For nearly a decade I have been fortunate to be a part of a community based tourism project through Capilano University. I have worked on this transformational project in Vietnam in varying capacities and have many people to thank.

Sapa's inspiring terraced landscape.
In northern Vietnam there is a (in)famous tourist destination known as Sapa. Inspiring terraced landscape, cool climate and colourful culture is easily accessible via overnight train. For one hundred years visitors have frequented Sapa. Tourism is here to stay.

The ‘CBT Vietnam’ project emerged from a trip to Sapa by a group from Hanoi Open University (Vietnam), Capilano University (Canada) and North Island College (Canada). Dr. Geoffrey Bird led an initial five-year project supported by the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. The project focused on skills-based training in the villages of Tavan and Taphin. Volunteer students and faculty from partner schools developed and delivered training primarily to local women. The goal was to create new opportunities for employment, develop a more sustainable form of tourism, and increase quality of life.

I was a student volunteer on the project who was changed by the experience. In fact, I took a leave from my studies and moved to Vietnam to travel and work in tourism. I was inspired.

Speaking with Khu in Lao Chai.
Two years after the project had completed I visited Taphin village and some of the locals. We discussed the idea of another project. Planning, entrepreneurship, network building, collective marketing and mutually beneficial partnerships were themes that would eventually lead to a series of projects generously supported by the PATA Foundation. The projects continue to bring Vietnamese and Canadian volunteer students together in the delivery of community tourism learning programs.

Some of the stars: Taryn, Stephanie, Jase and Kyle.
My current role as a project lead, and the successes it brings, is the product of the hard work of many. I am thankful for those who have continued to selflessly put forth their time and effort. Instructors and Deans, Stephanie Wells, Jen Reilly, Kim McLeod, Dr. Chris Bottrill, Casey Dorin, Ms. Ngoc Anh and Ms. Que have been instrumental in making these projects happen. The countless students that have been on the CBT Vietnam project are the heroes and heroines. Our stars. In the field they have excelled. They have been the energy and the true grit of the project. 

In a training workshop. Ms. Ly Man May is pictured second from the left. 
But the people that deserve the most appreciation are those from the villages. They have inspired us all. Tearful goodbyes when we depart from a project trip are testament that we are more than partners in the experience. This community development project is not an ‘us’ and ‘them’ case study. People like Ms. Ly Man May in Taphin, Ms. Soi in Tavan and Ms. Mai in Lao Chai are some of the individuals that deserve all the credit. These resilient, thoughtful women have trusted and welcomed us into their homes. 

When you go to Sapa you might have the opportunity to stay with some of these women. Learn from them like we have, and when you leave, be sure to thank them in their language.