Langdon City Auditor RoxAnne Hoffarth recently returned from a trip to Vietnam courtesy of Rural Leadership North Dakota (RLND). The trip had 30 people from across North Dakota exploring and learning about the Vietnamese culture and agricultural industry for nearly two weeks.
By Melissa Anderson
“This trip was all through the Rural Leadership North Dakota class I have been participating in for the last two years,” Hoffarth explained, “We have only two sections left and graduation will be in December. I can’t believe it’s almost over. “
For Hoffarth, the course has proven incredibly beneficial as it has been a great way to meet other leaders in the state and create a network of people to contact who deal with similar issues or project information.
RLND tries to choose countries that have continued interest in markets such as those in North Dakota. South America, Europe, China and Asia were the choices for this class.
“We, as the students, do not know where we are going until they tell us as it’s the decision of the RLND board,” Hoffarth stated.
Hoffarth has very much enjoyed her learning experience with the RLND course. Being able to travel to Vietnam as part of their courses understanding international agriculture and community issues was truly eye opening for Hoffarth.
“One thing I really was aware of was their infrastructure and their sanitation department,” Hoffarth explained,”We are very lucky to have what we have, and the means to do what we can.”
In comparison to the City of Langdon, Hoffarth expounded on the excellence of the Langdon Sanitation Department. While she acknowledges that the streets and sidewalks are in need of repair, she notes that the City of Langdon is currently in the planning process of addressing these issues.
“But their’s [Vietnam’s] are horrible, and they don’t have the funds or equipment to do anything about it,” Hoffarth said.
“Another thing that we had noticed was their way of farming. They do everything the hard way as all their rice fields are hand-planted. They did have a little hand tiller, but there was not big equipment,” Hoffarth added.
The trip to Vietnam was definitely an adventure that spanned the Indochina Peninsula as flight delays brought the Fargo group first into Taipei, Taiwan then to Bangkok, Thailand before arriving in Vietnam. The flight delays turned into a mini-adventure for the group as they made some memorable stops.
“We were able to visit the Grand Palace and two of Bangkok’s 700 beautiful temples,” Hoffarth said.
Not only did the group visit the more well-known sites, but also were able to visit Jone’s Salad Farm while in Bangkok. Hoffarth explained that the 64-year-old owner commits his time to not only farming his product but teaching his strategies and business for free to local community members as well as other impoverished countries.
“His vegetation is harvested by and sold to local community members only, so he can continue to enjoy his work and passion – instead of working to fulfill legal contracts with businesses,” Hoffarth said.
“We visited many local vegetable, fruit, rice and worm farms. We also went to a fish farm and a dairy farm,” Hoffarth shared.
The group also an visited educational facility called the Nonthaphum Home or Angels’ Home located in PakKret, which is near Bangkok. The facility is a home for children with disabilities and their mothers. The home is a quality learning organization that provides good care and training for disabled children and promotes social participation. The group pooled some of their funds together to make a donation for much needed supplies of toys, diapers, and money.
“I wish we had been allowed to take pictures and showcase the amazing artwork and craft creations these children make. It was a very humbling and amazing experience,” Hoffarth said.
For Hoffarth the most enjoyable part of the trip was when the group visited a primary school with grades 1-5. The group learned about education in Vietnam and the challenges that the school, its staff, and students face such as funding for supplies, clothing and the commute to/from school for those from outlying areas. Hoffarth said that the students were typically shy towards the visitors from the U.S., but after a while they did warm up to the group.
“After the kids became comfortable with us, they sang Happy Birthday to me which meant the world to me,” Hoffarth shared.
The group also had the opportunity to visit the Hoa Lo Prison or “Hanoi Hilton” Vietnam War Camp and Cu Chi , which was a former Vietnamese Army stronghold during the Vietnam War from 1963-1975.
“The highlight of the Cu Chi was an immense network of tunnels,” Hoffarth said.
In Ho Chi Minh, the RLND group joined with two other groups, AALP Ontario and LEAD New York leadership groups. The groups visited the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam where the groups learned about their politics, economy and trading. In addition, the tour heard speakers from USDA-APHIS, US Soy Org and AgriSource Co Ltd.
“The entire trip will be an experience that I will never forget,” Hoffarth said.
For Hoffarth, RLND has been a great experience and has broadened her horizons and abilities. Hoffarth’s experience with the program is reflective of the program’s purpose which is a mix of personal development, leadership study, and location-related subject matter. The program is designed to help those who are dedicated to strengthening the agriculture community, their community and subsequently the state of North Dakota as a whole.
“I feel more confident in my position having taken the course. If anyone has the opportunity to partake in the class, I strongly recommend it,” Hoffarth shared.
Currently, enrollment is open for RLND Class VIII, and they are accepting applications. Most of the course activities occur during the winter months. The cost of the class has increased to $4,000 which is payable in two installments.
For more information on the RLND program, please visit the programs website at www.ag.ndsu.edu/rlnd