Tuesday, March 29, 2016

One More Delivery!!!

It is time to say goodbye to all of our friends in Vietnam for another year, but we were able, thanks to the help of a team of people, to deliver much-needed medicine to the Quang Nam Home for the Elderly and Disabled yesterday.This was a special delivery from the Tours of Peace Vietnam Veterans (TOP) Legacy Fund.

The tireless Vu Duc Anh in Saigon managed all of the ordering and delivery to Hoi An, not only of the medicines, but also a new water filter which will be located in the home in a more accessible spot for those whose disabilities make it difficult for them to make the trip to the dining room where the current and only filter resides.

It was an adventure going to the depot where the box of medicines had been delivered. Our taxi driver was very confused, as were we when we got to the first but wrong place. Things are delivered by bus and end up in one of many little passenger pick up places throughout the town. At last, we got to the right location. We had been told that there would be a long wait as hundreds of packages arrive daily. We would have to show our Passport as ID. Bruce was busy dismissing the confused driver, when I yelled across the street, "No...have him wait...she has found it". When I had walked into the tiny dark office, the young woman asked, "Who for the package?" I said "Bruce Logan." "Oh, I know" was the reply and from behind the iron grid she carried the rather large box...no signature, nothing...off we went again with the now very befuddled taxi driver who kept wanting to take us back to An Bang Beach. The Home was only another six blocks...but when I gave him a 50,000 VND tip he was all smiles!

The Director and Head Nurse ushered us into the main meeting room where we exchanged pleasantries and we proffered the box of medicines for the general populace of the home and a sum of money for the end-of-life care for a very special lady.

Ut has been a friend of TOP, its Founder Jess Devaney, Anh our fearless guide and all of the TOP participants over the years. A double amputee, the result of a land mine in the war when she 15 years old, she has lived since that time in the centre. Ut always greeted our group with huge smiles of recognition. Sadly, Ut has liver cancer and is failing quickly. Our cash donation will ensure that she has the medicine she needs for as much comfort as possible in her last months.

The smile in this picture is because we are showing her a photo of Jess, his wife Marsha and the TOP guide Anh on our last visit in October 2015.

Ut also managed a smile when I kissed her "night, night" and covered her up for her afternoon nap.

Thank goodness our friends at Reaching Out were able to send along a translator and a photographer. We could tell Ut about our sorrow, our love for her and that she would have the medicine she needed to help her digest her food and to relieve pain.

Thank you, to everyone, the TOP legacy group, Anh our master tactician, Reaching Out for translation and photos and to one taxi driver who hung in there!!! 

Hen gap lai nam sau!   See you next year!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

We Deliver

We have been working with the Reaching Out Vietnam team again, of course, this year. As usual, there are a number of things going on, the most exciting of which is the launching of the new website. Have a look at www.reachingoutvietnam.com. In addition, we have discussed packaging, signage, and the new on-line catalogue which will be up and running in a couple of months. With the catalogue, we are hoping to reach a much broader audience of customers around the world.  "Strengthening the Brand" is one of the terms that we have become familiar with. We want our slogan to be top of mind for people in the know about authentically made crafts and social enterprises gaining popularity with travellers to SE Asia. As strong as Nike's Just Do It ! We have big dreams at Reaching Out.

"Gifts That Give Twice", refers to the "social" aspect of the business. While our customers and their friends receive beautifully made memories of Hoi An, our disabled artisans and servers are given the gift of opportunity, training and meaningful employment which enables them to live independent lives.

All of this marketing and advertising has made us think....maybe Journeys of the Heart should also have a slogan or tagline. This week  "We Deliver" sounds good!!!

Bruce and I consider ourselves the delivery people for all of our supporters and donors. And what a joy it is to deliver your love, your kindness and your generous gifts.

Here is an e-mail that we got just the other day from Linda at Children's Education Foundation.

I just wanted you to know that we still have money left from V 's donation and attached are some photos related to the spending of her money on books so far. 

The money was spent for book boxes and books for the boxes. They have gone to a pagoda in Thang Binh. Children from three surrounding communities will come there to borrow books. 

The remaining money will be spent on more book boxes and books also. 

Love and thanks for your help for us to get this wonderful donation, and big thanks to V.

CEF takes such good care of the books. Each one is covered and then bagged to protect it against the unrelenting moisture in this tropical environment. The girls whose education is sponsored by donors to CEF have the privilege of signing out books and they even sign a contract about how they will care for the books until they are returned to the "library"....big plastic buckets at this pagoda.The library shelves are at the CEF office in Hoi An. There is such excitement when the girls choose their books and the smiles let us know that they will enjoy reading.

We feel useful and gratified when we receive notes like the following from donors who entrust us to get their dollars to the people "on the ground" who can directly put the funds to work. The following note came from the benefactor of these library books.

Such news and comments always move me to tears…that a gift of $$ that I do not need, could mean and do so much for girls far away. Thank you for all you do in the sharing our many blessings.

Journeys of the Heart has been a principle donor to this program, started a few years ago, in memory of a dear friend by her book club members who provided the early funds. Since then, Canadian friends who support literacy have been faithful donors and our friend V has just made another considerable contribution. 

