Monday, October 27, 2008

To Market To Market

We are always so impressed with how industrious and creative the Vietnamese are! Pictured above are only a few of the many products that we have seen on the backs of bicycles and motor bikes. on their way to market. If you click on the picture you will see a larger version of these quite spectacular feats. How the riders manage to stay balanced with such heavy loads is miraculous. Equally amazing is that the take home pay for these loads is only pennies a day. But they are undaunted, repeating the exercise 6-7 days a week.

When we are in Hoi An, we feel obliged to try to match these Herculean efforts, but we are merely 60 something Westerners, softened by the luxuries of our lifestyle. We rise before dawn, it's true but by mid-afternoon we are ready for a nap! Perhaps we should be working on our "staying power", getting fit for longer days of toil!

We are working here at home our projects for Reaching with Binh on a new Business Plan and creating an Employee Handbook for the sales staff in the shop. Our attempts at learning the language are still rather futile, and we will have to remain dependent on the help of others to translate for us and the patience of our Vietnamese friends while we pantomime our intentions.

Despite our limitations, we are buoyed and looking forward to our Journey of the Heart 2009.

Please Note: There is a new feature on this blog. On the right hand side, at the top, you will see a small picture. It changes every few seconds and is our slide show of this year's trip. If you click on the picture you can enjoy the full screen show. Once you are on the album site, watch for the slide show icon which appears above left of the picture. I promise, I will replace this show with pictures from Journey of the Heart 2009 as soon as they are available!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What a Difference!

Remember this little guy? Last year he was our "poster boy" for our appeal campaign. Vinh was so dear, enchanting us with his bravado on a mouth organ which he had never seen before, while soliciting the help of a buddy to take care of his prized A&W Root Bear! He was the first in line to get his face painted.

This June, Bruce saw a very different little boy. The next picture shows him not only having grown like a weed, but also showing off his skills on the keyboard.

What a difference a year makes! And what a difference the gifts of funding and equipment mean to Vinh and the others in this orphanage!
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Monday, October 20, 2008

Duc Son Orphanage

One of our favorite places to visit in Hue, Vietnam, is the Duc Son Orphanage. This photo was taken on Bruce's last trip there, with Tours of Peace in May of this year. The young man with him is Anh, the tour guide who has been a faithful TOP partner for many years.

The Buddhist nuns at Duc son, care for up to three hundred children. Although our hearts break that these delightful children have been abandoned by their parents, we are comforted to see them so well cared for and loved.

The atmosphere at Duc Son is vibrant, the children are all clean, healthy and well fed. TOP has visited regularly over the years and so our visits are anticipated with much excitement. This picture is a rare moment of quiet, before the bedlam which erupts when the toys are brought out

There is much singing, by the children and the TOP delegation. We paint faces, play musical instruments, play circle games and hold a lot of babies and toddlers.

The big treat for the kids is the dinner that TOP presents, including meat, which the nuns do serve the children if the budget allows, but that does not happen often....the food budget is 30 cents a day per child.
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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

2009 Return to Our Beloved Vietnam

As the weather cools here on the West Coast, the leaves begin to turn and the garden takes its last gasp, we are beginning to anticipate our next Journey of the Heart.

In January 2009, we will travel to South East Asia, to once again serve the people of Vietnam. Our appeal for funds has generated such a response, that we are inspired to work even harder to alleviate some of the suffering in this small country still suffering form the centuries of conflict within her boundaries. With your support we will be able to accomplish more than we had anticipated.

Not only have our friends and family offered funds, but this year we will be accompanied by other Canadians, who also are intrigued with the beautiful country of Vietnam and her welcoming people.

  • JoAn and Michel Maurer will join us for our first two weeks. We will travel to Laos together and on to Hoi An, Vietnam.

  • Stan and Marie Teitge, our neighbours, will be in Hoi An for a few weeks and look forward to helping with our projects.

  • Sharon Brewer, another Salt Springer, will arrive in March to help out at a child care centre.

