Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Agent Orange...Our Common Enemy

Another deeply meaningful day today along our Journey of the Heart....a day so rich that words and blogspots can not describe.....a day of warmth, welcome, forgiveness and gratitude.

Our task was to deliver to VAVA ( Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange), the generous donations from Bruce's buddies in the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry, as well as some of his own hard earned sailing income.

After much tea and ceremony and paper work at the VAVA office we hopped on the backs of motorbikes to go with Phuong our lovely young contact at the association and Mr. Tinh another VAVA employee. Back in the saddle and whizzing through the country side, Elaine felt very secure behind Phuong on her specially adapted three wheel vehicle. Phoung had polio as a young child and is mobility impaired. Bruce trusted life and limb to Mr. Tinh, a former Viet Cong soldier, whose mangled jaw tells the story of his meeting a 105 milimeter artillery fragment head on.

The families to whom we presented the funds were so dear and thrilled that "forgeiners" would come to their small and simple homes. We met a couple in their late seventies, he a soldier for 50 years and suffering from diabetes, his wife suffering a difficult skin condition. His Army uniform, bedecked with medals, hangs proudly in a clear plastic bag over his bed. This couple lives together in a single 10X15 foot room, with a vile latrine down the hall, in a Vietanamese Red Cross home.  During his long military service, he fought the French, the Americans and the South Vietnamese Army. He described being "rained on" in the jungle of Kontum Province with Agent Orange. He openly blamed his infertility and his wife's lesions on the dioxon. He was effusive in his greetings and gratitude, repeatedly shaking both our hands, slapping our backs and presenting the praying hands peace sign. We do not know if he has been awarded a pension for his long service in the military, but because they have no children they are reliant on the Red Cross for their small quarters. Amazingly, they have a small patio garden where Ba grows medicinal plants to treat her skin.

We met another couple in their sixties with their severely disabled daughter, their only child. Both the father and mother had served as Viet Cong soldiers in the mountains to the west of Hoi An.   Only the father suffers symptoms from AO exposure but their daughter is profoundly disabled. Her twisted limbs and retardation are exacerbated by brain tumors one recently removed in a hospital in Da Nang, the surgery paid for by VAVA. 

We visited only four families out of the 1,000 known sufferers from Dioxin in the Hoi An area. But the funds that we delivered will assist 20 Agent Orange families for several months in their daily struggle against grinding poverty, debilitating illnesses and harsh living conditions. Bruce is proud of the handful of US veterans who "stood to" to help alleviate the lingering suffering from "our" war.
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Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Roho Cushion for Mr. Binh

Our dear friend, Mr. Binh has been in a wheelchair since a medical accident at the age of 16. He is the creator and director of Reaching Out, a Fair Trade social business, which trains and employs  persons of disability and retails their exquisite crafts. There are approaching 50 people on staff now at the store and workshop and legions of suppliers of fine crafts throughout Vietnam.We have been volunteers at the shop for three years.

This past year, excrutiating pain in Binh's coccycx and ischial tuberosities has kept him on his bed and away from the shop a good deal of the time. Dan Speiss, my physiotherapist on Salt Spring and his friend Sam Hannah of Motion Experts in Victoria helped us find this very special cushion, which we hope will provide some relief and improve Binh's mobility enabling him to once again provide the leadership so essential to the continued success of the enterprise and supporting independent living for so many other abled people.

When Binh first sat on this air filled apparatus, the smile said it all!!! The best Christmas present for us so far just seeing that grin.

Thanks Andrea and Marty for making this possible.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Celebrating Small Lives in Nha Trang

It seems appropriate that, as much of the world prepares to celebrate the birth of Christ, we were able today to celebrate the birth of the 14 babies in the care of Mr. Phuc and his family. Mr. Phuc, a devoit Catholic opened his home about four years ago to unwed mothers and their babies.

Pregnancy out of wedlock brings shame to young woman in Vietnam, her family and village, so these terrified young girls flee to the city and endeavour to abort by herbal medicione or very risky back alley surgeries. Mr. Phuc's mission is to save these lives, both of the baby and the mother. He provides housing for the pregnant women, safe deliveries and safe harbour until such time as the mother can support the baby. Sometimes the mother simply returns to her village and leaves her baby with Mr. Phuc.

Mr. Phuc and his large, ever changing family have moved to a much bigger house than the one we visited three years ago. The children play, eat and sleep in spacious, clean rooms. Some of the mothers are care givers, as are Mr. Phuc's neices.

