Sunday, October 22, 2017

Tugging at the Heart Strings

Every time we are able to deliver gifts, donated by dear friends, family, neighbours, colleagues and fellow travellers, we are again moved by their generosity, love and trust. We also now have a team of Vietnamese who are helpful with translating and guidance.

An event last week was typical of the astonishing teamwork. We attended a meeting at Reaching Out,  at the arts and crafts shop as well as the tea house. Members of USAID and a delegation of the Asia Pacific Subcommittee of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee visited as part of a Southeast Asia fact-finding trip.





As is often the case, the agenda was not exactly clear, but the RO team were ready and welcomed this group of VIP's with their usual aplomb. We had thought that they were simply seeking clarity about the social enterprise model which has been the foundation of RO's success and sustainability...a way for the disabled to learn marketable skills and earn a living in a society where advances on building access for the disabled are limited. But they concentrated instead on how they might influence the Vietnamese government. Although the laws are on the books they are far from being universally implemented. This was a good thing.





Early evening tea was served in the Tea House garden; a peaceful place to answer their questions.As always, time was short, there were too many questions and too many "spokespersons" but I believe that some seeds of awareness were planted in the minds and hearts of this delegation.







Another occasion last week on behalf of TOP, Tours of Peace, Vietnam Veterans tugged at the strings of our hearts. TOP has supported the Quang Nam home for the Aged for many years and it was our pleasure to deliver a good supply of medications to the centre for TOP. With the help of Vu Duc Anh in Saigon, who acquired and shipped the medicine to Hoi An, we delivered two huge cartons of necessary medicines. The Director was delighted.






Once again, our Grandson Sesame was along to help with translation. He has become a staunch supporter of our work and is growing into quite a statesman.






Sesame's presence allows us to have more in-depth conversations with our hosts and we are deepening the relationships that we have with them and the residents of this institution. Here we are getting to know Trung, a very caring young nurse. I also had a nice chat with my friend Huynh pictured above.

We spent time talking about our friend Ut who died last year at age 61 of liver cancer. She was a double amputee, having stepped on a landmine when she was 14 years old. Surprisingly we were invited to go to visit her graveside. This we did this morning, guided by Ut's granddaughter.











Bruce proudly wore his TOP cap as he paid homage to this brave lady. You may remember that during Ut's last painful months we, once again with Anh's help, were able to provide Ut with medicine to make her more comfortable. TOP trip participants loved UT and she, them.






Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Our Eleventh Journey of the Heart

In 11 years the city of Hoi An has grown beyond our wildest imaginings, with new hotels, neighbourhoods, roads, and eateries, springing up all over. Traffic is more frenzied, from haphazard and noisy, to simply crazy. But at her heart, she is the same town of lanterns, fishing boats, ancient buildings and wonderful food. There is evidence of more wealth but surprisingly little development in the way of social services. Poverty has not abated. Farmers, fishers, day labourers and villagers are struggling more than ever. And so we have once again rolled up our sleeves and begun to seek out ways to alleviate some of the pain of that poverty.  We could not do this without the generous funds given to us for our work, by friends, family and neighbours.

Our first stop, as always, was to Reaching Out, both the Arts and Crafts Shop and the Tea House. Each enterprise won an Award of Excellence from Trip Advisor for the past year. I was able to order the flags and brought them in my suitcase. Here you see me helping the staff at the Tea House hang their banner. They are all lovely young women and now manage the tea house and serve with silent elegance. Their speech and hearing impairments are no obstacle. I don't know who is more proud of their achievements, me, the management team or they themselves. It was quite a celebration!





Once again we had the distinct privilege of visiting the Kianh Foundation to deliver funds donated by
Salt Springers. The Kianh Foundation is a day school for disabled children. This well run, happy place has made miraculous progress, through therapy and education, enabling these kids to develop to their fullest potential. One young boy, now 10 years old, joined the day program at the age of 3. He could not sit up at that time. As we chatted on the breezeway, he came scooting by with the assistance of a walker, evidence of his determination and the dedication of his therapists. Families are encouraged to follow routines and therapies practiced at the centre.

We count ourselves very lucky to be able to visit, as the Foundation is staunchly protective of the children's privacy and ask that people interested in their work, research their website. www.kianh.org.uk. Because we know the Director personally and work with other organizations dedicated to providing skills training for the disabled, we were invited for a quick visit during their Friday afternoon playtime and order a refreshing beverage at the small cafe run by the older kids.








The Kianh Foundation has the only wheelchair customization capability in the region and is able to adapt wheelchairs to tiny bodies, which can be adjusted as the child grows.