Brenda Smith, from Essex, England, will also arrive in Hoi An to add her willing hands and loving heart to our projects and is likely to help Catholic nuns deliver rice to needy hospital patients. In Vietnam, family is expected to feed their relatives in the hospital....some are unable to do this...they are too poor or live and work a distance away.

How wonderful that the Canadian ( and British!) contingent is growing!

We hear regularly from Le Ly Hayslip of the Global Village Foundation, with whom we work to deliver portable libraries to remote village schools. Binh and Quyen at Reaching Out have a "to do" list growing for us to tackle when we arrive in Hoi An. The 2009 Journey of the Heart promises to be as busy and rewarding as our earlier trips.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Cam On (thank you) To Our Benefactors

We are home on Salt Spring Island and trying to make the transition back to "normal". Our Journey of the Heart was far richer than our wildest expectations. Altogether, we spent 80 days in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam doing volunteer work with two different organizations.

We have added a new link to our list on the right side of this blog. Here you will be able to view a video of an interview with us in Hoi An. There is also footage of a speech made by Le Ly Hayslip with whom we worked on the Portable Libraries Project.

We would like to express our profound gratitude to the many friends and family who supported us with genenrous contributions to our work. We felt blessed to be able to deliver so many gifts from our benefactors in Canada and the United States.

This is the way we put your gifts to work:

  • Go Vap Orphanage in Saigon - $500.00
  • Bursaries for disabled trainees at Reaching Out, Hoi An - $2,000.00
  • Tours of Peace Vietnam Veterans - $1650.00
  • Global Village Foundation, portable libraries project - $500.00
  • Hoa Van leprosy village - $500.00
  • Hoi An Foundation for Children-$100.00
  • Leprosy victims, school children, the aged and the poor -Leprosy bandages, medical supplies, personal hygiene items and toys.

We would like to acknowledge the following very generous donors to our projects:

  • George and Nancy Alliston
  • Trisha Wilcox
  • JoAn and Michel Maurer
  • Gail McKechnnie
  • Bryna and Dan Cable
  • Suzanne Bolton
  • R. Bruce Morrison
  • Ivan Mindlin
  • The Red Tent Book Club ( the Best Book Club in the World!)
  • Stan and Marie Teitge
  • Heather Horton
  • Barb and Bruce Housser
  • Janet Musgrave
  • Grade 8C, St Thomas Acquinas High School
  • Rosemary and Jim Robertson
  • Kim Young
  • The Rowlandson-O'Hara family
  • Stan and Ann Derelian
  • Pat Sather
  • Carole Earle
  • Philip Musgrave
  • The Conradi family
  • Dr. Richard Hayden
  • Ganges Liquor Store
  • and of course the many knitters in the Bandage Brigade

You were all in our hearts and we bring back to you the warm smiles and deep appreciation of the Vietnamese people to whom your gifts brought comfort and joy.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Homeward Bound

We are in Ho Chi Minh City, ensconced in a small "boutique" hotel, somewhat far from the centre of the city, but it provides the quiet and comfort that we need to rest up for the long journey home on Saturday, March 29th.

Our last "exta" week in Hoi An, was, of necessity, also very quiet. Elaine spent hours sleeping, trying to aid the healing of her old bones. Bruce, UIN, ( unqualified, inpractical nurse) doing his duties, with a few last tasks for Reaching Out and some editing for Global Village Foundation and the ocassional bike ride.

The stream of well wishers was endless, Quyen bringing lunch or dinner everyday, unless we strenously objected. One day Elaine said to Quyen, " I feel badly that you are cooking for us, as well as your family, working at the shop and caring for Sesame" to which she responded " I will feel bad if you don't let me cook".....ah the straight forward logic and candor of the Vietnamese!

The staff of our homestay spent our last morning pampering us and showering us with gifts. The drive away from the gate, with everyone waving was so tender.