For three years in a row now we have been "couriers" for a friend in California who sponsors a student living in a nearby fishing village of Cua Dai. L sends us letters and gifts for Van before we leave for Vietnam. Once here we are her emissaries, mounting up on motorbikes with CEF staff to wind our way down the lanes to Van's house. Just look at the smile as she, with Granny paying close attention, opens L's letter. L always sends pictures of her young family. Van's English is improving to the point where she can read L's letters from start to finish. Van is maturing and becoming a very beautiful teenager. She is taking advanced physics and chemistry this year...a very promising scholar who spends six days a week in school.We can talk together through the skillful translation of CEF staff and on every visit we are endeared by this lovely young woman, whose family is grateful for the educational assistance for Van. They are VERY proud of her, especially Granny.

Sometimes we deliver both donors and their gifts to the right places!!! Recently we accompanied Ann Wittmeyer, from Buffalo, to Nha Trang where her father served during the war. Ann made the trip to walk in her father's footsteps. She would have come with TOP Tours of Peace Vietnam Veterans had they had a scheduled trip this year, but as they did not Bruce, an experienced deputy leader for TOP took on the job. Ann, in TOP and Journeys of the Heart tradition, collected a huge suitcase full of goodies from family and friends  which we helped her deliver to the Hoi An Home for the Elderly and Disabled and the Kianh Foundation. There were also generous cash gifts.

Buffalo and Ann's friends there, gave from the heart and we were so happy to be able to share "our" Vietnam with her.

Every year, it is, as the expression goes here "Same, Same but Different".

So, let us know what you think of our slogan..."WE DELIVER"....we hope to be delivering for years to come!!!!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

International Women's Day, March 8th 2016

How lovely to be in Vietnam once again on International Women's Day! As with every holiday, celebration or anniversary, the Vietnamese create a very festive day to honour their women. Women are honoured in their homes by husbands, sons, fathers, uncles and at work by co-workers, bosses and each other!! Flowers, the expected and most usual gift, appear everywhere on the streets. Vendors peddle everything from single roses to elaborate assorted bunches and breathtaking arrangements.

I spent time on Women's Day and over the days since, in reflection, grateful for all the women in my life, and in particular,  all the strong, creative, dedicated women whom I have met through my work and adventures here in Vietnam.

Etched in my heart is the brief time that I spent with women in a brick-making facility. The women work from 7 am until 2 pm daily with no breaks. They earn the equivalent of about $150 dollars a month. But they were proud, cheerful and very welcoming. Quyen and I were invited into the facility where we were enticed to "haul bricks" with them. They laughed when I grabbed small piles of wet clay bricks and added them to the carts heading for the kiln. I gasped as I watched them shove the trolley weighing at least a ton, by hand into the furnace. Such big smiles of accomplishment when we praised their work and we laughed together about their strong muscles and my flaccid old ones.

Another image from that day remains with me. The woman pictured below is about 65 years old. She was our hostess on a visit to Dai Loc. Wife of our host, she was not introduced, but smiled in welcome. While we went to view their considerable holdings outside of the town, she stayed home to cook and not until we were all seated and served did she shyly join us at the table. The house was large and airy accommodating our hosts, their son, his wife and three boys. But she cooked as her mother and grandmother had cooked, outside, preparing and chopping the food on a banana leaf and using a charcoal burner.

Not only are they trojans when it comes to physical work, many women in Vietnam are now also very astute business women, buying and selling real estate and running large factories and companies.

Yes, no doubt about the strength of these women who in a very real way are the backbone of the country.  But it is in the end, family, which is the focus for most Vietnamese women. Grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters all caring for one another from one generation to the next.

I have also been proud of the young women who have joined us on this Journey of the Heart. Bruce's granddaughter Keryn shared her knowledge of nutrition with staff of both Reaching Out and Children's Education Foundation. It warmed my heart to see her reaching across the gap of language and culture to promote healthy lifestyles for young girls and the disabled.

Most recently Bruce and I have been hosting Ann Wittmeyer, the daughter of a US Army Veteran. She came to Vietnam to walk in her father's footsteps. Denny Wittmeyer served in Nha Trang in 1966 and 1967. Not only did we visit his sites there but here in Hoi An, Ann joined us on visits to the home of a disabled child, Reaching Out Craft Shop and Tea House, the Hoi An Home for the Aged and the Kianh Foundation ... a school and rehabilitation center for disabled children. Everywhere we went, Ann brought her wide smile, gifts and financial donations.

Yesterday I was reminded of the grace and elegance of Vietnamese women as I watched a small troupe of Cham dancers at the Cham Towers in Nha Trang. These relics remain from the 1000 year era of Cham domination. An ethnic group, whose religion is a hybrid of both Hindu and Islam, is endeavouring to maintain their culture.

And so my dear women, I salute you, my sisters, my soul sisters, my daughters, my friends, my colleagues. I am grateful for your companionship, your generosity and your grace. I thank you for making me smile!

And perhaps I can make you smile....this is a typical Vietnamese male. After a brief introduction on his drum, he switched on some recorded music and attentively supported the dance troupe.