What amazed us was that all fourteen children were peaceful...only a small whimper as I leaned over one toddler. Pretty scarey I guess to see a huge white grandmother grinning!!!

Daughter Eliza, who was with us on the trip three years ago, inspired this visit with a donation.....a sweet start to the humanitarian work of our Journey of the Heart.
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Ho Ho from Ho Chi Minh City

We ventured out last night to join the festivities in this frantic metropolis. The city core is aglow with lights and decorations and it seems that all 8 million citizens were out on the streets to party.

Our hotel, The Continental, an old dowager built in1880, is located near the main streets of the financial district, the Opera House and all the upscale shops, Louis Vuitton,  etc. The avenues are alight overhead, shops and businesses all seem to be competing for the "most garish"award. Most decorations are plastic and all the " snow" and "icicles" are Styrofoam.

Street vendors were sellng everything from crepes to whirly gigs with lights and annoying noises. Many of the kids were dresed up in some kind of Santa outfit and everyone wanted his or her picture taken beside Santa ...including us!!!

The excitement actually started to accelerate a couple of days ago, as Vietnam was building its medal count at the Ocean Games. They stood second to Thailand, with both men's and women's soccer yet to be finalized. We saw bits of the women's game against Thailand and the men's against Malaysia....simply because we couldn't get away from the TV screens! One entertained about forty people, on the sidewalk outside a closed dress shop, the extention cord snaking under the locked door  An amusing site was a TV crew sitting outside their truck on little red stools, watching a small monitor on the sidewalk! In the restaurant where we had dinner in our hotel, billed as "Italian" ( another bizarre story) the wait staff of seven people for our table, the only one occupied, kept running to the bar next door everytime they heard a shout from the drinking fans.

The final score was Malaysia 1 Vietnam 0, but still the distinctive red flags with gold star were held aloft  on motorbikes and hundreds wore their flag colored t-shirts in solidaity. Along with the Santa costumes, lights and decorations the lucky color red ignited the crowd. A great party!


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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Getting Ready for Christmas in Vietnam

Today we did a "pre-pack". Our small guest bedroom has been filling up with all the stuff that we will be carrying to Vietnam and it was time to see if it would fit into our suitcases. You would think that after so many trips, we would have this down to a science. Such is not the case! This year we are carrying a very special cushion for Mr. Binh's wheelchair, bandages for people with leprosy and of course "Canadian" Christmas presents for our Vietnamese family.

Thank goodness the generous financial donations from all our friends and the love that goes with them take up only space in our hearts!
  • Funds have already gone to Global Village Foundation for three libraries of books for kids in remote village schools and also for relief efforts for the victims of the recent typhoon.
  • Elaine has lots of crisp new US fifty dollar bills which will pay the rent for Hoa, a disabled mother of two, recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • We have sent some of your funds to the Children's Education Foundation to support the education of promising scholars from the Hoa Van leprosy village school. With the support of CEF and their host families in the city of Da Nang these kids will hopefully be able to break the cycle of poverty and discrimination which has dogged their parents and grandparents.
  • Bruce has worked hard to raise money for VAVA- Vietnamese Association for the Assistance of Victims of  Agent Orange. Along with generous donations from his comrades in the 4th Battalion 23rd Infantry, he has directed much of his revenue from teaching sailing and sailing charters towards this effort and he looks forward to delivering a substantial gift to this organization which endeavours to help the approximately 1000 victims in the Hoi An district.
And we haven't even left yet!!! Once in Hoi An we will take up where left off last year and resume our work with Reaching Out and join the Global Village team for workshops and delivery of more libraries.

It is fitting that we set out on this third Journey of the Heart at a time when our Western world is preparing to pray for "Peace on Earth", with all the hope and wonder that this season holds. We fly from Vancouver on December 13th and will arrive after a few days of travel in our "over there" home town of Hoi An.

Messages from home sustain us while we are in Vietnam....please comment on this blog or send us an e-mail!
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rememberance Day 2009

As Bruce and I stood in reverent silence today, along with hundreds of our fellow Salt Spring neighbours, we were overcome with the emotions which this Veterans Day service now evoke.

We remembered all those who have fallen in the service of their countries, in seeking a fair, just and peaceful world, through two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

We honored those who returned home, with injuries to body, heart and soul but today marched with their surviving comrades, even if marching meant using a walker or being pushed in a wheelchair.

