If you are reading this article, take note it is Part 2 of my previous Part 1 story. You can read Part 1 here – Volunteer Videographer for a Children’s Mission in Vietnam – Part 1. It is about my first volunteer project in Vietnam as a videographer in March 2014. On the closing day of that 3-week project, I was struck with a serendipitous call to return. I came to capture a video about how this charity delivers its program. Instead, and a bonus, I walked into my own story. 

And so, 18 months later, in August 2015, with extra video gear, many ideas, and a rough storyboard in mind, I was back to capture my story in a video documentary for our local TV station. If you already read Part 1 then welcome back. Otherwise, please read Part 1 to get the full background upon which this article grows; the story of my return – “Untold Story – Return to Tra Vinh”.

Driving in Mekong delta outside of Tra Vinh
Driving in Mekong delta outside of Tra Vinh

Our 1 hour drive in our TEAM van due south from the city of Tra Vinh into the rural Mekong Delta on narrow roads where passing becomes tricky and only at certain spots of this road.

Our Canadian volunteers flew in from different parts of western Canada and we all met at the Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) airport. That’s where our team building began as we grouped, met and continued onward to our hotel in downtown Saigon. Some of us have never met before, until now, to present the first-ever, 4-day Cerebral Palsy Conference, for professionals and caregivers at the Seagull Hotel in Quy Nhon, Vietnam. With many local volunteer professionals, No Ordinary Journey Foundation, organized, staffed and delivered this conference in Sept 2015. This conference was for approximately 100 health care professionals involved in the care of children with Cerebral Palsy (CP). No Ordinary Journey Foundation, is a registered Canadian charity that is revolutionizing the care, treatment, understanding and acceptance of children living with Cerebral Palsy in South East Asia and around the world.

This conference was the brainchild of Laverne Bissky, founder and CEO of the children’s charity NOJ Foundation. I was on her first Vietnam project in March 2014 and she was gracious in asking me to return with her team for this 4-day cerebral palsy conference, not only as their videographer, but to also video and create my documentary story - Untold Story - Return to Tra Vinh - to share with you now.

But before this conference would begin, my documentary project took our entire team, while we were still fresh, onto the 8-hour scenic drive due south into the heart of the Mekong Delta and the city of Tra Vinh. Visitation of the locals required previous approval and with the most gracious assistance of our local volunteers, we were cleared for our visit to see Canh, the 16-year old boy who was born with severe cerebral palsy (CP) and received a wheelchair donation from my wife and I.

As he was selected to receive the wheelchair donation on the last day of the March 2014 project, we did not get to see Canh use it. This wheelchair, like many for children with Cerebral Palsy, has to be custom built, taking a minimum of 2 weeks. So this visit would close that loop where I witnessed firsthand how Canh and his family were benefiting from his wheelchair.

Getting onto motorbikes for last segment to canh place
Getting onto motorbikes for last segment to canh place

After the 1 hour drive from Tra Vinh our team had to disembark and buddy-up with a motorbike for the last 15 minutes travel on concrete back roads barely 4 feet wide.

The next morning, Sunday, after an early breakfast, our team packed into our rented van for the final 1-hour drive into the lush Mekong countryside, barely above sea level, outside of Tra Vinh. When we arrived at our transition point, our team of 10 buddied-up with their hired motorbikes and drivers. The final leg to Canh’s place was a narrow concrete backstreet, 5 feet in width, that took about 15 minutes. Then off our bikes, a balancing hike on a wobbly monkey bridge over a stagnant drainage of brown Mekong runoff and onto a grassy path of several hundred feet to finally arrive at their flat hard packed yard and 2 room grass-walled, tin roof house.

Whew! Getting to Canh’s house certainly was a docu drama all in itself. Visions of mass commotion at my filming location, with people tripping over each other as they absorbed the sights and aspects, was what I feared. I was starting to worry. I planned this documentary for over a year and came a long way, to capture enough video for a completed 30 min documentary. In this documentary,  I wanted to capture the drama and serenity of my visit to Canh’s homestead, as if it was just myself, Canh and his family.

Backroads in Mekong delta meant for motorbikes
Backroads in Mekong delta meant for motorbikes

I was leading our motorbike entourage, balancing my selfie stick, trying not to fall off while our team follows behind through the lush growth and arrid waterways of the scenic Mekong Delta being near sea level.

Either I go in first for my hour of filming or our team goes in first for their exploration, after which I will be left alone for my hour of narrative filming. I had several storyboard visions of what narrative I wanted to capture. I had to capture all takes and angles to have more to choose from during my editing that took place back in Canada after we left. Considering how far it was to get here, I couldn’t just come back tomorrow to redo any scenes. I had only one shot at this. So I had to make it good the first time. 

