The Vietnam War took a massive toll on Vietnam and its people, almost sending the country back to the stone age. Lasting for 20 years, the conflict took the lives of around three million people, mostly Vietnamese civilians, and had enduring effects on so many more. Years of American bombing and defoliation caused inestimable damage to farmland and infrastructure, having an immense economic affect. Following the war, Vietnam has received large amounts of international aid to help rebuild the crippled country.
Today, a booming population is placing large pressure on ageing infrastructure, as well as water systems, with over 60% of people in rural areas without access to clean water. As a training engineer, I would be able to provide some assistance in these areas by working with those in rural areas to plan and build a water delivery system. Even if it is as simple as laying pipes and allowing water to flow with gravity from rivers to the low lying communities, this would at least give them access to fresh water.
However, for this type of international engagement to be meaningful I believe there has to be a level of teaching as well as building the infrastructure itself. This idea is evident in the Engineers Without Borders constitution, a company that endeavours to supply engineering solutions directed towards both the prevention and alleviation of poverty, and the advancement of education and training in relation to engineering skills and technology.
When travelling it is important to have the idea of meaningful international engagement in the back of your mind and to be careful in choosing where you direct your aid. For example ‘orphanage tourism’ is a rising issue in Vietnam and Cambodia where the Western desire to help abandoned children is fostering a grotesque market that capitalises on their concerns.