Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Time to Say Good Bye "Tam Biet"

As much as we were hopeful that somehow the clock would stop ticking and the days would stretch across forever, they have not and we are saying good bye to our Vietnamese family and friends.

Our hearts and tummies are full!!! So many lunches and dinners, with so many gifts and good wishes. For a people who supposedly do not like to say good bye and prefer "see you later", the Vietnamese that we have come to know and love, sure do want as many opportunities as possible to avoid saying "adieu"!

Elaine's English class "graduated" today, with a celebration at the beachside bistro La Plage. We tried to watch the sing-a-long version of Mama Mia, but we had some techinical difficulties and a few rain squals to dampen the party.

Each person in the class presented Elaine, with a carefully scribed letter of thanks, written in English. They took care to highlight a significant learning, whether a selling skill or a language skill. The flowers,hugs and smiles spoke the language of the heart..... we have touched one another across the barriers of language and culture.
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Sunday, March 22, 2009


Our work is winding down here in Hoi An. We have a few more meetings with Binh and Quyen at Reaching Out and some English classes to teach, but basically the next week will be one of good byes. How quickly our two months here have sped by.

We know that we will once again leave with more blessings than we have left behind.

The list below is a report of how we have allocated the very generous financial gifts from our "home team".

Books for Kids in Luang Prabang,Laos $100US

Four Portable Libraries $2000 US
Global Village Foundation-Mobile libraries for village schools, with 250 books in each box

Que Son Hospital $2500 US
Global Village Foundation Project-deliver beds, diagnostic equipment and birthing kits to a remote hospital

Training Scholarships $1000 US
Sponsorship of advanced skills training for disabled workers at Reaching Out

Equipment $1500 US
New weaving looms and high intensity lamps for work stations at Reaching Out

Kindergarten Kitchen $600 US
Water purifier, propane cooker and tank, vent, cabinetry for Hoi An kindergarten

Hospital Food Program $300 US
Subsidy for the food program for the poor in Hoi An Hospital

Association for Victims of Agent Orange $120 US

Duc Son Orphanage, Hue $100 US
Food Program

Hoa Van Leprosy Village $500 US
Food for 70 hungry families and hand knit bandages for those with active leprosy.

School for Children with Autism, Hanoi $100

In addition to these generous gifts from our "home team", we would like to acknowledge the love and hard work so sweetly given by our "in country" team: JoAn and Michel Maurer; Brenda Smith; Andrea Binkle and Stan and Marie Teitge. Their willingness to pitch in and dig deep into their hearts and wallets strengthened the efforts of our Journey of the Heart.

On the home front, Janice Finnemore has contributed her precious time and word processing skills to produce a training manual for Reaching Out sales staff.

Many, many thanks. Many ,many blessings.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Family Vietnamese Style

Traditional family life is a strongly held value in Vietnam, with generations still living under the same roof, sharing child care, gardening and household chores. Elders and ancestors are revered.

Luckily for us, this sense of family includes whomever seems adrift, alone or hungry!!! Our family here has grown and now includes many Vietnamese and Westerners, who are bound mostly by our work. We also have a family at our home stay and amongst its former employees. The two women who run our favourite local restaurants, their sisters,husbands and children are also family.

How gracious they all are. We have been invited to homes, a celebration of the anniversary of a Buddhist master's death, a wedding and another for descendants of Fujian Chinese immigrants.

This morning at dawn we went swimming in the ocean with our extended family of ex-pats and locals, adjourning to the small, not yet officially open, cafe beach side, belonging to another Reaching Out volunteer, Sam Miller and her partner. As we sipped coffee and chatted quietly in the cool morning, Anne summed up my feelings when she said " I am filled with such peace and joy".

The food, like our family was a curious mix of French crepes, strong black coffee, and wonderful vegetarian noodle soup. Vive la difference!
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Old Soldiers Remember

The American War and the memories of that conflict are fading here in Vietnam, where half the population is under thirty. But for veterans on both sides, those memories are close to the surface and often old allies and enemies meet. Telling their stories is healing and a miraculous bonding exists almost instantaneously.

As we explored a war memorial on our return from a humanitarian project in Que Son, an old man approached us. He had seen us from a distance, where he was labouring with others behind picks and shovels. He knew that Bruce and Stan were the right vintage and stature and he had something that he knew would be a significant gift.

He had in his possession a US Marine Corps dog tag. The asking price was the princely sum of one dollar. Bruce knew immediately that the tag was legitimate, not a reproduction made to sell to tourists. And so, Tours of Peace will receive another personal effect which will, following some careful research be returned to its owner or the marine's surviving family.