We thought of the Logan lineage of military men and women who set an example for Bruce.

We were grateful that we were there together, and that Bruce's service for his country has led us both toward the work that we love in Vietnam.
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Will You Join the Journey of the Heart Team?

Our campaign for funds has generated many gifts from our home team supporters for our 2009/2010 Journey of the Heart. How blessed we are that, despite some tough economic times for us all, donations received so far will help us continue our work in Vietnam.

Typhoon Ketsana has added misery this year on the Central Coast, including the village of Hoa Van where these victims of leprosy live. The Red Cross has reported that 350,000 people are without homes, 5,200 schools have been destroyed and many people remain hungry, have no safe drinking water and disease is spreading. The numbers are staggering, therefore we would like to include more projects to our list.

Please let us know by e-mail at if you would like to donate to our work.

So far we will be able to donate portable libraries to village schools, assist victims of agent orange, provide housing for a disabled woman who now has been diagnosed with breast cancer and help replace damaged equipment at Reaching Out, the workshop where disabled artisans create crafts and where we volunteer as business consultants, teach English and train management staff. BUT we would like to do MORE to ease the suffering of these warm people.

Will you help?
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Friday, October 23, 2009

Le Ly Hayslip and Global Village Foundation Deliver Typhoon Relief

This is why we love Le Ly Hayslip! Although Le Ly is a published author and the founder of two humanitarian organizations....when the going gets tough...she is right in there with the troops.
Typhoon Ketsana left a swath of devastation in Quang Nam province and the fishing villages along the river outside Hoi An were particularly hard hit.
Le Ly sent out a hasty appeal. Even before the funds poured in, she and her staff were organizing the distribution of noodles, oil, rice and sugar to many families both in the town of Hoi An and along the river. Tons of rice and hundreds of boxes of noodles gave some relief to the hungry families, whose homes, crops, boats and therefore livelihoods were destroyed.
Journey of the Heart contributed $500 to this effort and we thank all of our friends who have generously supported our work and that of people like Le Ly.
By clicking on the slide show to the right you can see, near the end of the show more pictures of the work that Le Ly and a corps of volunteers accomplished in a matter of days.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Meet-Colonel Stocker, Bandage Brigade

For several years Linda Stocker and I have been corresponding via e-mail,telephone and Skype. She is the angel who has inspired hundreds of women to knit bandages for vicitms of leprosy in Vietnam. Linda created a blog, tended closely the growing network of knitters, and now is managing the task of collecting and shipping thousands of bandages.

Linda and I connected because we had both travelled, in different years, with our veteran husbands to Vietnam with Tours of Peace. Linda and her husband Gary continued to work with TOP, after their tour, as volunteers in the Personal Effects Program ( returning "dog tags" found in Vietnam to their owners or survivors). Bruce and I volunteered to head up TOP's Education Program. You can read about TOP on the link to the right and understand how this organization spawned a passionate interest on the parts of both the Stockers and ourselves in helping the resilient people of Vietnam. Through our work and interests we "met" on-line.

Along the way, Linda and I discovered our shared passion for alleviating the suffering of people with leprosy in Vietnam. Dynamic, determined, dedicated Linda created, with the help of her daughter Cindy, a blog which at first issued instructions for kntting, information about the disease of leprosy and ALWAYS encouragement(see link to the right). The Brigade has grown to hundreds of knitters, with an annual production of thousands of lovingly knit many so that the small groups of travellers with TOP were unable to carry the bandages to Vietnam.

Undaunted, Linda pressed on to find other ways to get the bandages shipped and distributed in Vietnam. The D.O.V. E. organization has taken the project under its wing. They will carry, thanks to EVA airlines, duffle bags ladened with bandages on their annual tours. Check out the D.O.V.E. website also linked on the right hand side of this blog to learn about their work in Vietnam.

Now Linda is also focusing on research and networking to find out why the drugs available to arrest leprosy are not finding their way to remote villages and estaablishing relationships with NGO's already deeply involved in providing aid to those who suffer from this disabling illness.
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Typhoon Ketsana

Each fall as we prepare to return to Vietnam and donations begin to mount for our Journey of the Heart, the needs of the poor, the disabled, the elderly and the hungry are exacerbated by flooding....sometimes more severe than others. For the last few days we have been carefully watching news releases for more detailed information about the latest typhoon Ketsana. Having wreaked havoc in the Philippines,where hundreds have died, this storm smacked Central Vietnam with a vengeance yesterday.

