Project Hua Tat // Empowering Vietnam - A filmmaker's perspective

Project Hua Tat is a overseas community service project (OCSP) jointly organized by Students of Singapore Management University and Actxplorer.

Situated over 800 metres above sea level on the Moc Chau Plateau in Northern Vietnam, Hua Tat Village is Home to 150 families of the Hmong people of Vietnam. Actxplorer recognizes the potential for tourism at Hua Tat and has jointly worked with Singapore Management University (SMU) students to design skills and infrastructural upgrades to help Hua Tat reach it’s full potential.
— Actxplorer
The Project Hua Tat team

The Project Hua Tat team

It isn’t often we get to escape from the confines of our everyday lives, and it’s even less often we get to truly break free from the bonds of society, and to really experience life in its purest form. This April, I was extremely fortunate to be given the opportunity to provide media coverage for Project Hua Tat II, an overseas community service project (OCSP) aimed at providing economic empowerment to the residents of Hua Tat Village, Vietnam.

Upon arrival at Hua Tat Village, we were instantly invigorated by the freshness of the air and cool climate. Situated 800 meters above sea level, it was a far cry from the sweltering heat and crowd one would normally associate with Hanoi. The alluring mountainscapes flanking the village and the wispy stratus clouds kissing the mountain peaks, paint a picturesque image of serenity and tranquility. Within moments, it was as if all our problems had disappeared, left far behind in bustling Hanoi.

Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by our host, and village home-stay owner, Trang A Long. It was a breath of fresh air witnessing, first hand, the warmness and sincerity of the locals. For our first dinner at A Chu Homestay in Hua Tat, we were presented with a lavish spread of assorted meats and freshly grown vegetables. Going in with minimal expectations, we were pleasantly surprised with the quality and variety of the food served to us.

A mother teaching her daughter embroidery

A mother teaching her daughter embroidery

// Sights and Sounds //

Upon daybreak, the team set off on their respective tasks. Camera in hand, I was promptly overwhelmed with the sheer exquisiteness of the landscape. Every angle presented beautiful frames for photography. It seemed impossible to take a dull photo here. The affectionate and cordial villagers were also intrigued by technology and were eager to have their photos taken, enthusiastically posing whenever a camera was pointed vaguely in their direction. It really was a photographer’s paradise.

The sheer exuberance and genuine joy the locals displayed was infectious, and it was difficult not to feel energized.

As the sun slowly disappeared below the horizon, the surrounding mountains lit up imposingly under the glorious evening rays and wafting clouds. It was truly a sight to behold. To do justice to the scene, I opted to fly my drone towards to sunset, allowing me to obtain some incredible imagery of the valley and grassy basin.

Mountains at sunset

// The Climb //

The following day, we embarked on a trek up the surrounding hills. The cool breeze, together with the crisp mountain air, filled our lungs with virility. After a rather challenging hike, we slowly approached the crest and were greeted with an awe-inspiring view overlooking the village and the neighboring basin.

It was truly breathtaking.

Overlooking Hua Tat Village

Overlooking Hua Tat Village

While we struggled to scale the rocky inclines and deep ridges, the locals seemingly had no issues and were, both figuratively and literally, running circles around us. Even the children, bare feet exposed and armed with heavy rucksacks, had no difficulty navigating the onerous paths. It was mortifying just how unfit and sedentary our lifestyles back home was.

Kid with goat

// The Locals //

Despite the jaw dropping sights and sounds, the highlight of the trip was, without doubt, the people. As social creatures, we crave human interaction and the camaraderie of people. The locals were some of the warmest, most affectionate people I’ve met. From the moment we arrived in their quaint little world, to the day we left teary-eyed, these people showed us nothing but unrestrained warmness and unyielding hospitality. Despite not having much, their willingness to share everything they had, and their unwavering graciousness was heart warming.

The enthusiastic and spirited kids never fail to bring us laughter and joy. Watching their playful banter and beady, innocent eyes was truly a moment for somber reflection… These children didn’t need fanciful toys or iPads to have fun, unlike the children back home. It was life in its simplest, most primal form, and it was a breath of fresh air and a welcomed change of pace. While I have never been overtly fond of kids, it was difficult not to grow fond of these children.

Without exposure to technology, these kids were eager to have their pictures taken, and would hastily swarm around the camera whenever I steadied my arms to take a shot. Their blissful laughter and unburdened happiness led to some incredible footage and photos.

high five

Getting to know the locals and their culture showed such a stark contrast to what we’ve grown accustomed to in hectic Singapore, with everyone out for themselves and keeping to themselves. While we were only there for two weeks, it felt as if we had made friends for life.

Completing the project and leaving the village was bittersweet, and I would give anything to have the chance to meet these people again.

Smiling kid hua tat village

// Final thoughts //

Embarking on this trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the ensuing journey had left me truly humbled. The gorgeous scenes, the camaraderie, and the people all coming together like a beautiful pas de deux, seducing you into wanting to stay.

This trip was a somber reminder of the importance of human connection. Having all the luxuries in the world doesn’t necessarily buy you happiness, as eloquently displayed by the locals of Hua Tat, who find a way to enjoy life to its fullest with minimal luxuries. Its also a reminder that all we need is the people we surround ourselves with, and an open mind.