The importance of service learning in a PLC Sydney education

Service Learning is a huge part of the culture at PLC Sydney and is integral to the Christian faith of our College. It provides students with experiences that build character, and develop confidence, leadership and open-mindedness. Service Learning is an opportunity for our girls to make a difference in communities locally, nationally and all over the world. 

Service Learning is an opportunity for our girls to make a difference in communities locally, nationally and all over the world.

Dr Paul Burgis, Principal PLC Sydney

We recently interviewed Ms Isabel Hayek, Vietnam Service Learning Coordinator at PLC Sydney as well as Year 11 students, Riley Kelleher and Isabella Guest, and we discussed their Service Learning trip to Vietnam and the importance of giving back. 

  • Service Learning is a huge part of the culture at PLC Sydney, why do you think it’s important for the girls to give back?

Ms Hayek: Ms Hayek: PLC Sydney girls are lucky to be in a world where they can get up in the morning, have a meal with the security of having shelter over their heads and be able to dress in warm or cool clothing. Sadly for many people in developing countries and in Australia, these essential needs aren’t met. By our girls giving back, they soon realise how lucky they are to have fresh food, shelter and clothing. I have always believed though it’s not what we do for people less fortunate, it’s what they do for us. The residents at Ba Vi do more for us than you’ll ever believe. We are lucky to have these connections with our Ba Vi family. 

  • How did the relationship between PLC Sydney and Ba Vi begin and how did you girls get involved? 

Ms Hayek: Initially PLC Sydney was doing service learning at an orphanage in Hanoi, so we have always had a connection with the wonderful nation of Vietnam and their people. The college then heard about a centre/orphanage in the region of Ba Vi (1 ½ hours from Hanoi) that desperately needed help. The centre was known as ‘the dump of North Vietnam’, where many residents had high support needs, some due to the effects of agent orange. It’s situated in a poor area, and not many families can look after their children who have disabilities. We have had this amazing connection for 12 years.  It’s a blessing when former PLC Sydney students go back after they graduate. That’s how much of an impact Ba Vi has had on students.

Isabella & Riley: We became involved in the BaVi tour program through both the promotion of the trip by Ms Hayek and through various presentations in past years from girls who went on the trip themselves. We wanted to go on this trip because it was always displayed as “eye-opening” and a “once-in-a-lifetime experience“. The stories of experiences that Ms Hayek shared with all of the girls in the year made us really interested and invested in experiencing it first-hand. 

  • What type of contribution does PLC Sydney make to Ba Vi?

Ms Hayek: Besides having up to 24 students assist at the centre every April holidays, Year 11 students do some serious fundraising during the year to raise money to help employ staff through Helping Hands. We help employ a physio assistant, teacher, creative therapist and occupational therapist. The women we employ are amazing and we are lucky to have them. 

  • What was the most important thing you took away from your trip to Ba Vi and Vietnam?

Isabella and Riley: The most important thing that I came to understand after visiting Ba Vi was how utterly privileged we are here in Australia. Ms Hayek always told us how different life was for the residents in the centre, but it really didn’t have any impact on me until we were actually there. 

One thing I remember vividly was after our first day there, being told that “this is something you shouldn’t have to see”. At the time it was said to help console us because a lot of girls had been emotional upon witnessing some distressing things at the centre. On further reflection, I think the greatest thing Ba Vi taught me was that this is something that no one should have to experience and it stressed to me just how important it is that we support these residents and the people who work to help them. 

The BaVi trip was truly an “eye-opening experience” exactly living up to Ms Hayek's claims. The trip allowed me to see all the privileges in my life that I had previously taken for granted, even as small as just having a comfortable bed to sleep in every night, or even having access to a private toilet.

  • Is the exchange program to travel to Ba Vi and Vietnam offered each year? And to who? What does the trip involve?

Ms Hayek: Yes the Ba Vi service learning tour to Ba Vi is offered every year to students in Year 11. Not only do we visit the centre at Ba Vi, but there’s also a cultural learning aspect to the tour. Students visit the Chu Chi tunnels and learn about the Vietnam War as well as do a cooking class, where they make the most exquisite Vietnamese meal. 

The pure joy and happiness you give to the residents at Ba Vi is unmatchable, it is so difficult to actually express how truly amazing and life-changing this experience is.

Year 11 students, Riley Kelleher and Isabella Guest, who volunteered at Ba Vi in 2022.
  • What is the best thing about this program?

Ms Hayek: Seeing students thrive in an environment that’s unlike theirs at home. It’s just incredible seeing how quickly students adjust to poor conditions because they see a need in helping people. 

  • Are there any challenging aspects of the exchange?

Ms Hayek: Seeing residents with multiple physical and cognitive disabilities is often the most confronting aspect of this tour. As soon as those residents smile, however, our students just melt and start developing connections. Residents only eat twice a day and it’s often soggy rice with limited protein - this has also been confronting for students to see. The fact that most of the residents don’t have a choice in what they wear or live with is hard to accept. Also, crossing the crazy roads in Hanoi . . . what an experience. ARGHHHHHH

Isabella & Riley: What we found most challenging would have to be some of the things we were exposed to, the things we saw happening to such little, vulnerable, helpless children. Seeing things like that changed me, but it didn't make me want to not go, if anything, it made me want to go and help more and to go and give those residents the best 4 hours of their lives.

To stay strong for the residents also became a challenge, as sometimes you felt so horrible to leave them, but we knew for them to see us cry or upset, would only bring them down. 

Managing the difficulties became easy, as we had such an amazing support system around us. We had our best friends and our teachers who later became friends. The fact that everyone was going through the same emotions made it easy to talk about. The encouragement from peers and staff was priceless.

  • How do girls get involved if they would like to consider being part of this exchange and would you recommend it?

Ms Hayek: An information evening about the tour is held when students are in Year 10. If parents or students would like further information they can email Isabel Hayek at or contact me on 97045690. When students are in Year 11, they can also get involved in the Vietnam Committee, where we prepare our biggest fundraiser, an entertaining trivia night that attracts over 300 people. We also look at other ways we can raise money for this beautiful centre. 

Isabella & Riley: We would absolutely recommend that girls in the future go on this tour. This tour was definitely the most enjoyable and rewarding experience in our life so far. We all made unforgettable memories and bonds with the residents of the centre that have impacted our lives for the better. We recommend that whoever is offered the opportunity to go on this amazing trip embrace every moment of it because it goes too fast!! 

The pure joy and happiness you give to the residents at Ba Vi is unmatchable, it is so difficult to actually express how truly amazing and life-changing this experience is. The trip is so important for girls at PLC Sydney because it gives you the opportunity to witness and experience what we support in real life, making it all the more important to us in our everyday lives. 

Renee Jones

PLC Sydney Publications Manager