The brunt of the over 100 km a mile winds and driving rain hit about 50 km south of Da Nang and our Vietnamese home in Hoi An. We are unable to contact anyone there, the Internet and all power have been reported as out.

Homes, precious rice crops, cattle and the few basic services which are available to the villagers are often descimated in these storms. Aid has already been offered by the European Union and the country had prepared, but the suffering has just begun for thousands of victims.

We are more dedicated ( if that is possible!!!) to bringing some relief in December from our fabulous support team for Jouneys of the Heart, for the victims of this latest cruel blow from Ma Nature to our beloved Hoi An.

UPDATE:  Today, Wednesday, September 30th we have heard from two friends via e-mail and although the flood waters were even higher in Hoi An than in 2007, they are OK, thank goodness. There has been damamge to the shop at Reaching Out, but all the stock had been moved upstairs and is safe and dry.

Le Ly Hayslip has also heard that the Global Village Foundation staff are well and the office suffered only first floor damage, with most of the "stuff" having been moved to the upper floors.

LATEST UPDATE: Today Friday, October 2nd we have more news from Hoi An and some pictures that clearly show the degree of devastation to Hoi An. Reports are that 100.000 people have lost their homes throughout the Central Coast region and the death toll has reached 64.

Appeals: International agancies are responding to the crisis in Vietnam, the Philipines and Samoa. another trpoical storm is on its way. Le Ly Hayslip and Global Village Foundation are on their way to deliver relief to the villagers in Quang Nam Province who have lost their homes and crops. Check Le Ly's website on the right of this blog to make a doantion directly or write to us at Journeys of the Heart.

Slideshow: I have updated our slide show on this blog to show you the pictures taken by Quyen at Reaching Out. Just click on the image for a full screen view of these stunning, heart breaking pictures.
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hoa's Story

Recently, our friend Phuong at the Vietnam Agency for victims of Agent Orange (VAVA), told us about Hoa (Flower).

Hoa is mobility impaired and lives in extreme poverty with her husband and two adorable children. As you can see Hoa contributes to the family income by doing hand stitching on shoes on the floor of her small house. These shoes will retail at no more than five dollars a pair, and so Hoa probably earns just pennies per pair.

Hoa lives in Hoi An, within 45 kilometers of Da Nang, where huge stores of the Agent Orange dioxin were kept during the war. Now, Hoa has been diagnosed with breast cancer. There is no money for surgery or treatment of any kind. Friends and neighbours are doing what they can to raise funds for "medicine", probably herbal remedies.

Because of their poverty and Hoa's impairment, she and her family live in a one story shack. Unfortunately, this humble abode is also on the flood plane. Every year during the monsoons, they have endured the hardship of water sloshing through the house.

Hoa's husband earns his living driving a motor bike taxi and is heart broken that he can not provide a more comfortable dwelling for his ailing wife. We have committed to sending money towards the rent of a place for them, which will be safe from the rising waters in the next few months.

This story of one family's plight has touched me deeply. The legacy of Agent Orange has dealt Hoa a double blow. The lack of aid and care from the Vietnamese and more importantly the US governments for the victims of this relentless poison seems shameful to me.

Please remember Hoa in your prayers and in your donations to our Journey of the Heart.
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Friday, June 5, 2009

Hill Tribes

One of the stops on this year's Tour of Peace was a hill tribe village south east of Dalat. Ethnic tribes in Vietnam are still often isolated and experience some discrimination. Even though we have visited many villages in remote areas of the Central highlands, this was the first which Bruce found where their poverty was accentuated by the filthy conditions.

The kids in particular had dirty faces and clothes. They did though have big welcoming smiles and appreciated the gifts of rice, noodles and toys for the kids. The group was having great fun with the kids,until the teacher intervened because the children were getting too excited.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Another Tour of Peace

Bruce is off again to Vietnam on May 17th, his fourth tour with Tours of Peace Vietnam Veterans and his second as the deputy tour leader. The tour will be two weeks, during which time the group will return to Dalat, where this picture was taken about a month ago.

On his second tour of duty in Vietnam in 70/71, Bruce made two visits to this mountain top, where there was a US tracking site. On our return there in April we saw some evidence of the American camp, but today the spot is a tourist mecca because of the beautiful views over the valleys and the adventure in getting there by jeep.

