Friday, November 6, 2015

Another Hero

Remember the old exercise in self development and team building workshops, and in the "getting to know you " part of any retreat?  "Who is your hero?" "Name your three heroes."  You would rummage around in your head and heart, wandering what magnificent human being you wanted the group to associate with you. You would wonder if Jesus Christ, Ghandi, Mother Teresa or Stormin' Norman Schwartzkopf were good picks or maybe because of a conversation you had the night before "my Dad" was the right answer for the day.

While doing Journeys of Heart work in Vietnam, we meet heroes every day and I would like to introduce you to one.

This is Thanhhuynh Huynh. (pronounced Tan....a little closer to Ton as in "of coal"....then One One ..with a good out breath on the One).

Thanh works tirelessly for a Vietnamese based charity Ong Van as a volunteer. His "real" job is as a tour guide.  The translation to English of the charity name is Yellow Bee, but the corps of young Vietnamese who, under Thanh's leadership, perform miracles every week wear distinctive t-shirts with the logo Same Same But Different.  

When we met at Binh and Quyen's house to talk about the work of Ong Van, we were struck by his benevolence. He wanted us to really understand the plight of the villagers living high in the mountains.  Because of the isolation and meagre once-annual crops these Montagnards live in extreme poverty. 

The children are hungry and ignorant of the outside world.

Thanh's personal commitment and drive and enthusiastic leadership are beginning to change that....but to do so is difficult. There is the terrain to deal with in getting groups of volunteers, supplies and building materials up the mountain.

There is often a language problem once there as the hill tribes speak their own language or dialect. And often there is suspicion and opposition from the village elders, who are leery of the outsiders and their different ways. 

Thanh has two primary purposes: First to get food into hungry tummies and to provide clothing for the cool mountain climate.  This usually takes place in the dilapidated school building.

Secondly, the group provides schools and education in an effort to break the cycle of poverty and ignorance.

The trek up the mountain is daunting, even without considering hauling building materials. But several times a year, Thanh and his crew of volunteers do just that and when they get to the village they all pitch in and build a school...rain or shine!

When the school is finished, usually in just a matter of days, blessings are chanted.

When I listen to Thanh's stories and hear about the almost insurmountable obstacles I am in awe.  He is truly dedicated to strengthening his country and its poorest communities.

Journeys of the Heart, with the support of the Retired Teachers organization in Kenora, Ontario and the Saint Alban's Church School of the same town, has been able to be part of building two of these mountain schools. Others have provided funds for the food and clothing for the villagers.

In a recent  Facebook message exchange Thanhhuynh wrote " I do not know how to say but from my heart, i say thank you so much"