, comprised of thousands of pictures, can depict an entire story. Being tasked to bring back the stories of the Vi Thuy villagers to raise awareness seemed mammoth initially, but it all changes when you step in to look at things from their perspective.
This sparked the idea for my team’s film, aptly entitled “Second Glance”, which traced many of the personal experiences we underwent on this trip and eventually, how we came about having a change in mindset. We visited so many places and families, like the betel leaf farm, the fish farm and the mayor and his wife, that it was easy to be caught up in them and appreciate them from an outsider’s point of view – detached and superficial – that you fail to question the real human stories behind. This birthed forth many film ideas for other teams as well, where one team chose to put the support for the elderly and disabled in the village under the microscope through in-depth interviews, while another team took the opposite approach and produced a silent film comprising of behind-the-scenes shots of the village; shots that many often neglect but in fact, can tell a story of its own.
It is easy to have many ideas in your head, but actually executing them can be the trickiest bit. We were privileged to work with Jeanine Lim, a local filmmaker with years of experience under her belt, who taught us how to transform those "head" ideas into action in front of the camera. With the help of the other facilitators on the trip - Shin, Mark and Eddy - we were then able to piece them together to form a coherent documentary.
However, now with the film in hand, what good is it if it is not used to bless the villagers in return? For that, we had the honor of working with Project Give Pray Love, a charity project started by Jeanine and her mother, Monique to help the Vietnamese poor by donating necessities to them; as well as Anh Duong, a local non-governmental organization (NGO) that helped farmers and special-needs children by creating unique educational curriculums catered to their needs. Hence, as a team, we decided to donate the money earned from our fundraisers to them as we felt they were causes worth supporting.
I was very blessed to have such a supportive and fun-loving team that I can now call my friends that went along for this trip. One of my favourite memories of the trip was when ten of the girls shared one big dormitory in Ho Chi Minh and huddled together at the end of the day to discuss our takeaways from the day, including out shopping loots! Another heartwarming moment for me would also be on one of the days of the trip where I fell ill. I was touched at how everyone was genuinely concerned about me, and looked out for me in the following days. As one big team, we had also seen each other go through tough times like pulling all-nighters just to get the final film done, and also supported each other by volunteering to go out and buy back some excellent ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee). I daresay that if I went with a different team, the entire experience would have been totally different.
On hindsight, I definitely have no regrets signing up for this trip. It met my expectations of picking up a new skill and having fun, and definitely exceeded them by leaps and bounds. It is amazing how we thought we went to Vietnam to bless the poor, but in the end, we were the ones who gained so much – be it the memories, friends and changes in perspectives. I thought I was there to film for good, but in the end, I was changed for good.