One of the tour participants for this upcoming trip also wants to visit the Dalat area, as it was of significance to her father.

A bonus will be doing a humanitarian project at an ethnic minority village in the mountains near Dalat. As mentioned in an earlier blog, these people remain among the poorest in Vietnam and remain marginalized.

While the focus on these Tours of Peace is the participant needs and wants, Bruce will also have a free day in Hoi An to say hello to all our family there.
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Friday, April 24, 2009

Safely Home and Grateful for your Support

We are safely home on Salt Spring Island and already missing the warmth of our Vietnamese family and friends.

It has been a most rewarding Journey of the Heart 2009. We have come home with full hearts and many fond memories. Our work was gratifying although sometimes exhausting, sometimes frustrating, and always HOT!!

As in previous years, we feel that we have made a difference in some lives; books for kids, beds for the sick, skills for the disabled, equipment for disabled workers, clean water and good food for elders and pre-schoolers. We've tackled organizational issues for both an NGO and a social business. We've taught English and cooked 1000 hot dogs for school kids.

We could not have accomplished all this without the support from our home team. Your generous donations and constant encouragement have kept us going. Many thanks to you all.
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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dalat Delights

When I saw the marble lady at the right of this collage from the tiny deck of our hotel room last night here in Dalat, I thought that she was the Virgin Mary, with her halo of flashing lights, but I see this morning that it is Lady Buddha. Still a curious contrast above the wavering Communist flag. As is the huge roadside signage celebrating the "liberation" of Dalat 35 years ago by the North Vietnamese Army, alongside the flourishing entrepreneurial spirit in the local markets.

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From Almond to Milk Chocolate

Within fifty kilometers of the seaside city of Nha Trang, as we head due west for the highlands we see that the Vietnamese faces become more milk chocolate in color than their lowland countrymen,whose skin is an almond tone. These hill tribes are still known as Moutagnards and they represent some of the 53 ethnic minorities of Vietnam. They speak different dialects and follow different customs. Unfortunately, they are also some of the poorest of village people. We hope to travel to a village of Lat people at the foot of Lang Bian Mountain.

On our way up to Dalat, a city at 1500 meters above sea level, we moved from the dusty roads and rice paddies of the plains to forests of pines, small coffee plantations and acres of greenhouses, where fruits and vegetables prosper. Dalat is a great place to eat, but also the produce is shipped all over Vietnam. There is even a flower bulb industry here, owned and operated by the Dutch. Next time I buy tulip bulbs at Foxglove on Salt Spring, I will check their origin.
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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Time to Say Good Bye "Tam Biet"

As much as we were hopeful that somehow the clock would stop ticking and the days would stretch across forever, they have not and we are saying good bye to our Vietnamese family and friends.

Our hearts and tummies are full!!! So many lunches and dinners, with so many gifts and good wishes. For a people who supposedly do not like to say good bye and prefer "see you later", the Vietnamese that we have come to know and love, sure do want as many opportunities as possible to avoid saying "adieu"!

Elaine's English class "graduated" today, with a celebration at the beachside bistro La Plage. We tried to watch the sing-a-long version of Mama Mia, but we had some techinical difficulties and a few rain squals to dampen the party.

Each person in the class presented Elaine, with a carefully scribed letter of thanks, written in English. They took care to highlight a significant learning, whether a selling skill or a language skill. The flowers,hugs and smiles spoke the language of the heart..... we have touched one another across the barriers of language and culture.
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Sunday, March 22, 2009


Our work is winding down here in Hoi An. We have a few more meetings with Binh and Quyen at Reaching Out and some English classes to teach, but basically the next week will be one of good byes. How quickly our two months here have sped by.

We know that we will once again leave with more blessings than we have left behind.

The list below is a report of how we have allocated the very generous financial gifts from our "home team".

Books for Kids in Luang Prabang,Laos $100US

Four Portable Libraries $2000 US
Global Village Foundation-Mobile libraries for village schools, with 250 books in each box

Que Son Hospital $2500 US
Global Village Foundation Project-deliver beds, diagnostic equipment and birthing kits to a remote hospital

Training Scholarships $1000 US
Sponsorship of advanced skills training for disabled workers at Reaching Out

Equipment $1500 US
New weaving looms and high intensity lamps for work stations at Reaching Out

Kindergarten Kitchen $600 US
Water purifier, propane cooker and tank, vent, cabinetry for Hoi An kindergarten

Hospital Food Program $300 US
Subsidy for the food program for the poor in Hoi An Hospital

Association for Victims of Agent Orange $120 US

Duc Son Orphanage, Hue $100 US
Food Program

Hoa Van Leprosy Village $500 US
Food for 70 hungry families and hand knit bandages for those with active leprosy.