Quyen arranged a comfortable car and escorted us to the clinic and on to the airport. Our parting at the check-in counter broke our hearts. We had already said good bye to Binh at the gate of their home. Words were few, tears many.

It is hard to imagine that we are about to embark on this epic journey home. It is always a
gruelling experience, even when not dragging one very painful, semi-attached limb in a sling. We have mega pain killers on hand.

The sweet memories well carry us through, as will the excitement of seeing you all. Your interest, financial support for our projects, many messages of encouagement and of late concern for Elaine's healing have been a comfort. We are blessed and are very grateful for this three month Journey of the Heart.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mother is Broken

Last Friday morning, Hanh, one of our two lovely receptionists greeted Bruce, her eyes brimming with tears, "I am very sad this morning because my Mother is broken." The outpouring of kindness, since the day before when Elaine fell and fractured her left humerous, has been unceasing, sweet and continually overwhelming. This mishap has served to, once again, demonstrate to us the loving, tender, sweet nature of our Vietnamese "families." From the crew of disabled persons at the shop where we have been volunteering, to the staff at our homestay accommodation and even the young women proprietors of the two restaurants where we have taken many meals over the past two months, everyone has been caring and solicitous wishing to help ensure Elaine's comfort in some way. Food arrives in our room daily, flowers have appeared a couple of times and the expressions of "I hope mother is feeling better today" are non-stop.
Quyen has already had custom made chemises made at the shop. These clever garments fasten on one side seam and thus slide over the head and arm easily.
We had planned to leave Hoi An on the 15th and visit some other spots before flying home at the end of the month but have decided to remain in this restful spot and give the bones the best chance at starting to mend before commencing the stressful 20-some hour marathon of travel that should see us back on Salt Spring Island on the 30th of March.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Bruce's Trip to Hanoi

On the weekend of 7 and 8 March, Bruce flew to Hanoi with Binh to attend a VSO (Volunteer Services Overseas) conference on disabilities in Vietnam. The VSO who has traditionally been involved in education in 3rd world countries is expanding its mandate to work at helping the disabled in developing nations be less marginalized. The conference was a briefing and feedback session on the proposed program plan for the expansion within Vietnam.
The pictures (from left to right, top row first) are 1. A profoundly disabled young woman who is one of Binh's home-based producers in Hanoi for the handicraft shop in Hoi An. If you look closely at her feet and hands you will note the horror of her disabilities. Her hands are truncated and her feet grow at right angles directly out of her knees. You may be able to count 8 toes on her left foot. 2. Binh being loaded unceremoniously aboard our modern Airbus 321 via a front loading catering truck through the galley door of the airplane. Binh, for whom this is du rigeur, wasn't fazed, but Bruce was horrified and close to tears at the indignity. 3. Binh's cousin Tue and Bruce posing at Hoa Diem Lake - a mandatory tourist stop. On the day after the conference, Tue an engineering director employed by the state in Research and Development conducted Bruce on a personalized tour of Hanoi's highlights aboard his motorbike.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hoa Van Leprosy Village

The "iffy" Internet has once again foiled the putting together of this entry....the pictures came up in the order that they wanted to, not necessarily in the sequence of the story of how this heartwrenching yet enriching day unfolded.

The Global Village Foundation's Moblie Libraries Team, with whom we worked all last week, decided that they too would like to be involved in the leprosy village project, so our crew of 13 left in two vans early Monday morning to travel to the boat launch site, just past the city of Da Nang. As usual we left at 6:30 a.m. sharp (that's 7:15 Vietnamese time!)

After loading the boat with 100 blankets, medical supplies, hand knit leprosy bandages and goodies for the children, we set out onto the blessedly calm sea, to cross to the village which can only be accessed by water or a precarious hike down a jungle trail. Our craft was heavily ladened and we were glad that the six life rings were not forced into service for the 17 people on board.

Upon arriving the unloading took place on a beautiful stretch of beach. As there is no pier, we lept off the boat into the water and handed our precious cargo, hand over hand ( actually head over head) across the shallows and hiked toward the village gate.

