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From rain forests to savannas, spring break has a new look

March 30, 2008|Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writer

Twenty-one students from the Punahou School and the Sacred Hearts Academy in Hawaii toured Vietnam and earned up to 14 hours of community service credit for charitable projects at two orphanages, including providing bags of clothes, stuffed animals and school and medical supplies. Punahou math teacher Vinh Dang, who was born in Vietnam and escaped by boat in 1980 with his sister, led the students -- the eighth group he's taken to his homeland.

"This trip is very different from a European trip," Dang said days before the group left Honolulu for Ho Chi Minh City. "They have to go through all the shots, they know the weather is going to be hot and they have to like the food. If you're going eat pizzas and hamburgers, there's no point in going to Vietnam."

Twenty-five students from Catlin Gabel School, a private campus in Portland, Ore., left last week for Cuba on a rare humanitarian permit for an 11-day stay.

Spanish teacher Roberto Villa, who led student trips to Cuba in 2001 and 2003, said the group will deliver almost 500 pounds of personal hygiene products, school supplies, flash drives, cellphones, digital music players, sports gear and medical supplies, including HIV-AIDS antivirals. They will meet with students, diplomats and cultural figures, such as noted film director Humberto Solas, and on their return will prepare a presentation for a community-wide assembly scheduled for May. The cost for each student is $3,385.

After stories in the local media, the trip won support but also prompted condemnation for taking students to the communist state.

But student Bhakthi Sahgal, 16, asked, "Can people not put aside their political views for one minute and think about people suffering? We're going there to think for ourselves. I don't think closed-mindedness is going to get us anyplace."

Chad Tew, who accompanied Viewpoint students to Italy last year, said the trips will not only enrich the lives of students but create better global citizens.

"Viewpoint is in a small corner of the San Fernando Valley," he said. "But in Rome, visiting this interesting culture, watching these kids as they saw things that were so much older than they'd ever seen before, this was something that affected these kids and changed their paradigm and perspective about the world."

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carla.rivera@latimes.com

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