Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Libraries Are Coming !!

On Monday, February 25, the Global Village Foundation Portable Libraries Winter 2008 project began to roll out to village schools in Quan Nam province. Our vans rattle along the narrow and bumpy roads to central schools. The teachers and their keenest students travel from their satellite schools in the district to join the celebratory and learning experiences offered by our international volunteer team of 13 educators, translators, and organizers. The logistics of getting the volunteers, libraries, equipment (posters,paper,pens,prizes)for the learning sessions and food, cooking and service items for a gathering of 300 people are daunting.
Our days begin with a 5 a.m. wake up call and end at about 9 p.m., after we have reorganized for the next day.
What an exciting time it is, from the opening ceremonies, including the endless speeches that are a Vietnamese tradition and the sweet presentations of welcome by the students, to the learning sessions for teachers and masses of kids and the pure delight of introducing the gathered throng to the American tradition of the hot dog!!!
The most endearing of all is to see the genuine delight with the gift of the libraries and the enthusiastism for reading. We teach the teachers some techniques to make reading fun and to stimulate creativity and encourage inquisitiveness. The children are given reading and creative writing assignments ( and have a lot of games and entertainment) Our translators are very busy!!! Action songs fill in a lot of gaps.
Yesterday, it began to rain, right smack dab in the middle of the children's outdoor reading exercise, but they would not quit or take a moment to run for the shelter of the porches....they improvised tents and carried on. This preseverance and ingenuity are charateristics which have helped this nation recover from 2000 years of conflict and invasion!
Bruce and I are doing a lot of squatting on little stools, gesturing, smiling, nodding, singing, clapping, acting, and is everyone as we work our way through the day.
At the end of the day the schools which receive the libraries for the first rotation, pack them onto what ever mode of transportation is available and away they go!!!
Thank you all donors for your support of this program. We are so grateful for this opportunity to deliver your gifts.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The School that Love Built

A year ago, with funding from Global Village Foundation, labour and spirited art work by students from Signapore, this school and library room were built. It is equipped with Portable Libraries, the book boxes which travel from school to school.
We visited this remote village school yesterday in, Que Xuan II, Quang Nam Province to do some follow up to see how well the library had been implemented. As you can see the kids and locals all love the school and the books! Huong and Vinh, the two young men who do all the legwork for Global Village in the Da Nang office were our interpreters.
Although not far from the city of Hoi An, this village was another world. We travelled down a track, barely wide enough for our van, through brilliant emerald rice fields, passing farmers walking or bicycling with hoes slung over their shoulders. The peacefulness of the school grounds, the murmur of small voices and a river flowing beyond the fence, were idyllic for us....a lovely break from the cacophony of the city.
The children read enthusiastically, even though the teachers are still lacking some of the skills to make the books come alive and integrate the learning into other programs. When we arrived about thirty children were sitting reading aloud, each reading a different book! It was not a regular school day for these kids, but they had all come to sit and read......maybe just to get a look at us!!! We sang a couple of songs...ah the universal language of music.
Work is continuing on the school, with an outdoor reading circle being built in the garden and the playground equipment improved.
We are looking forward to delivering more libraries ( one from our Canadian friends!) and skill training for teachers next week.
Stay tuned!!!

Sunday, February 17, 2008


These two houses sit literally across the road from one another, beside the canal. We pass by nightly as we stroll to the main street in search of our dinner. Over the month that we have been here, we have had many opportunitites to witness the contrasts in the lives of these very close neighbours.
The large house is a single family dwelling ( the sign to the left is for our inn......makes it look rather like this palatial place is the hotel!!!) Unlike the majority of Vietnamese who own land, these folks have not planted every available square inch with vegetables.....corn,squash or beans.
We have surmised therefore that the owner has either a high ranking government job or prospers from the tourist industry.
Across the road, this two room house, has at least five occupants....six counting the big TV in the main room! Yesterday we saw three water buffalo wandering through the field adjacent, and so we have imagined that the inhabitants of this house work land somewhere nearby.
Obviously there are few "zoning by-laws" here. We do see evidence of planned "suburban communities", but so far there are only signs with lots plotted out and no sign of construction. One day this lilttle town will though, be connected to the neighbouring city of Da Nang, by a string of such developments as well as luxury hotels and golf courses along the prime beach front property.
As everywhere, the concern is for the locals continuing ability to produce their own food and survive without the rice paddies and corn fields.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Abilites Not Disabilities