The customary introductions of the village chief, the People's Party Representative, the Nurse and Secuirty Gaurd were followed by cups of tea. Without delay the blankets and medical supplies were doled out to each family. There are approximately 300 people in the village, with about 50 suffering active cases of leprosy with another 40-50 whose disease has been arrested. They were grateful for the blankets as the weather continues to be unseasonably cool.

I was able to meet with the nurse in his "clinic", which brought tears to my eyes. The examining room, as you can see is neglected, filthy and poorly equipped. How infections are treated and cured under these conditions is a mystery.

The bandages, knit by so many compassionate women from coast to coast in North America, were the first that this nurse had seen. He uses a commercially made bandage, supposedly for tropical ulcers but they are flimsy and small, so he was excited to see our product. He preferred the smaller gauge yarn, but assured me that every one would be useful.

We wandered through the village and the fields behind to reach the school. The crops looked healthy and although we were assured that the village was able to subsist on the crops, an older woman did make an appeal to us to bring rice, cooking oil and noodles the next time we visit, as the elders who are unable to work in the fields are hungry. How could one not resolve to return??

The school consists of a delightful kindergarten, decorated colorfully with posters and decorations ( financed by a Japanese NGO) The two rooms for students 6-12 years old are sparsely furnished and have NO equipment, illustrative pictures, posters, maps or charts. Each student seemed to have one exercise book. How they drooled seeing the crayons, pens, pencils etc sent by the kids in Kenora. as well as folks from the home towns of some of our group. Our indefatigable Oil from Thailand again did her balloon tricks.

The afternoon sun became quite warm as we putt-putted our way back across the bay. Our group was quiet, each staring back at the beach as it receded, lost in thoughts of how they were touched by this experience. The beauty and serenity of the village's location, the warm sand, the green fields, the quiet absence of motor bike horns, the cleanliness of the village ( no plastic bags or garbage) all painted an unlikely background for the reality of the pain and isolation of this community.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Leapin' Lizzards Libraries in Que Son

There are too many stories to tell!! On Thursday and Friday of last week we delivered the last two workshops and 12 portable libraries to two central schools in the Que Son District. The Canadian boxes were in this delivery and we were pleased to have contributed to this particularly poor district.
The district is hidden away over a mountain pass, across a beautiful, lush green valley. Even though the fields in the valley seemed to be rich with rice crops and the water buffalo fatter than twenty years ago ( according to Lan, one of our team, a Vietnamese American who has done humanitarian work in this area for many years), we were shocked at the level of poverty. Electricity was only installed in the town in 2005!!
Because Friday's school was a bumpy two hours away from Thursday's school, and about four hours from our hotel, we were invited to stay the night as guests of the People's Party in their headquarters' dormitory. Bruce and I shared our room, and in fact our bed with the lizzard pictured above. He was the size of a cucumber and perhaps he had gotten fat on the fleas and bedbugs which we expected, but did not find on the grey sheets and musty, mildewed blankets and pillows. I slept in my clothes! It wasn't much of a sleep. The bed was lumpy, the the room stinky and the loudspeaker in the compound starting blasting its tinny rendition of the national anthem of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam followed by party propaganda at 4:45 am.
That evening we hosted a BBQ for the school and district officials. Bruce is still wondering if he did indeed drink vodka with the party Chair, the highest ranking communist in this district of 260,000 people, who is in the picture with Le Ly Hayslip and her man Joel Boehm.
Huong is singing us a Vietnamese song at the BBQ, with a fine voice and big heart...he had us all in tears. But the sweetest part of this story is that Huong is the gardener at our hotel!! He and all the staff have been involved in the project. Even the owner's 11 year old son and both receptionists helped us wrap the 500 exercise books that we gave to the kids throughout the week! Huong begged to come along to Que Son, we suspect because it is his home village. He certainly found a few buddies to drink with on Friday afternoon!!!
Ultimately it is about the kids and once again as you can see they could hardly wait to get their hands on the books.
The week was exhausting, frustrating, and exhilarating. We think that we will do it again next year!!!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Libraries Are Coming !!

