Coming Together in Hope

United by a common desire to help, CapitaLand staff from around the world joined hearts and hands to volunteer at its first Hope School in Vietnam

Issue: Nov 2011

From different countries and offices within CapitaLand, yet connected by a single vision of providing hope of a better future to these Vietnamese children
From different countries and offices within CapitaLand, yet connected by a single vision of providing hope of a better future to these Vietnamese children

As the bus made its way along the mountainous roads of Phu Tho Province, 130km north of Hanoi, Vietnam, an unlikely sight rose to greet it. A spanking new two-storey building stands in solitary contrast to the green overgrowth around. This is CapitaLand Nang Yen Primary Hope School, the first CapitaLand Hope School in Vietnam. 40 staff volunteers from CapitaLand's offices in Vietnam, Singapore, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and the Philippines had come to lend their labour and love to the students and to complete the final phases of their school's refurbishments.

Nan Yen Primary School, built in 1975, had become rundown and in need of refurbishment
Nan Yen Primary School, built in 1975, had become rundown and in need of refurbishment

Nang Yen Primary School, built in 1975, was the poorest school in Phu Tho Province, one of Vietnam's most impoverished mountainous provinces. "There are 10 classes in total, from grade one to five, but only nine classrooms for the 165 pupils. Some pupils had to make use of a makeshift classroom - made out of leaves - for their lessons," said Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh, Human Resource and Administration Executive of CapitaLand Vietnam Holdings who helped organised the volunteer expedition. "They had no indoor area for extra activities and no proper school yard for outdoor activities."

In May this year, CapitaLand Hope Foundation (CHF) jointly pledged 3.3 billion VND with the People's Committee of Thanh Ba District to contribute towards the building of a new two-storey school block with new classrooms, a library-cum-reading room, upgrading of facilities and providing equipment for outdoor activities.

Volunteers paving the yard in the rain

Volunteers paving the yard in the rain
Despite a torrential downpour one afternoon, the volunteers continued with their paving work and formed a human chain to pass the tiles

Building for Little People

By September, the new school building had been completed. But the upgrading project was by no means finished. The grounds around the school were nothing but dirt and had to be paved to create a school yard for outdoor activities. The vegetation around needed to be tamed and landscaped to create a green space. The school had been vacated since June for the construction. Existing classrooms had to be cleaned to get the place ready for the new school term in October. Staff volunteers were grouped into eight teams to complete these tasks.

In addition to the daily gruelling, bumpy two-hour bus ride to the school, volunteers also braved the hot sun and on one particular day, torrential rain. The unpredictable weather conditions made it very challenging for teams assigned to paving work. Although heavy tiles had to be hauled quite a distance from the truck to the yard but teamwork, rather than complaints, was first on the volunteers' minds.

"We formed a human supply chain to deliver the tiles to where the work had to be done and volunteers that had completed their assigned tasks would spontaneously join the chain," said Goh Mui Siew, Financial Controller of CapitaLand China Holdings, South China.

And from mixing sand and cement for paving walkway to loosening the soil for landscaping, all the work was done without the benefit of modern machinery.

Student and handprint on mural
A student planted his hand print on the wall mural to form the leaf of the tree

The children were taught the basics of basketball
The children were taught the basics of basketball

Beautifying the School

For most teams, task planning had started before the expedition. Esther Huang,
Corporate Communications Senior Executive from CapitaMalls Asia (China), whose team was involved in the painting of the school and design of a wall mural said, "[Because we were from different countries], we communicated via conference calls to brainstorm. We wanted something that would liven up the environment and motivate them to study. So we decided on bilingual key words like 'learn', 'play', 'grow', and 'love'. One of our team members came up with the idea of a tree with handprints from both the volunteers and the children," said Huang.

Including the children in the painting of the mural was another thing Huang particularly enjoyed. "Seeing the faces of the kids with brightly lit smiles when they planted their handprints on the tree was a priceless experience," she exclaimed. Truly, these colourful handprints on the wall mural would always be fondly remembered as a collaboration of love between the volunteers and the children.

Bonding with the Students

Part of the plan for the expedition was for the volunteers to interact with the students through educational and outdoor activities. The teams organised origami, balloon sculpting lessons, clay moulding along with sand and pastel painting sessions, giving the children an opportunity at picking new arts and crafts skills. New songs were also taught to the children. When it came to outdoor games such as street soccer, badminton, basketball and other traditional children's games, the children took to them easily.

"They were so attentive and so eager to start the games even before I blew the whistle! The kids seemed to love us, the games and the prizes," said Sandy Tran Mai Anh, Investment & Asset Management Executive from CapitaLand Vietnam Holdings.

10-year-old boy & grandmother at home visit
Despite his tragic life story, the 10-year-old boy impressed the volunteers with his indomitable spirit.

But what was most sobering and connected most with the volunteers were the home visits.

"It was humbling to meet a nine-year-old student who stayed with his four-year-old brother that cannot walk properly due to an injury and his elderly grandparents in their 80s and 90s. They still live happily despite the not-so-decent living conditions," said Victor Wong, Director of Global Sales from The Ascott Limited.

Bringing practical gifts like warm blankets, a child's jacket, a study lamp and stationary for the home visit, fellow volunteer, Sharon Sng, Senior Vice President of Corporate Finance, CapitaLand Limited, was similarly moved by the 10-year-old student she visited and his indomitable spirit despite his tragic life story. His mother abandoned the family when he was just six months old. Unable to cope, his father sent his older brother to live with a relative and the two boys had not seen each other since. He was raised by his grandmother and father, who unfortunately passed away five years ago. Orphaned, he and his grandmother live on state welfare and the assistance of equally relatives.

"He clearly relished gifts we brought like the lamp and the pen. We have great hopes and aspirations for the boy who displays emotional maturity above his year because of his circumstances. We really hope he perseveres and succeeds in life. I think he was touched [by our gesture] because he started crying as we were saying our goodbyes, which made it even more emotional," said Sng.

Booking a Spot in the Library

In addition to the 1,000 books purchased for the new library, the volunteers managed to bring along another 207 English books for the children. These books, each priced at a subsidised rate of S$3, were donated by kind-hearted office tenants and staff of CapitaLand during CHF's "Gift-A-Book, Share-The-Love" charity book fairs, held at Capital Tower and Six Battery Road in Singapore.

Despite coming from different countries and offices within CapitaLand, the staff volunteers were connected by a single vision to bring cheer and charity for the children. And in so doing, they had discovered a camaraderie born of a common hope for the future generation.

To view more photos on this volunteer expedition, please visit


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