My Journey to Vietnam, Danang
Name of village: Broom Village

Partner: Duy Tan University

Learning Express to Danang was truly an unforgettable experience for me. Now that I think about it, I was fearful of this journey. It was a new country for me to explore, a new culture for me to adapt, and new people for me to build relationships with. In contrast, I was also in hope that I could be exposed to these new things. To me, it was important to know what I was there for. To have fun? Not too much. To make new friends? Partially. To make a difference? Yes. So for these 14 days trip, my goal was to make a difference in the village. To improve their lifestyle and benefit them as much as we can.

I was introduced to my group members before the trip. Well, the first session we were all so awkward together. Then, we met up for DT training. It was so good to have them around, and we were the loudest group in the entire room. Till now, I still wondered how we could be so noisy and get the work done on time. I guess it is friendship at work! Our facilitator, Ms Lynn, is one deep thinker. She would grill us with questions, just for us to obtain an insight to a data point. Talk about hard work! Although DT training was tough at every stage, I would say it was a great exposure and brain-stretching. Applying design-thinking during the actual project was a lot smoother for me.

We were placed into a broom making village. Where we were told that they are full-time farmers and part-time broom makers. My initial thought was that could go there and improve their broom making process. However, after interviewing and observing their lifestyle, we had found other issues as well.

Firstly, they need a place to dry their broom corn. The current open yard they use does not protect the broom corn from the rain. When it rains, the broom corn gets damaged, and are not suited to be used for broom making.

Secondly, for most of them, their main income is from broom making. However, the income is unstable. The sales of brooms are dependent on the seasons. During the high seasons, like Lunar New Year or when school starts, the brooms could be sold rapidly. The villagers have a quota to reach before they can receive their salary. Hence, when it is the low season and the sales of broom are slow, the villagers may not receive their money.

Thirdly, despite being skillful in making brooms, their hands are in pain when they make brooms. Also, their sitting position for broom making causes them backaches from time to time.

Lastly, they suffer from sinuses and itching on their body due to pollen from the broom corn. However, this pollen cannot be removed as it is a requirement for a beautiful broom.

Thus, we crafted the needs statement of the village to be:

Based on these 3 need statements, we came up with several solutions to counter them.

Firstly, it is the unstable income obtained from broom making. To tackle this problem, my team members has come up with the idea of promoting tourism, and also to put broom making onto Facebook to bring more customers. With this solution, the villager’s income will be more, and likely to be more consistent than their current situation.

Picture above: A Facebook page to promote sales

Picture above: A brochure for tourist

Secondly, the pollen from the broom corn irritates their nose and body. For this issue, we could not fully resolve it as the pollen is needed in the broom. We made a broom corn sorting basket for the villagers so as to reduce the amount of pollen they are exposed to. Currently, they are separating the broom corn on the floor. This causes the pollen to fall all over the floor. When they move about, they would kick up the pollen and may trigger their nose and body to feel the irritation. Thus with this solution, they will be less exposed to the pollen than usual.

Picture above and side: A two-step process to separate broom corn. It is first placed onto the sack bag to separate, and then placed into the rectangular box.

Lastly, in order for them to feel good, safe and comfortable while making brooms, we came up with 3 ideas.

1. An indoor glasshouse, made of plastic, is built to prevent rain during rainy seasons, and to allow sunlight to penetrate through to dry the broom corn.
2. A massage chair for the villagers to sit on while making brooms. They can sit back and relax whenever they want to when they are working.
3. A pair of protective gloves to reduce the pain during broom making.

Picture above: Message Chair, Glasshouse

Picture above: Gloves for hand protection

In conclusion, this journey has met my initial goal. We were able to deliver our gloves to let them try, and some of our prototypes were well liked too. I am thankful for my Vietnamese buddies, the time and effort they put into making our project possible can’t be descried by the means of words. I was also exposed to cultural differences between Vietnam and Singapore, gaining a new perspective.
Although working with individuals with different personality maybe tough, it was not the biggest issue here. Our biggest barrier was language. During the homestay is where our discussion was the most aggressive. Being pressed for time and our data were not tallying with one another was truly a struggle for us. For me, it was a time of realization that we have to work as a team in order to move forward. And the team includes both Vietnamese and Singaporeans. Thus, with this bigger goal at the back of our heads, no obstacle was an obstacle to us.
Picture below: Working on our Persona

It was also an eye-opener for me to see how other individuals work hard to support their family. In Singapore, our parents would go out to work, and only come back home to have dinner. In the village, the parents would stay at home to work, and to take care of their family. I felt that it was really something we could learn from them. We can all make an effort to spend time with one another if we want to. It is a matter of choice.
I am grateful for this opportunity to be part of this program, it has challenged me, and changed me in ways I could not think of. I was also able to discover what I was capable of doing as well. Last but not least, I want to thank Danang for the fond memories, and truly the joy it has brought to me.