Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Delivering Donations

Yesterday we went off to the Red Cross Centre here in Hoi An to visit our old friends. Miss Hoa is the Director of VAVA (Vietnamese Association for Victims of Agent Orange and her partner is Mr. Thinh). Over the years these two former Viet Cong soldiers have been welcoming and gracious. They have treated us to dinners, lunches and cruises down the Thu Bon River at night with the lanterns floating all around.

 We are now so relaxed with them that Miss Hoa, in talking with our interpreter, pointed a finger at Bruce saying "bang bang" indicating that as a Viet Cong soldier they were on different sides on the war.....then we all hugged.

Our purpose was to deliver the generous donations from Bruce's buddies, veterans who served in the 4th Battalion, 23d Infantry, so many years ago and many of whom also suffer the effects of Agent Orange. These US Army veterans are generally compensated for any illness related to their Agent Orange exposure, but in Vietnam the support, if any, from the government is woefully inadequate.   Nor of course has the US government or the chemical companies responsible for the manufacture of this dioxin stepped forward in any meaningful way to ease the suffering of these victims. There is however now an American funded project to neutralize the areas near Da Nang where Agent orange was stored.

Bruce was ably assisted in his communication by our friend Ni, (right front). Ni works at Reaching Out but volunteered to give us a hand during the meeting. The young woman Thuy (right top) is new to her job and her spoken English is sparse. She is replacing the lovely Phuong who has recently married and no longer works with VAVA. It was primarily Phuong, whose English we relied upon, who stick-handled our negotiations to work with VAVA to set up the idea of a micro-loan program...a "hand up" instead of a "hand out." With Ni's help yesterday, we were able to get agreement that the program will continue with this years' recipients of loans being, among others, a family for whom a cow will make a difference in their lives ensuring fresh milk and the possibility for breeding cattle. Another family will be supported in getting started in the fishing business.

After the formal counting and handing over of the cash and the writing of receipts (this agency does VERY meticulous paper work), Ni also helped us to deepen our relationships with Miss Hoa and Mr. Thinh, enquiring about one another's health and telling stories of our visits through the years. It helps that all of our old pictures are still under glass on the desk and on the walls of the office. Proudly displayed is a picture of one of our donors sporting the scarf made for her by a recipient who started a home based knitting business.

Never wanting to miss out Mr. Nguyet, an 84 years old resident of the Red Cross Centre just marched into the office and took a seat.

Nguyet and his wife are old friends too and right on the spot Miss Hoa shared a few dollars from the donations with him. My reward was a big kiss and we had a good giggle when I told him that he was too old to be my boyfriend.

Nguyet and his wife live at the centre which is frankly quite dismal, with tiny, sparsely furnished rooms. The air circulation on this sweltering day was negligible and the foul orders from the communal bathroom at the end of the hall hung in the air. As always we were invited to their room. You see most of it in this picture.

What we find incredible is that despite the fact that Nguyet served for 65 years in the military on the side of the North, the victors, yet this meagre place with a small stipend is his only benefit. Because of their Agent Orange exposure they have no children to look after them. I think that even Ni was taken aback by their humble circumstances. She was particularly impressed with this photo, stashed under glass on the one small table. Nguyet's medals are impressive on the uniform which hangs still under plastic on one of the walls (you can see it just behind Bruce's ear in the photo above)

There is not an angry, resentful bone is this old, wizened body....still a proud soldier and gracious host.

After tea and cookies we said our good-byes...a very sober trio, Bruce, Ni and I.

Huge thank you hugs to the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry gentleman and their wives who have sent such generous gifts. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hello Hoi An

We have been in Hoi An, our "home away from home", for a week! After a couple of days to acclimatize we were immediately immersed in our work with Reaching Out Vietnam.

The first task has been to work with a team of very skookum young folks in tackling the design of a new website. Two design consultants from Singapore were here. We had met Bryan in Singapore where he treated us to a fabulous dinner in the Botanical Garden. We enjoyed great food and the respite of a quiet green sanctuary in the midst of all the frenetic Singapore traffic and the mayhem of 4.5 million people on a tiny island.

Travelling to Vietnam from Singapore was an all day event as we set out from our hotel at 9:30 am and arrived in Da Nang at 7:30 pm ...two flights with a three hour layover in Ho Chi Minh City, where the time passed pleasantly enough as three friends made a special trip out to the airport to have a coffee with us.  We will see Anh again in a few weeks when we link up with the TOP, Tours of Peace Vietnam group.

Although tired, our spirits picked up when we saw our welcoming committee at the Da Nang airport. Sesame is now 11 years old and is almost a tall as his mother, Quyen.

Once home at An Bang beach we set up our offices....any place that was cool and had Internet access. It took us a few days to figure out that the old fashioned modem at our house required a cable which a previous tenant had probably stashed in his/her suitcase. Several days we had to sit in a beach side bistro. What a hardship!

The work on the website was quite overwhelming for us. We were drowning in technological waters with new lingo and magic tricks. But there was no catching up for us, so we took on the task of writing the content. Should be an easy job for two writers, right? But not so...the script needs to be appropriately heartfelt to capture the essence of this social enterprise and yet be clean, crisp and short to appeal to screen readers. Quite a challenge for these two old, verbose story tellers.

This is the office at Binh and Quyen's house and this is how a meeting happens in communication!!!

 The food on Quyen's table is plentiful, frequent and delicious. We never know what delicacy will appear on the table or when!

Dim Sum and moon cakes 

Banh beo

Fried squid

The next five weeks will be rewardingly busy. We will work with Children's Education Foundation for a couple of days, see Thanhhuynh Huynh to deliver funds for schools for the poor in remote mountain villages, work with VAVA on the micro loan program and scurry around preparing gifts, with Quyen's help, for the humanitarian work with TOP. And of course continue with the variety of tasks which crop up with Reaching Out. A need for some staff training seems to be looming!

We are well and ants, searing heat, plugged shower drains, language problems (still after all these years!), beeping, swirling, crazy motor bike drivers and loud wedding music in the neighbourhood aside.

Let us know how you are dear friends and please share our blog on Facebook. We could use a few more "likes"

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Last Minute Miracle

Our bags are all packed and ready to zip closed for the next Journey of the Heart and as usual they are overflowing with gifts for the Vietnamese people we serve.

One of the stops that we make annually and will do so again this year, with Tours of Peace Vietnam Veterans, is the Hoi An Home for the Aged and Disabled. In our suitcases are today's last minute miracle for the nursing staff there.

When we think of head lamps here at home, we think of reading in bed, hiking, camping or managing in a black out.

But at the nursing home, these are essential tools. Can you imagine during a power outage trying to care for and feed these dear people in the dark? Floors are slippery during wet weather, many residents are confined to their beds while others are on crutches or using other mobility devices.

 Head lamps for the staff are precious things to have so that they can care for their charges and have two hands free for feeding or lifting.

Today I went to our local hardware store, where Manager KimYoung has been a loyal supporter for years, not only donating from the stock at the store, but also personally.  In response to my plea, I walked away with drastically reduced headlamps and of course some balloons for the kids at our next stop in Hue at the Duc Son Pagoda Orphanage.

So a big "shout out" for Kim and Mouat's Home Hardware, Salt Spring Island!

Such a nice "going away" present for Journeys of the Heart. We are so lucky to be the ones to deliver all this love from Canada and the USA.