Saturday, February 26, 2011

Scholars from Hoa Van Leprosy Village

Lan Phuong, Ai Quynh, Kim An, and My Le pictured with Bruce and Elaine

Today we traveled to Da Nang to see the students from Hoa Van leprosy village who are fortunate to still be going to highschool, because our pal Linda at Children's Education Foundation has worked tirelessly to get all the levels of approval necessary, find these kids homes to board in Da Nang, monitoring their progress and communicating that to each of their sponsors.

Some of our Journeys of the Heart team who have sponsored specific children, will have received thank you letters from Linda, but we wanted to show you that we were able to sponsor all four kids pictured above by accumulating the donations of many on our team.

We met in the People's Commitee Hall, where the Women's Friendship Union also have offices. The village headman, his assistant, the Director of the Women's Union and several parents were in attendance. We received a bouquet of flowers and certificates of appreciation. We wanted to pass that appreciation on to all of our donors, who like us, see that education, particularly that of girls and women is critical to the future of this country. We also presented the headman, his assistant and the director of the women's union with small pins of crossed flags ( Canadian and Vietnamese) as a token of our friendship and partnership in working together to keep these deserving young people in school.

We once again asked the students their career or continuing educational goals and many were the same as last year. However our aspiring fashion designer has now decided to be a teacher and one young man, who last year had professed to want to be a doctor, now wants to drive a train! Apparently grade 10 biology was a difficult subject for him. We know that this serious young man will be a very responsible locomotive engineer.
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Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Road Less Traveled

We traveled to the district of Hiep Duc yesterday with a Global Village Foundation team. Beyond the city of Hiep Duc and into the foothills, our destination was a tiny, isolated and very poor minority village. There are 54 different minority tribes in Vietnam, many still marginalized. The people often speak in their own dialect, can not read nor write and schooling for the children is spotty.

The journey itself was an adventure. As you can see the government is making efforts to improve road access, but for us it was a harrowing journey, with our bus often scraping its undercarriage on the deeply rutted road. At one point our progress was impeded by a stuck truck ahead, so we unloaded so that our men could help push the truck and so that our bus could get through with a lighter load.

 Posted by PicasaOur first stop was in the center of the village where we toured the village meeting house, wandered the roads and met the villagers. Although a GVF of volunteer youth from Singapore had spent time in the village our group, there to follow up on their project and offer health care advice and aid,was still a curiousity.

The guys added a few light standards and poles for basketball hoops in the square. A Vietnamese female doctor and Le Ly, our leader, delivered information about cleanliness and basic health. We then handed out goodie bags with the requisite shampoo and soap, and a new set of clothes.

Also pictured above are the old house and the new, which GVF built for a rural family, who are very poor.

Our last stop was at a small school building, where the local children are taught three days a week. The structure had been home for the Singapore students, then converted to a small classroom. We played with the kids, drew pictures, painted, exchanged a few words about our pictures of flowers, houses and birthday cakes. Of course the main attraction was the box of books, donated by Journeys of the Heart, through the Global Village foundation.

Friday, February 18, 2011

My Lai Massacre Memorial Site

We journeyed to the My Lai Massacre site yesterday and although we have been to this now tranquil memorial park on several occassions it was, as always a poignant day.

The day was slightly overcast and cool enough that we were able to stroll the now quiet gardens, slowly. Birds sang and the rice fields and vegetable gardens, within and along side the park, were green and healthy. New life has replaced the charred ruins and devastation of so many lives. The 504 souls, still are present to those who pause to contemplate the events of that fateful day in 1968.

Ha Thi Quy, a survivor, lives a short walk down a neighbouring lane in the village. She and her son and granddaughter remembered us from previous visits and welcomed us into their home. She greeted us with huge hugs and smiles.

The memories of the horror of that day for the families of this tiny hamlet in Central Vietnam are searlingly fresh, yet they cherish life, the land and the family that remains. We are humbled by their forgiveness and acceptance of us. We are moved by their "love, which passeth all understanding".
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Funeral

At 4:30 am we were wakened by what sounded like two old aluminium garbage can lids being banged together. Up and down the lanes, the tinny, rhythmic beating, ebbed and flowed. Unable to sleep we showered and dressed and were about to sit down for breakfast when, military like music echoed down the lane and into our garden.

"It is for dead people", said our hostess Le. We rushed for the camera and strode to the corner, where a crowd of neighbours was gathering for the funeral procession. Apparently, the drumming at 4:30 was to awaken the neighbours and invite them to the funeral.

We had front row seats to this moving rite. We had seen the banners flying at the gate of a nearby house over the last couple of days where the deceased had been lying in his coffin. On this day three, the coffin would be paraded ceremonially through the neighbourhood so that everyone could "say good bye". The family and mourners would then continue to the graveyard.

We have learned that the military music was not symbolic of a military career, it was simply that the family could affrod a band and "Vietnamese like this kind of music".

Pictured above are the son of the deceased carrying his picture, followed by the mother and wife.

The brilliantly clad and menacingly made up character was described to us as the ":sargeant" of the cortege and his job was not only to direct traffic, give orders for the pall bearers to take a break etc. but symbolically he also was an ominous precense to scare away the restless spirits and ensure a safe and peaceful journey to heaven for the deceased's soul.

The Buddhist shrine on a bicycle cart, a Monk and burning incence are added  for good measure.

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When I saw these two men in the procession, each with a single fragrant tuberose on their motor bikes I was struck once again by the contrasts in this culture which clings to ancient tradition, while riding the crest of rapid development.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tet is Family Time

This mornning on the first day of the Year of the Cat, we joined Binh, Quyen and Sesame for a family breakfast, before going to the pagoda to honor the ancestors.

We went to the two oldest pagodas in Hoi An. At one we venerated Quyen's Grandmother. Sesame wore traditional garments for this day and was a very good little fellow while we followed the rituals. He and Ba Elaine did sneak off to count the fish in the fish pond in front of the Lady Buddha though...I don't think Buddha or Grandma would mind!
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End of Year Celebration at Reaching Out

This year has been one of unparalled success at Reaching Out. Everyone has worked so hard to meet their targets and Binh and Quyen recognized all the staff with healthy bonuses, baskets of goodies for their families and words of encouragement and thanks. Lan An, wrote Binh's words as he spoke so that they could be signed for the speech and hearing impaired staff.

They celebrated not only the financial success of their Fair Trade, social business but marriages, babies, new houses and motor bikes. It was a good year also for health, there were no serious illnesses amongst the staff, which speaks well of their nutritious lunches every day, daily rest time and good working conditions.

Bruce and I are so touched to see the growing independence of all 50 workers and their new found confidence and pride in becoming integrated into their communities. What a gift it is for us to be associated with this exemplary young company.
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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Making Banh Tet

Banh Tet is a traditional, staple food prepared specifically for Tet. The process is painstaking, but artful, with the wrapping technique skillful, so that in the cooking process, no water and only the moisture and flavour of the banana leaves permeates the rice and bean filling.

This food is favoured because it lasts for many days after being boiled for 20 hours in a large cauldron.

At Vuon Trau, this is a fun family event, with "specialists" brought in to make the banh Tet and sweet rice flour and bean cookies. Check the slide show (upper right corner of the blog) for more pictures of Bruce and Elaine pounding the sweet honey and orange into the rice flour and best of all the smiles on the faces of our Vietnamese friends. Our fumbling attempts are the entertainment!
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