The handshakes and smiles said just one thing " Our losses bind us...we are brothers"

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Monday, March 16, 2009

A Promise Kept

Last year when we visited the isolated leprosy village of Hoa Van, one of the women (the one pictured with Elaine on the right of the collage) asked that if we came back could we bring food for the elders who could no longer work in the fields and therefore were hungry. Today we did exactly that with the help of the staff of Global Village Foundation and our dear friends Stan and Marie Teitge.

Le, the proprietress of our homestay, had volunteered to procure and bag the $500 worth of groceries for seventy families. The loading of these precious bags onto and out of the boat, via a narrow concrete jetty on one end and via basket boat across the surf at the beach in the village was tricky, but we managed with the help of a wonderful boat man and a welcoming group at the village. We struggled up the beach and through the lanes with each of us carrying several of the ten pound bags.

We brought another precious gift from Canada, hand knit bandages for the wounds left by leprosy. We had a good talk with the male nurse, who was grateful for the delivery (we had included bottles of bleach and lessons on how to sterilize the bandages) The nurse assured us that he knew this procedure, but when we went over to deliver the food packets to the patients in the hospital, we were aghast at the condition of their bound feet. The bindings were far from clean and certainly not sterile. The nurse estimates his needs to be about 600 bandages a year. The important piece of information for the Bandage Brigade is that the finer gauge bandages are preferred, and surprisingly he would like them to be a shorter length, about three feet......so girls, it will be more tedious to knit on smaller needles with finer yarn, but at least we will finish in the same time with the shorter length.

Once again, we are committed to getting more bandages to this village and also to provide the gauze dressings which they so desperately need. In addition, there was a wish for a little money for each family, about 100,000 VN Dong...that's $6 US. To fulfill this dream, we would need to raise just $500. We can do that!!!!

There are more pictures of this day for the Journey of the Heart team on the web album, accessed by clicking on the small slide show at the top right of the blog.

Blessings to all our knitters and generous donors.
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Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Lucky Baby

Even though this little tyke was abandoned by her parents, she has had the good luck of being taken in by the Buddhist nuns, who run the Duc Son Orphanage in Hue.

For twenty five years the nuns here have been creating a loving home for abandoned children. The facility is clean and well organized. The children of school age go to the local school. There is a list of all the students in the main hall, and Thich Nu Minh Tu and the 25 nuns in this pagoda are particularly proud of all the Duc Son kids who have gone on to university. At this time there are 200 children in their care.

On this visit, we saw a little bit more of the orphanage than we have done on previous visits and were delighted to see that the children with disabilities are taught right there at Duc Son. The two small classes, with about six kids in each , were being taught by lay teachers. We learned also that in addition to the nuns there is a corps of "mothers", lay women who come to take care of the babies. There is no shortage of hugs!

In an effort to subsidize their work, the nuns have built a very nice dining hall on the property, where they hope that visiting groups will eat a vegetarian meal for $4.00 US. It is a pleasant space and we are hopeful that the idea will catch on with philanthropic travellers.

As we were about to leave, a troup of primary school age kids returned to the pagoda for lunch. They filed in quietly, offering a prayer of greeting to Minh Tu, smiling broadly when they saw us and giving us a big "hello".

It is hard to leave Duc Son and harder yet not to vow to make a special effort on our return to Canada, to add to the small donation that we left for their food program. The budget is 30 cents a day per child for food, $60 a day for the 200 kids whose lives and fates have been altered by these beautiful nuns.
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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Teaching English and Selling Skills

Here is Elaine's classroom! We are assembled in the courtyard between the retail store and workshop at Reaching Out. Behind us the work goes on to create lacquer ware.

Binh is substituting for Quyen, who is the usual translator, but this week she was off in Ho Chi Minh City taking a business management course. Binh and Quyen are really trying to stay current with management theory and practise. It is great to see them applying what they have learned.

Even though we start the class at 8:30 a.m., it is crushingly hot one half way through the hour long session, so Teacher is mopping her brow and drinking a lot of water, between exercises and "lectures." It is difficult work for both students and teacher, as we try to bridge cultural differences as well as language differences.

Determining customer needs is really tricky, as it is not in the Vietnamese nature to ask questions, never mind "open ended" questions! Our store is full of such beautiful products, many of which go unnoticed or unappreciated, because the tendency of the staff is to go with whatever the customer is standing next to, or wait for the customer to find the treasures. How curious...... in a culture where asking one's age is very OK, it never occurs to them to ask "would you like a set of six?" when they see a customer handling a single coaster or " would your husband find a beautiful money clip handy for carrying his Vietnamese money while travelling here?"

We are making progress and have lots of fun. When talking about difficult or fussy customers, we explored the "wants" of the most difficult......teenage girls!!!! We found surprising similarities across the cultures and ended up with all sorts of suggestions for this target customer....we even learned the word "cool".
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