Student converts Davis Project for Peace grant into rainforest education

This past summer, Duy Ha ’14 spent two months educating students in Vietnam about the rainforest.

The venture was made possible by the Davis Project for Peace grant, which awards $10,000 to students with the most promising summer project proposals that promote peace and display innovation and entrepreneurship. Two St. Olaf students, Ha and Love Odetola ’14, received the grant last spring.

Ha dubbed his project “Rung Oi!”, a Vietnamese phrase meaning “Hi, Forest!” The friendly greeting is meant to connect project participants with the forest on a more personal level.

“We want them to feel how close they are to the rainforest. Every time someone talks about our project, they are making a direct connection with the forest by calling it like they do with friends,” Ha said.

Ha worked with the Piper Center for Vocation and Career to develop a proposal, sending out a market survey and gathering endorsements from Vietnamese organizations. The final product was a two-month program to educate Vietnamese youth about rainforest conservation.

Rung Oi! involved two phases: an education month and an exploration camp. The goal of the two-month program was to provide awareness and experiential learning opportunities about the rainforest to Vietnamese students. The project also aimed to create support for future rainforest-related community initiatives.

“We hope that from these ideas they will be empowered to do even more projects in the future,” Ha said.

Ha and a team of 20 students from the U.S. and U.K. selected 400 students out of 720 applicants to participate in the education month. Another 50 student leaders participated in the exploration camp, where they took field trips to national parks and developed leadership skills.

The program received a slew of attention from the Vietnamese media; more than 35 media outlets covered the project. The coverage included 12 news articles and 12 television broadcasts over Rung Oi!’s duration. The project’s Facebook page has garnered nearly 3,000 “likes.”

“I was impressed with how a simple project can make so much of a difference for students. There’s an abundance of these projects [in the U.S.], but not so much in other countries,” Ha said.

Originally from Vietnam, Ha hopes to return to his home country and continue sustainability and education efforts in the future. He encourages fellow Oles to pursue similar goals.

Ha found inspiration for his project while observing the communities living near rainforests while studying abroad in Costa Rica. He hopes his sustainability initiatives will have an impact beyond his work in Vietnam.

“People in undergraduate schools are able to do a lot of things they don’t think they can. They can make a lot of difference in other people’s lives. It would be great if everyone would just try it out and see what they can do for the people around them,” Ha said.

Many prestigious grants come in amounts under $3,000, and Ha appreciates the value of a $10,000 sum and what it can do to empower a community.

“If you have a chance to apply for a $10,000 grant, definitely do it,” Ha said. “You might not get another chance after St. Olaf, and you can make a huge difference.”

Photo Courtesy of Duy Ha 14

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