On Monday, February 25, the Global Village Foundation Portable Libraries Winter 2008 project began to roll out to village schools in Quan Nam province. Our vans rattle along the narrow and bumpy roads to central schools. The teachers and their keenest students travel from their satellite schools in the district to join the celebratory and learning experiences offered by our international volunteer team of 13 educators, translators, and organizers. The logistics of getting the volunteers, libraries, equipment (posters,paper,pens,prizes)for the learning sessions and food, cooking and service items for a gathering of 300 people are daunting.
Our days begin with a 5 a.m. wake up call and end at about 9 p.m., after we have reorganized for the next day.
What an exciting time it is, from the opening ceremonies, including the endless speeches that are a Vietnamese tradition and the sweet presentations of welcome by the students, to the learning sessions for teachers and masses of kids and the pure delight of introducing the gathered throng to the American tradition of the hot dog!!!
The most endearing of all is to see the genuine delight with the gift of the libraries and the enthusiastism for reading. We teach the teachers some techniques to make reading fun and to stimulate creativity and encourage inquisitiveness. The children are given reading and creative writing assignments ( and have a lot of games and entertainment) Our translators are very busy!!! Action songs fill in a lot of gaps.
Yesterday, it began to rain, right smack dab in the middle of the children's outdoor reading exercise, but they would not quit or take a moment to run for the shelter of the porches....they improvised tents and carried on. This preseverance and ingenuity are charateristics which have helped this nation recover from 2000 years of conflict and invasion!
Bruce and I are doing a lot of squatting on little stools, gesturing, smiling, nodding, singing, clapping, acting, and is everyone as we work our way through the day.
At the end of the day the schools which receive the libraries for the first rotation, pack them onto what ever mode of transportation is available and away they go!!!
Thank you all donors for your support of this program. We are so grateful for this opportunity to deliver your gifts.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The School that Love Built

A year ago, with funding from Global Village Foundation, labour and spirited art work by students from Signapore, this school and library room were built. It is equipped with Portable Libraries, the book boxes which travel from school to school.
We visited this remote village school yesterday in, Que Xuan II, Quang Nam Province to do some follow up to see how well the library had been implemented. As you can see the kids and locals all love the school and the books! Huong and Vinh, the two young men who do all the legwork for Global Village in the Da Nang office were our interpreters.
Although not far from the city of Hoi An, this village was another world. We travelled down a track, barely wide enough for our van, through brilliant emerald rice fields, passing farmers walking or bicycling with hoes slung over their shoulders. The peacefulness of the school grounds, the murmur of small voices and a river flowing beyond the fence, were idyllic for us....a lovely break from the cacophony of the city.
The children read enthusiastically, even though the teachers are still lacking some of the skills to make the books come alive and integrate the learning into other programs. When we arrived about thirty children were sitting reading aloud, each reading a different book! It was not a regular school day for these kids, but they had all come to sit and read......maybe just to get a look at us!!! We sang a couple of songs...ah the universal language of music.
Work is continuing on the school, with an outdoor reading circle being built in the garden and the playground equipment improved.
We are looking forward to delivering more libraries ( one from our Canadian friends!) and skill training for teachers next week.
Stay tuned!!!

