When Kinly McCaffery ’18 saw a wall filled with photos of bombing victims of the Vietnam War at the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, she realized that any one of those victims could easily have been her mother.
McCaffery’s mom immigrated from Vietnam to the United States with her family when she was only nine years old to escape the violence of the war.
In September, when McCaffery learned that the next HW Go! Digital Storytelling Adventure would visit Vietnam, she knew she wanted to go to learn more about her mother’s story.
“I learned to appreciate my parents more, especially my mom, because now I have a much better idea of how hard life was when she was a child,” McCaffery said.
McCaffery was one of the 16 students who went on the trip.
The goal was for each student to choose an aspect of Vietnamese culture or history and create a digital media project on their chosen topic.
“Our trips are about not just traveling to a place, but digesting the information they learn there and sharing it with others and in that way paying it forward,” Visual Arts Department Head Cheri Gaulke said. “Students become contributors to society and history by reflecting upon their trip through a digital media project.”
Students explored topics including communism, freedom of speech, local food, the role of women in the war, propaganda during the war and religion.
“I chose to focus on freedom of speech because I wanted to be able to give a voice to the people of Vietnam,” Chance Washburn ’18 said. “Through filming, I learned just how constricting the government is.”
Some students chose to do a photo project rather than a documentary.
“Although it was harder to represent the lives of the people we met through still photos, I’m really glad I chose that as my project because I was able to capture so many amazing moments,” Cameron Welther ’17 said.
Students spent four days in Saigon. While they were there, they all visited the War Remnants museum, the Cu Chi tunnels, the Then, Now & War Museum and the Reunification Palace.
“My favorite part of the trip was visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels,” Nina Milligan ’16 said. “In a time of crisis, the people of this town were so resourceful and resilient. Even though they were going against a well-equipped and trained army, they stood their ground and came out victorious.”
They also spent three days in the Mekong Delta, where they lived with local villagers.
“We rode canoes paddled by Vietnamese countrywomen in blue shirts and the renowned Vietnamese cone-shaped sun hat,” McCaffery said. “We also rode through a tiny slither of a river while enjoying the green reeds and sun surrounding us in the warm weather.”
Students also spent time on the trip reviewing footage, discussing the stories that they were each telling and making sure that each person got the interviews they needed, Gaulke said.
The trip changed many students’ perspectives, not just about Vietnam but about their own lives.
“I realized that many, many people in Vietnam work so much harder than we do,” McCaffery said. “Being a Harvard-Westlake student is nothing compared to being a rice patty farmer in the blazing hot sun in the heart of dry season. Everyone in Vietnam, whether a farmer or street vendor, works for every piece of change they can get.”