Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Good News Story

Remember Chuong? This is the young man who is mentally challenged and whose parents have helped him establish a flower growing business with a micro-loan from VAVA and generous Journeys of the Heart donors.

We were anxious to know how he did with sales just prior to Tet, when consumers are buying flowers for their homes and to offer at the pagodas and shrines for their ancestors. The competition is fierce with hundreds of sellers lining the streets in Hoi An and the neighbouring city of Da Nang.

This morning we had coffee with Phuong ( top right in picture below) and her friend Yen from the Red Cross.

As we sat in the garden of the new Reaching Out Teahouse, we heard the story. Chuong's parents decided to sell all of the flowers wholesale. Although of course the prices were lower, they did not have to join the hundreds of others on the street AND they sold the entire crop!! The loan can now be paid back in full, with enough left over to refinance the business for next year.

We love this kind of success story!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Tet Lunar New Year

We participated in some of the rituals of Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year again this year. The buildup to Tet includes the preparation of traditional foods such as banh Tet, a rice and bean curd concoction which is wrapped in banana leaves and boiled for 12 hours. The resulting cake lasts for days and is sliced for consumption at most meals. There is a real art to wrapping the banh Tet and these experts show us the technique every year at our home stay.

Tet morning we went to our family's house for a traditional breakfast and then off to the pagoda where we gave thanks for all of our blessings, paid homage to the Buddha and in return for a small donation, received our fortune on a little piece of paper in a red envelope from one of the monks. Our fortunes were for good health and good fortune....we'll take it!!!!

A tradition at Tet is also to give "lucky money" envelopes to young children and elders...but we also include the staff at Vuon Trau who take such good care of us every year.

Then off we went to the beach for three days. What bliss. We avoided all of the boisterous parties with too much "mot, hai, ba, YO!" ( one, two three drink!) and did what Grandparents do all over the world.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Reaching Out Tea House Opens

Recently Reaching Out, the social enterprise with which we have been working for the last five years opened a new endeavour. The Tea House located a short walk from the craft shop in an ancient house is decoratd in keeping with the era, elegant and subdued. Above, we are greeted by Quyen's Mom and Dad as we enter as the first honoured guests.

The Grandmothers, Quyen's Mom, Binh's Mom and I are seated at the window side table and await our tea. It will be served by the staff who are speech and hearing impaired thus the traditional tea ceremony will be in silence.

The high beamed ceiling, antique furniture, classical serving pots and cups all add to the tranquility of the experience. Fine teas and coffees of Vietnam are featured, paired with small traditional snacks such as coconut, rice cookies and candied ginger.

We are so proud of this innovative initiative that will expand the opportunities for these women who have been seamstresses in the craft shop. They are amazingly confident and poised and after a few first day "butterflies" they are serving with great grace and poise.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Micro Loan Program Report

How do you assess whether a blind man with a blind wife and a new baby is a good candidate for a micro loan to establish his own massage business? Currently working in Da Nang 45 minutes away from his parental home in Hoi An, this young man has lost his sight as an adult, but has pursued a career as a masseur.

He wants to be closer to home and the support of family who will ensure his transportation to and from clients. With a Granny this sweet how can we say "no"?

Duy (below) is 26 years old and despite his disabilities, he recognizes his name and smiled broadly when we wished him Happy New Year. He is a third generation victim. His parents are asking for assistance to mend their fishing nets so that they can harvest the tiny fish that live in the branch of the river which flows past their crumbling house. Each year the floods cause more damage to the structure.

The thatch business which Journeys of the Heart financed a year ago is prospering and the family of this severely disabled young man are now more able to take care of his needs and medical supplies. Their loan is almost paid in full.

Thank you for your generous gifts.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Visting the Children from Hoa Van

I awoke this morning with a heavy heart.

We knew that yesterday would be difficult; that our task would take all the objectivity that we could muster despite our hearts being pummeled. We knew that the people that we have come to know and love and who have lived in isolation (because some of their family members had been stricken with leprosy), were relocated last year because the government had expropriated their land in the pristine remote beach-side location where they fished and farmed with pride despite their humble homes and meager incomes. We had heard the rumor that a Club Med would be built.