Thanks again friends, family and neighbours for contributing precious funds which make the lives of these severely disabled children more comfortable and give hope to their families.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Annual Appeal 2017

Off We Go Again!

Once again we are anticipating another trip to Vietnam. Although we do not depart until September 20th we are already thinking about shots, mosquito repellent, and the right clothes for both sunny, hot, humid weather and possible monsoon rains. 

Over the years we have seen some amazing progress in Vietnam, a developing economy, more advanced infrastructure and greater awareness about the environment. But sadly as the country moves full stride from a developing world to one of greater stability and wealth and as a strong middle class develops, the disenfranchised become more destitute. Greed and corruption lead to more severe problems. Child trafficking is on the rise, village people do not have access to education for their children and the number of people of disability does not diminish.


We are working with several organizations whose purpose is to prevent child trafficking and rescue children, both boys and girls who are lured into slavery in sweat shops, mines, the fishing industry, prostitution or as child brides.

  • Blue Dragon: Hanoi  https://www.bluedragon.org
  • Ethos: Northern Vietnam http://www.ethosspirit.com/ethosgiving.html
  • Go Philanthropic: Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal http://gophilanthropic.org/gophil-expands-trafficking-work-vietnam/
  • Children's Education Foundation, Vietnam http://www.childrenseducationfoundation.org.au/programs.html
  • Vietnam Education Society: http://vietnameducation.ca/about-ves/
The biggest change that we have seen over the last 18 months is the trend towards networking amongst the above organizations. We share information, stories, heartening rescue stories and developing relationships with police and authorities.

All the proceeds from Bruce' latest book, Finding Lien are being donated to these organizations.



There is so much work to be done and the costs of rescue and rehabilitation are high. 

We are also working with Ong Vang, a Vietnamese organization, dedicated to building new schools in ethnic villages high in the mountains of Vietnam.  This is the latest school facility that we have learned about and we are contributing to the financing of materials for the volunteer labourers. All these materials are hauled up the mountain by the young teams.








Poverty and lack of education are the most frequent reasons that children are trafficked, therefore providing schools and teachers and funds to sponsor education are critical. Children do not attend school for many reasons: distance to school by foot, lack of money to pay for uniforms, parental insistence that the children work on the land, disability and lack of accessibility in the school facility.

When we deliver gifts from an American sponsor to "her" student we can see the wonderful results. Van can now read Liz's letters in English. She knows all the names of her family members. Just look at the proud Grandma! This sponsorship is through Children's Education Foundation Vietnam. 



We are still working with the aged also and look forward to seeing our old friends at the Hoi An Home for the Aged. This home is also a beneficiary of fund raising that continues with our group of former Tours of Peace participants.




If you would like to support our work, please send a cheque to:

Journeys of the Heart
#10-115 Upper Ganges Road
Salt Spring Island, BC
Canada
V8K 2Y3

We are happy to deliver your gifts!

You may also choose to donate directly to any of the organizations listed above.

Thank You!!



Tuesday, October 11, 2016

From One School District to Another Far Away

Our friend Lydia Dean (founder of GoPhilanthropic, a successful philanthropic travel organization and charitable foundation) told us some years ago "It is all a matter of connecting the dots." I think she says the same thing in her memoir, Jumping the Picket Fence, when discussing getting things done in developing countries by supporting local, grassroots organizations. If one invests the time for deep listening to ascertain core values, operational integrity and current and longer-term needs, one discovers the most appropriate and engaging ways to encourage local groups. Soon the right people are in the right place, at the right time, with the right funds! Concern for education, the rights of women and girls and most recently anti-child trafficking efforts have kept us in close touch with Lydia and our networks which are growing in size and strength.

My story this week is about how one of those miraculous networks, with paths of connecting dots, helped to build another school in the Highlands of Central Vietnam.

Here was the challenge. This, believe it or not, is the former functioning school in a remote mountain village.



DOT #1 A few years ago I noticed, in the town of Hoi An, often on a Sunday, a gang of young people dressed in t-shirts which read "Same Same But Different." I was intrigued by their energy and laughter as they assembled on a street corner. I remember asking one young woman what they were all about. Of course, I asked in English and got a shrug in response. Once again I wished that I could get my tongue around the Vietnamese language. 


DOT #2 It took months of patching information together, but with the help of Quyen and our Vietnamese family we got it sorted. "SAME SAME BUT DIFFERENT" is the slogan of a local group of volunteers with an organization called ONG VANG. www.ongvangcharity.org. 







I liked the idea of local, young Vietnamese working on a volunteer basis to help their less advantaged countrymen. Unbeknownst to me, Quyen and Binh and their staff at Reaching Out, www.reachingoutvieetnam.com, were supporting Ong Van!