Entrance to canh plave over monkey bridge
Entrance to canh plave over monkey bridge

After we disembark from our motorbike procession, the last hurdle to Canh’s place is this rickety monkey bridge which I had visions of slipping and falling off into the murky brown waters below. This would certainly be a bad way to have started this documentary, with no change of clothes with me.

So I ran both scenarios past Laverne. To appear solo and not have my video cluttered with our team making the set look like a flea market or paparazzi fest, I suggested I go in first. We went with that. In every segment, as I walked in, I knew what narrative I wanted to capture, speaking into the camera that I was holding myself, on a selfie stick. And there were the occasional interruptions of our team pulling me this way and that way, “Terry, you got to come to see this” that caused me to redo several narratives. It brought back memories of the sheer panic of on-location videotaping and the blessings of how well it eventually all came together.

Being mid-day, full sun, no wind and near 100% humidity, it only added to my self initiated, “1-man-show” anxiety. I was nearly passing out. You can hear it clearly in my voice for my opening narrative. I certainly still feel it, several years later watching my doc, as if it were yesterday. This was the classic “Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown” filming scenario. 

Despite all my plans, scripts, narrative and visions for scenes, it all came down to “1-take only” with no repeats, adjusting, on-the-fly to real-life situations and settings I had no control over, from beginning to end. I just let my camera run, to prevent me missing a shot by forgetting to turn it on. Most certainly I can fully appreciate and respect having a complete video production team so each can focus on their area, and let me just deliver the narrative. Today, such was not the case for me.

Finally seeing canh wheelchair
Finally seeing canh wheelchair

After 18 months I finally get to see Canh with his wheelchair inside his family home. It was a good feeling to finally close the loop to see how the wheelchair helps him and his family inside their house and around their yard.

I was constantly scanning, with peripheral vision, where our team was on the live set so I could squeeze in a solitary narrative of the video I was capturing, without them in the background. There were the ducks quacking in the water and chickens running loose in their yard. Their immediate family men folk were inside their house visiting. Their women folk were behind their house outside hacking up their harvested coconuts. On top of that, I was always mentally assembling in my mind what informative storyline narrative I could say next, that would be of interest to you, the viewer. When you are a 1-man band doing everything, there are these pressures and decisions you make on-the-fly and contend with, as they surface. And I did. This is real life!

Final commentary back yard coconuts
Final commentary back yard coconuts

With most of the video capture done and getting all the narrative I wanted, I finally spoke in a relaxed and very joyful tone in the backyard in front of the coconut harvesting while Laverne asks me some good pointed questions about doing good and helping others, as her charity No Ordinary Journey Foundation does.

Overall, the videotaping worked out as well as I could have wanted; better than I dreamed. And for the closing narrative, a blessing was when Laverne saw me kneeling in front of the ladies hacking up coconuts with machete's flying, just 2 feet behind me as I knelt and balanced with my selfie stick. Laverne quickly grabbed my camera, became moderator and asked me several appropriately pointed questions about doing good and what her charity, No Ordinary Journey Foundation has contributed here in Vietnam to the children living with cerebral palsy (CP) and their caregiver family support teams.

final-farewell-to-canh-as-we-leave-pic7

I am last to bid farewell to Canh in his wheelchair outside his house as our team prepares to leave after a successful 2 hour visit on what felt was the hottest and most humid day of the year.

So a big thank-you to Laverne, her volunteer team, and her charity No Ordinary Journey Foundation. It was another rewarding, enriching, educational and fun project to travel and work with her team across Vietnam, doing good in helping children with cerebral palsy.

Being on both volunteer projects of March 2014 and August 2015 as a videographer opened my eyes to Vietnam, its people, culture, food, and way of life. I highly recommend the many sights of Vietnam and hope to return soon to do more travel, if not videography for another project or charity. 

Video connects documentary Tra Vinh Vietnam
Video connects documentary Tra Vinh Vietnam

The end to a successful visit and on-location video shoot – a group shot with our NOJF volunteer team and Canh’s (front row in wheelchair) immediate and extended family.

To learn more about Terry’s background and journey that led up to the discovery of his life’s purpose and mission, check out his 5-part documentary - Untold Story - Return to Tra Vinh - either in whole or 5 chapters in sequence at Video-Connects on Youtube

Looking for a videographer for a project in Vietnam? Get in touch with Terry.

Terry is a speaker, presenter, writer and videographer. He curates his Soft Skills articles at TDKtalks Soft Skills. His storytelling videography can be found at Video-Connects.com. You can also connect with Terry via social media

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