We also knew the villagers would be relocated to homes on the outskirts of the city of Da Nang, to properties that they purchased near a railroad track or to a blockhouse. Compensation would be paid to each family.

Our job was to assist Children’s Education Foundation to determine the continuing needs for school tuition for the high school children from the village.  Many had been boarding with relatives or friends while their parents still lived in the village. Their yearly expenses were high. But now the families were reunited and perhaps their needs would be fewer.

The conditions under which some of these “refugees” are living were shocking. Not only is the housing barren and often filthy, but the parents are also unable to imagine how to make a living here. Some of the men try to fish, by travelling great distances to launch their boats back at the village. Others have no work and cannot comprehend what they might do and are relying on their compensation package to survive. As far as we could tell, this compensation will last about two years. Some have blown the whole package on decorating their homes with furniture and televisions. As one young salesperson at Reaching Out declared this morning, “They have no knowledge about how to handle their money and put savings in the bank”. Thank god that Binh and Quyen are teaching their disabled staff how to manage their money!

Families could choose to live in what are called “block houses”. Sixty-four families now reside in concrete row houses, which are newly built on a barren stretch of land far from their gardens, rice paddies, fishing beach and their ancestors’ graves.

Surprisingly the high school students who are sponsored by CEF, Go Philanthropic and Journeys of the Heart donors love their new homes. They are with their parents and they have friends at school. In their innocence they do not see the grim future that their families will suffer when the money is gone.

The parents do know. “ How will I feed my children?” asked one mother of four whose teenager from an early first marriage is one of the children in high school. “We cannot work,” said two older sufferers of leprosy; parents of another recipient of CEF support. One father that we met seemed to be relying on alcohol to ease his pain, much to his daughter’s embarrassment. She is one of the best students. Quiet and bespectacled she manages to study despite living in a house with nine relatives including two small boys who love loud cartoons which played while we conducted the assessment and the two toddlers climbed all over our blushing young student.

As always there were moments when the strength and resilience of the Vietnamese shone on our day. At one home, not twenty feet from the railway track an inveterate farmer had begun to grow his garden in pots and every available patch of dirt, the little green plants signaling his hope that his family will eat and all will be well in this strange new city.

The day was tiring and at times tedious but often tender, with true warmth from some of the families and the “head woman” of the blockhouse commune.  Assessment will be difficult for our team of three, Linda DeWolf  (a volunteer with Go Philanthropic), Bruce and I. Of course I want all the children to go to school and will have to endeavor to be objective in our meeting this afternoon when we make our recommendations.

You can see more photos of this day at:  This website shows all the photos that we took on this heart wrenching day. The pictures tell the story which my words cannot describe. For all of our past photos click “My Photos” when you get to the site to see all albums.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Your Donation Dollars at Work

 At the Vietnamese Association for Victims of Agent Orange the administrative procedures are tightly controlled. Before any monies can be distributed receipts must be issued to the donors...and so here we are signing on your behalf. Phuong is putting the receipts in envelopes which we will deliver to you on our return to North America.

We wanted to see the results of the some of the projects supported by your funds in the micro-loan program, so we hopped on the backs of motorbikes and joined a cavalcade out into the countryside to visit Chung and his family ( and as it turned out...a large group of curious neighbours)

Chung, a second generation victim, is mentally challenged. With the support of his aging parents, he started a Tet flower business. This week all of the plants and the kumquat trees will be delivered to the flower markets and Chung and his family believe that they will be able to repay the entire loan if sales are good.

 We also took advantage of being with the family to deliver the envelope with Tet lucky money. As always there needed to be a signature on a receipt for the gift. Chung can not write or comprehend the idea of needing to sign, so his father put his mark on the paper for him.

Here are some of the colourful mums, ready for delivery. The flowers are pulled up by the roots so that when they are put in a vase for a shrine or as decoration for the house, they will last longer. The kumquat trees often are returned to the nursery after Tet where they are tended until the next year.

As usual I was drawn to the old sisters here in Vietnam. This Grandma, with her Betel nut smile was a neighbour who came to see us and of course had a turn at holding the baby. Babies are never far from some one's arms, passed from one to the other with little evidence of shyness. The toy is an empty cigarette package!

In the next weeks we will be visiting more victim families and checking the progress of their new small home based businesses that you, our donors ave made possible.