DOT #3 Then we met Thanh Huynh. 





Thanh Huynh spearheads many Ong Vang charitable events in Hoi An, but what interested me most was what I was beginning to learn about the living conditions of the mountain people in Central Vietnam, the appalling conditions of their schools and the herculean tasks that Thanh and his crews were faced with in building new schools. Just look at the muck, the live electrical cords in the muck, the sandaled feet. And, all of the materials are hauled up the mountain by hand.





DOT #4 My sister and her husband are retired teachers in Ontario. Of course, they too were riveted by the pictures and stories that I have been posting about what these young people are doing to provide weatherproof shelter in which mountain children could learn. 





DOT #5 District 26 Kenora RTO/ ERO. The local Kenora chapter of the Retired Teachers organization of Ontario has recently, once again, responded to our plea for funds to build another school. This vital and active organization helps retired educators to remain engaged in the world and our projects in Vietnam fit the bill!!! Lured by a delicious basket of goodies as a raffle prize, put together by my sister, the group raised significant funds to sponsor school #9 in the highlands.






And so, despite foul weather the SAME SAME gang set off up the mountain to once again, against all odds, build a school and playground. Thank you!  District 26 Kenora RTO/ERO
















 The children were fed. Looks like someone donated jackets this time as well.



You, your organization, your family, your class, your network could be DOT # 6, 7, 8, 9, 10!!! Let's help ONG VANG build more schools.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Taking Care of Ut

We first met Ms. Ut at the Hoi An Home for the Aged and Disabled in 2006 while on a tour with TOP  Vietnam Veterans, our first trip to Vietnam. As the name implies, the home is a pretty basic care facility for "orphans": people of disability or the aged who do not have family to care for them. Staff do their best to provide nourishment, shelter and personal care under difficult conditions and with inadequate funding.

However, Ut and many of the residents showed the resilience we find so admirable in the Vietnamese.   Our group in 2006 was greeted with welcoming smiles and those who were able came forward to shake our hands, to show us their rooms, to share small stories which because of our lack of skill in the Vietnamese language were short, often befuddled and funny. But we did make friends and over the subsequent 9 years, Ut became a very special friend indeed.

We visited annually with TOP and witnessed a special bond grow between Ut, Jess Devaney, TOP's founder and Vu Duc Anh our guide. Ut seemed to be the center's Ambassador of cheer. She embraced all of the TOP trippers and had a great fondness for Bruce.




 When we first met Ut she used blocks of wood to get around. A double amputee, she lost her lower limbs to a landmine when she was fifteen during the war. Since then she has resided at the home. Thanks to TOP, Ut was given a wheelchair which opened up her world. During our subsequent visits and long stays in Hoi An, Bruce and I would often see Ut as we rode by on our bicycles, visiting with her friends the street vendors across the road. She always waved, flashed her big smile and shouted greetings to us.

Sadly, on our visit in September 2015 we learned that Ut has liver cancer. Here she is though, with Anh, Marsha Devaney and Jess Devaney on that day, still smiling.




But there were tears after the smiles. Ut knew that her cancer was terminal and some of our group members knew that this would probably be the last time they would see Ut. 

When Bruce and I returned to Hoi An in early 2016 a visit to Ut was high on the list. Ut had failed dramatically. She was very thin and confined to her bed and in severe pain.




It was time to set the wheels in motion. Anh, our TOP guide and dear friend in Ho Chi Minh City helped us (as did the staff and our family at Reaching Out) with coming to understanding with the Director of the home and his Head Nurse what medications Ut needed to supplement her nutrition and to ease her pain. Anh, the Director and Head Nurse worked out with the Doctor how the medications might be procured. Bruce and I sent the word to our network of TOP tour participants to generate the necessary funds. The team at Reaching Out provided us with translators for our visits with Ut and they also added funds from their own charitable foundation.



 It is worthy to note that Reaching Out, a social enterprise which we began to serve in 2006, has grown to 70 staff and because of their success are now at a point where the staff themselves volunteer in community outreach to persons of disability and they are able to support others financially.

The network responded and Ut has had medications since March. Miraculously she lives on, although our friends in Hoi An were deeply saddened on their last visit to see her distended abdomen and her frailty. This picture was a clarion call and more donations were sent to ensure that these last days will be as comfortable as possible for dear Ut.



Ut has been a great teacher. By example, she has shown us all how life can be rich and full of laughter. She has shown us grace despite her humble life and her painful ending.



  Thank you Ut. And thank you to TOP trip participants, Anh, the Reaching Out staff and the Director of the Hoi An Home for facilitating our gift giving and delivering the medications that Ut has needed. Blessings to all.