At Reaching Out we are learning more than we are contributing. We are continously surprised at the level of sophistication of Binh and Quyen's management style. They have created an example for the world of how encouragement, empowerment, acceptance, strength,determination and love can transform lives.
Our new friends have shown us that by focusing on our skills and abilities, we are able to accomplish great things. The deaf are not distracted and therefore work with incredible focus on stitchery, beading, embroidery, metal work. The intensity of their concentration allows them to produce works of art with speed. The mobility impaired also seem capable of unwavering focus.

One is taken by their obvious pride and satisfaction in creating beautiful works of art. They express themselves through their work, whether Down Syndrome or physically disabled from the effects of Agent Orange as are young Nguyen and Dung (pronounced Yoom), the young men pictured above on their crutches. We are trying not to have favourites, but as you can imagine Bruce is particulary drawn to Nguyen and Dung whose parents were guerillas in the mountains during the war and obviously were exposed to the chemical. Nyguen will soon marry a young woman who also woks at RO.
Most importantly, everyone here is living independently and sometimes supporting a family with the fair wages that they are earning. Benefits include health insurance, training, a loan program for bicycles, motor bikes etc.

Hoa Nhap, the Vietnamese name for the store and workshop, means "integration".....a mission that is being achieved here in the heart of Hoi An....the real heart!

The legacy of the scholarships which we presented from Canada will support more " other abled"people to transform their lives. Thank you,thank you!!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Reflections of the Past

This is the house where Le Ly Hayslip's parents settled in 1927 with her older sister Hai, a baby in arms. Hai still lives here and it was Hai we visited as honored first guests on Tet. Hopefully we brought luck through the door that day.
As we celebrated and worshipped the ancestors the history of this house and the family did not escape us.
The peaceful green rice paddy is where Le Ly saw her first American helicopter as a young child and where she stood as a sentinel for the Viet Cong, changing her shirt to different colors to signal ARVN or US activity.
The mound behind the house is where the family hid, from all sides of the conflict. It did not save Le Ly from either rape by the Viet Cong, or imprisonment by the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN).
The kitchen remains much the same in the old house, except for the gas stove. but it is here that all the cooking is done, sometimes for 40-50 people as on Tet.
Standing in the small garden, dominated by shrines, it was almost unfathomable.....the ghosts, the history, the miracle of survival and the tenacity of this one family.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Over and Over

We are over- stimulated, over-stretched, over-fed, over-tired but also over joyed with the warmth and generosity of our Vietnamese hosts.
Tet has been a succession of events and happenings which have been educational and inspirational.
In answer to Bruce's innocent question at the lunch following the first veneration of ancestors "Who are all the people here?" pointing to the three tables of relatives, staff, guests, TV crew and friends. "We are all family. We are all Vietnamese", said our host. He meant EVERYBODY, we Westerers included.
We have prayed with and been blessed by Buddist monks and family shamans. We have been adopted as Mother and Father and Granddaughter and Grandson, Uncle and Auntie. The sister of Grandma here is in love with a picture of my Grandfather in his Army uniform.
We have eaten a pig's head straight from the altar and lotus root salad and watched fireworks, both to the east and west of our little balcony.
We have socialized more than we do in a year on Salt Spring! It is all good.....very,very good!!!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Eating on the Street

One of our hopes for this Journey of the Heart was that we would experience Vietnam and its culture at an intimate level. With the lovely and gracious Quyen as our guide and companion we have begun to see how the Vietnamese live from day to day in this ancient city and the verdant countryside. Our hosts at our homestay have also been most welcoming and we have shared meals at their table and celebrations of Tet preparation and the rituals followed to usher in the New Year.
We certainly would not have found this bakery without Quyen. We watched the bread being baked, before sitting in a little alley way cafe, beside the hole in the wall where the wood for the oven was fed with logs. We dipped baguettes fresh from the oven into our soup. As always we provided the entertainment as we squeezed down the narrow passage to our stools and crouched awkwardly thereupon.
The old gent, just a few yards down the road from the bakery was serving a desert made of black sesame seeds. The pasty substance the color of roofing tar was delicious!
You would think that we are doing nothing but eat, but as in all cultures the sharing of food and drink is a welcome. Here in Hoi An, there is great pride in the unique, local specialties.