School for Children with Autism, Hanoi $100

In addition to these generous gifts from our "home team", we would like to acknowledge the love and hard work so sweetly given by our "in country" team: JoAn and Michel Maurer; Brenda Smith; Andrea Binkle and Stan and Marie Teitge. Their willingness to pitch in and dig deep into their hearts and wallets strengthened the efforts of our Journey of the Heart.

On the home front, Janice Finnemore has contributed her precious time and word processing skills to produce a training manual for Reaching Out sales staff.

Many, many thanks. Many ,many blessings.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Family Vietnamese Style

Traditional family life is a strongly held value in Vietnam, with generations still living under the same roof, sharing child care, gardening and household chores. Elders and ancestors are revered.

Luckily for us, this sense of family includes whomever seems adrift, alone or hungry!!! Our family here has grown and now includes many Vietnamese and Westerners, who are bound mostly by our work. We also have a family at our home stay and amongst its former employees. The two women who run our favourite local restaurants, their sisters,husbands and children are also family.

How gracious they all are. We have been invited to homes, a celebration of the anniversary of a Buddhist master's death, a wedding and another for descendants of Fujian Chinese immigrants.

This morning at dawn we went swimming in the ocean with our extended family of ex-pats and locals, adjourning to the small, not yet officially open, cafe beach side, belonging to another Reaching Out volunteer, Sam Miller and her partner. As we sipped coffee and chatted quietly in the cool morning, Anne summed up my feelings when she said " I am filled with such peace and joy".

The food, like our family was a curious mix of French crepes, strong black coffee, and wonderful vegetarian noodle soup. Vive la difference!
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Old Soldiers Remember

The American War and the memories of that conflict are fading here in Vietnam, where half the population is under thirty. But for veterans on both sides, those memories are close to the surface and often old allies and enemies meet. Telling their stories is healing and a miraculous bonding exists almost instantaneously.

As we explored a war memorial on our return from a humanitarian project in Que Son, an old man approached us. He had seen us from a distance, where he was labouring with others behind picks and shovels. He knew that Bruce and Stan were the right vintage and stature and he had something that he knew would be a significant gift.

He had in his possession a US Marine Corps dog tag. The asking price was the princely sum of one dollar. Bruce knew immediately that the tag was legitimate, not a reproduction made to sell to tourists. And so, Tours of Peace will receive another personal effect which will, following some careful research be returned to its owner or the marine's surviving family.

The handshakes and smiles said just one thing " Our losses bind us...we are brothers"

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Monday, March 16, 2009

A Promise Kept

Last year when we visited the isolated leprosy village of Hoa Van, one of the women (the one pictured with Elaine on the right of the collage) asked that if we came back could we bring food for the elders who could no longer work in the fields and therefore were hungry. Today we did exactly that with the help of the staff of Global Village Foundation and our dear friends Stan and Marie Teitge.

Le, the proprietress of our homestay, had volunteered to procure and bag the $500 worth of groceries for seventy families. The loading of these precious bags onto and out of the boat, via a narrow concrete jetty on one end and via basket boat across the surf at the beach in the village was tricky, but we managed with the help of a wonderful boat man and a welcoming group at the village. We struggled up the beach and through the lanes with each of us carrying several of the ten pound bags.

We brought another precious gift from Canada, hand knit bandages for the wounds left by leprosy. We had a good talk with the male nurse, who was grateful for the delivery (we had included bottles of bleach and lessons on how to sterilize the bandages) The nurse assured us that he knew this procedure, but when we went over to deliver the food packets to the patients in the hospital, we were aghast at the condition of their bound feet. The bindings were far from clean and certainly not sterile. The nurse estimates his needs to be about 600 bandages a year. The important piece of information for the Bandage Brigade is that the finer gauge bandages are preferred, and surprisingly he would like them to be a shorter length, about three girls, it will be more tedious to knit on smaller needles with finer yarn, but at least we will finish in the same time with the shorter length.

Once again, we are committed to getting more bandages to this village and also to provide the gauze dressings which they so desperately need. In addition, there was a wish for a little money for each family, about 100,000 VN Dong...that's $6 US. To fulfill this dream, we would need to raise just $500. We can do that!!!!

