Yesterday was my eighth art class taught at the Anh Linh free school. I will complete two more after a break of two weeks. Next week, the whole school will be occupied by a project run by a group of students from Singapore and I will not be able to do my class; the following week I will be travelling in Hanoi and Luang Prabang with my mum, Jessica and Crystal. I will return to the school on the ninth of April.
I decided to make yesterday's lesson Easter-themed as I will not be at the school over the actual Easter period. Cautious not to seem like some kind of white missionary (although the school is funded by a Catholic church), I diverted around the religious origins of this festival and told the kids: "Easter is the celebration of spring; it is all about bunny rabbits, lambs, eggs and flowers". This surely resonates with the Vietnamese Tet celebrations that occur in January/February to mark the lunar new year and the coming of springtime, and the kids picked up on the idea straight away. One girl even unconsciously, but neatly, confused the two celebrations by writing 'Happy Eastet'. This made me smile.
Usually I would give the students a specific task to do in these lessons but considering the wide breadth of Easter craft ideas available on the world wide web, I printed off a page with several ideas (cardboard Easter eggs, paper daffodils, greetings cards featuring sheep and bunnies made with cotton wool balls) to give to the kids for inspiration and dumped a mound of cardboard, coloured and white card, tape, string, ribbons, glitter glue, paints, coloured pencils, cotton wool and wooden sticks on the floor for them to make use of. They seemed initially hesitant about what they were supposed to do but soon the more assertive students put their hands into the air and eventually all of them were getting stuck in.
Kim Ngoc, the school's headteacher who was acting as a translator for me, told me that the children love drawing but they always forget how much they do until they come to this class. Although the school has an adequate supply of art materials, the children are not taught art as part of the curriculum and, Kim Ngoc told me, do not have the opportunity to use these materials in their free time, such as playtimes and after school. After I finish my classes at the school they will probably not have the opportunity to do any more arts and crafts until another volunteer comes along willing to organise something. I feel torn between a desire to do more to help the school and the need to prioritise my own work in the time I have remaining in the country. I had only planned to do twenty hours' charity work and will have filled this quota after another two classes; nonetheless it will be sad to say goodbye to the kids and I will feel guilty in necessitating an end to their opportunity to do arts and crafts for the immediate future. One boy told me on Tuesday that he wants to be a painter, but, as a child from a poor background as all of these children are, I don't know how he will have the opportunity to develop his artistic skills if not through school.
Most of the children produced either greetings cards or cardboard Easter eggs and they looked very nice. I was pleased to see them using their own creative instincts with the supplies I had made available for them. Some strung their Easter eggs up with ribbon whilst others attached them to a wooden stick, just as we had done when we made masks.