More Pictures on Web Album

I am having moderate success in getting some pictures onto my web album, so if you are hungry for more images of this beautiful country at this festive season, you can click on the link on the right hand side of the blog. Use the Picasa Web album link which contains our pictures of last years trip. When the page comes up, look for the tab to open My Public Gallereis. When this opens, click on the cover photo for Journeys of the Heart and when there, click Slide Show.

The album is very amateur, pictures unedited etc. but its the best that I can manage at this point, given the system and its operator's flaws!!!

Making Banh Tet

Yesterday we rode on the backs of motor bikes to a small village out of Hoi An. Bruce rode behind Quyen, the Director at Reaching Out in charge of the retail store. Elaine rode behind Anne, an American (from Oregon living here), who is also a volunteer at Reaching Out and a quilter. Anne and I lost Quyen and Bruce, because we stopped to get a bug out of her eye. We just telephoned Quyen on her cell and she came zipping back. Thank goodness for technology in rural Vietnam!

The gentleman in the picture ( father of one of the staff at RO), is capping off his Banh Tet. These special delicacies are made by the hundreds before Tet, because they keep for days. The banana leaves are cut into large square pieces, with a few smaller strips for the finishing end bits. After several squares have been carefully laid on the tray, a ridge of rice is mounded in the centre. Next a trough is made in the rice which is filled with a bean and spice mixture. The wrapping has to be exact and the tying with bamboo string is an artful finish. Several bands of the bamboo are twist knotted, the ends tucked carefully under the previous band. Bruce's job was to slice the bamboo into string with a machete. The whole package will be put in a huge caldron of water, flavored with herbs and boiled all night.

This holiday staple is sliced for eating, over the course of the holiday. Traditionally no cooking is done on the actual day of Tet ( this year Thursday, February 7th), so there is almost feverish preparation going on these days.

Shopping has also become frenzied, with everyone scurrying to and fro on bikes and motor bikes, ladened with, decorations, trees in pots, food in baskets. It was so pleasant to spend a morning in the country side. A highlight was the communal market garden pictured above. The organic vegetables and flowers from this garden are sent to a huge market in Da Nang. I know that Eliza would love to see this operation!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Our Ancestors

In keeping with the traditions here we have made a little shrine in our room to honour our ancestors.
At Tet the spirits of the ancestors are welcomed back. Gifts of food and flowers, and incense are offered.
On the eve of Tet, we will also burn paper money and clothes. The spirits will then be well dressed and have money to spend while here on earth.
This is such a lovely way of remembering our heritage.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Revering Our Elders and Ancestors

This is Grandma. She is 86 years old and the matriarch of the household here at Vuon Trau ( Betel Garden) We see little of her, but every now and then she totters around the garden and gives us a restrained "hello". She, like all elders is much loved and revered.

With Tet impending, we are also seeing many shrines ladened with offerings to the spirits of ancestors. Candles, incense, flowers, decorations and food ( fruit,tea,garlic, rice cakes and chickens) are offered, so that the spirits will be fed on their return to earth to be with the family for Tet.

We have created our own little shrine in our room,with pictures of our ancestors which we brought from home, a small incense burner and flowers.

Bamboo is placed outside the door of the house to ward off evil spirits who may try to return to the house.

It is hard to separate superstition from faith. We are learning acceptance, and like the Vietnamese, we will follow all of the traditions " just in case"!!!!

The blessings continue for us, dreams fulfilled and new adventures blooming.