It’s been two weeks since I returned to Canada, and I feel that time has never flown by so fast. You are so quickly shocked back into your normal routine that life-changing experiences you had only a short time ago feel like eons away. That’s why I’m especially grateful for the structure of the Leave for Change program, which keeps reminding you to reflect, tell your story, and stay engaged.

It was during a recent wrap-up session that I realized I hadn’t mentioned anything in this blog about the work I was actually doing in Hanoi. Definitely not for lack of interest! Since I’ve returned, people have been so excited by the project that it’s let me look at it in a whole different light. Now I realize that the small goals we were working on thousands of kilometres across the world can still have an impact here – we can make a difference!

Discovery Indochina's plastique waste reduction workshop featuring all of the partner hotel staff
We visited Hòa Bình province, and met the woman who is making bamboo straws for Discovery Indochina. Hopefully the project will grow to create more work opportunities like this!

My project was to help Discovery Indochina, and the Cinnamon Hotel and Mint Cafe which they own and operate, make a shift from single-use plastics to bamboo straws. It was really inspiring to work with an organization that wanted to make change, even if it was an uphill counter-culture battle. Dzung Nguyen, my Hanoian boss, is really a visionary who has so many ideas on how to change the world, one small step at a time. The bamboo straw project was only one of his goals, and I was happy to be able to dedicate some time to try and bring it to fruition.

Working with a team, which included Discovery Indochina staff (the incredibly patient, hardworking, and funny Thuc Anh) and a fellow WUSC volunteer (hi Kooper!), we updated marketing materials, visited farmers and producers, led environmental awareness training, conducted interviews about single-use plastics, and promoted the idea to everyone I talked to about rethinking (and reducing!) plastics wherever possible. My background is in environmental management, and it was so exciting and fulfilling for me to be able to use this side of myself that I don’t get to very often. That might be one of the best opportunities of the Leave for Change program – to build upon past work experience that may not be part of your current job, but is definitely still valuable to partners when in a different context.

A screenshot from our interviews with tourists on how they've perceived single-use plastics while travelling in Vietnam.

This project is certainly not complete, but I am proud of the work that we did together. I know there is a good foundation, and enough drive within the organization to keep it going. As pieces become finalized (for example, the website, bamboo straw store, or documentary), I am happy to share with anyone interested! In the meantime, you can view the interviews on YouTube. The screenshot I chose is of the last (and my favourite) interview of the day, when I happened to meet a couple from Nanoose Bay – about 25km from my hometown here in Canada! What a small, wonderful world it is. The interviews can be seen here:

So, settling back in has been the typical feelings of sad to let go of such a rich experience, and so happy to see friends and family. I’ll admit I was homesick for my Vietnamese life, but found a perfect remedy for me – wandering the aisles at Fairway Market! It seems so silly, but just seeing all the Vietnamese food labels and feeling that sense of being slightly lost and not knowing how to read anything was really comforting. I’m grateful to live in a place where we have grocery stores like this, and you can access foods from around the world fairly easily. I shared my favourite foods with friends and cooked a big dinner party, Vietnamese style, and for a while it felt like my Hanoian life again!

I made my favourite Vietnamese (vegetarian) dishes for friends - gỏi cuốn (spring rolls), bánh xèo (Vietnamese crepes), Đậu hũ sốt cà (fried tofu and tomato), rau muống xào tỏ (steamed spinach with garlic), món gỏi đu đủ (green papaya salad) - and rice, of course.