Sunday, February 17, 2008


These two houses sit literally across the road from one another, beside the canal. We pass by nightly as we stroll to the main street in search of our dinner. Over the month that we have been here, we have had many opportunitites to witness the contrasts in the lives of these very close neighbours.
The large house is a single family dwelling ( the sign to the left is for our inn......makes it look rather like this palatial place is the hotel!!!) Unlike the majority of Vietnamese who own land, these folks have not planted every available square inch with vegetables.....corn,squash or beans.
We have surmised therefore that the owner has either a high ranking government job or prospers from the tourist industry.
Across the road, this two room house, has at least five occupants....six counting the big TV in the main room! Yesterday we saw three water buffalo wandering through the field adjacent, and so we have imagined that the inhabitants of this house work land somewhere nearby.
Obviously there are few "zoning by-laws" here. We do see evidence of planned "suburban communities", but so far there are only signs with lots plotted out and no sign of construction. One day this lilttle town will though, be connected to the neighbouring city of Da Nang, by a string of such developments as well as luxury hotels and golf courses along the prime beach front property.
As everywhere, the concern is for the locals continuing ability to produce their own food and survive without the rice paddies and corn fields.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Abilites Not Disabilities

At Reaching Out we are learning more than we are contributing. We are continously surprised at the level of sophistication of Binh and Quyen's management style. They have created an example for the world of how encouragement, empowerment, acceptance, strength,determination and love can transform lives.
Our new friends have shown us that by focusing on our skills and abilities, we are able to accomplish great things. The deaf are not distracted and therefore work with incredible focus on stitchery, beading, embroidery, metal work. The intensity of their concentration allows them to produce works of art with speed. The mobility impaired also seem capable of unwavering focus.

One is taken by their obvious pride and satisfaction in creating beautiful works of art. They express themselves through their work, whether Down Syndrome or physically disabled from the effects of Agent Orange as are young Nguyen and Dung (pronounced Yoom), the young men pictured above on their crutches. We are trying not to have favourites, but as you can imagine Bruce is particulary drawn to Nguyen and Dung whose parents were guerillas in the mountains during the war and obviously were exposed to the chemical. Nyguen will soon marry a young woman who also woks at RO.
Most importantly, everyone here is living independently and sometimes supporting a family with the fair wages that they are earning. Benefits include health insurance, training, a loan program for bicycles, motor bikes etc.

Hoa Nhap, the Vietnamese name for the store and workshop, means "integration".....a mission that is being achieved here in the heart of Hoi An....the real heart!

The legacy of the scholarships which we presented from Canada will support more " other abled"people to transform their lives. Thank you,thank you!!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Reflections of the Past

This is the house where Le Ly Hayslip's parents settled in 1927 with her older sister Hai, a baby in arms. Hai still lives here and it was Hai we visited as honored first guests on Tet. Hopefully we brought luck through the door that day.
As we celebrated and worshipped the ancestors the history of this house and the family did not escape us.
The peaceful green rice paddy is where Le Ly saw her first American helicopter as a young child and where she stood as a sentinel for the Viet Cong, changing her shirt to different colors to signal ARVN or US activity.
The mound behind the house is where the family hid, from all sides of the conflict. It did not save Le Ly from either rape by the Viet Cong, or imprisonment by the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN).
The kitchen remains much the same in the old house, except for the gas stove. but it is here that all the cooking is done, sometimes for 40-50 people as on Tet.
Standing in the small garden, dominated by shrines, it was almost unfathomable.....the ghosts, the history, the miracle of survival and the tenacity of this one family.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Over and Over

We are over- stimulated, over-stretched, over-fed, over-tired but also over joyed with the warmth and generosity of our Vietnamese hosts.
Tet has been a succession of events and happenings which have been educational and inspirational.
In answer to Bruce's innocent question at the lunch following the first veneration of ancestors "Who are all the people here?" pointing to the three tables of relatives, staff, guests, TV crew and friends. "We are all family. We are all Vietnamese", said our host. He meant EVERYBODY, we Westerers included.
We have prayed with and been blessed by Buddist monks and family shamans. We have been adopted as Mother and Father and Granddaughter and Grandson, Uncle and Auntie. The sister of Grandma here is in love with a picture of my Grandfather in his Army uniform.
We have eaten a pig's head straight from the altar and lotus root salad and watched fireworks, both to the east and west of our little balcony.
We have socialized more than we do in a year on Salt Spring! It is all good.....very,very good!!!