There are more pictures of this day for the Journey of the Heart team on the web album, accessed by clicking on the small slide show at the top right of the blog.

Blessings to all our knitters and generous donors.
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Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Lucky Baby

Even though this little tyke was abandoned by her parents, she has had the good luck of being taken in by the Buddhist nuns, who run the Duc Son Orphanage in Hue.

For twenty five years the nuns here have been creating a loving home for abandoned children. The facility is clean and well organized. The children of school age go to the local school. There is a list of all the students in the main hall, and Thich Nu Minh Tu and the 25 nuns in this pagoda are particularly proud of all the Duc Son kids who have gone on to university. At this time there are 200 children in their care.

On this visit, we saw a little bit more of the orphanage than we have done on previous visits and were delighted to see that the children with disabilities are taught right there at Duc Son. The two small classes, with about six kids in each , were being taught by lay teachers. We learned also that in addition to the nuns there is a corps of "mothers", lay women who come to take care of the babies. There is no shortage of hugs!

In an effort to subsidize their work, the nuns have built a very nice dining hall on the property, where they hope that visiting groups will eat a vegetarian meal for $4.00 US. It is a pleasant space and we are hopeful that the idea will catch on with philanthropic travellers.

As we were about to leave, a troup of primary school age kids returned to the pagoda for lunch. They filed in quietly, offering a prayer of greeting to Minh Tu, smiling broadly when they saw us and giving us a big "hello".

It is hard to leave Duc Son and harder yet not to vow to make a special effort on our return to Canada, to add to the small donation that we left for their food program. The budget is 30 cents a day per child for food, $60 a day for the 200 kids whose lives and fates have been altered by these beautiful nuns.
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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Teaching English and Selling Skills

Here is Elaine's classroom! We are assembled in the courtyard between the retail store and workshop at Reaching Out. Behind us the work goes on to create lacquer ware.

Binh is substituting for Quyen, who is the usual translator, but this week she was off in Ho Chi Minh City taking a business management course. Binh and Quyen are really trying to stay current with management theory and practise. It is great to see them applying what they have learned.

Even though we start the class at 8:30 a.m., it is crushingly hot one half way through the hour long session, so Teacher is mopping her brow and drinking a lot of water, between exercises and "lectures." It is difficult work for both students and teacher, as we try to bridge cultural differences as well as language differences.

Determining customer needs is really tricky, as it is not in the Vietnamese nature to ask questions, never mind "open ended" questions! Our store is full of such beautiful products, many of which go unnoticed or unappreciated, because the tendency of the staff is to go with whatever the customer is standing next to, or wait for the customer to find the treasures. How curious...... in a culture where asking one's age is very OK, it never occurs to them to ask "would you like a set of six?" when they see a customer handling a single coaster or " would your husband find a beautiful money clip handy for carrying his Vietnamese money while travelling here?"

We are making progress and have lots of fun. When talking about difficult or fussy customers, we explored the "wants" of the most difficult......teenage girls!!!! We found surprising similarities across the cultures and ended up with all sorts of suggestions for this target customer....we even learned the word "cool".
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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Que Son Hospital Benefits from Canadian and Japanese Gifts

Today we traveled out to the town of Que Son, in the district of the same name in Quang Nam Province. We were part of a delegation from Canada and Japan representing Global Village Foundation.

Five years ago doctors from Japan had visited this small hospital and vowed to return to donate equipment and supplies. Today, our Canadian family and friends helped them to deliver on that promise.

The journey by van was a rather bumpy and hot ordeal for two hours over mostly rutted country roads. The medical staff were so happy to see us! Ten of the twenty beds had already arrived as had the diagnostic machinery for ear, nose and throat diseases. Included in the gifts was a "kit" of supplies for the midwife who travels to outlying villages to assist at births, when the mother is unable to get to the hospital on the only means of transportation, a motor bike.

After the usual tea ceremony and speeches we were ushered through the ER, ICU and Operating Theater. The two pictures at left are of the "ICU", a small baby close to death with pneumonia and an elderly woman suffering from unknown ailments lay listless in their beds. It was very difficult to wrap our western minds around what we were witnessing. The Operating Room was so full of mould, that we did a quick turnaround. How crushingly sad and over whelming.

Thanks to our generous family and friends the beds and midwifery kits will alleviate some discomfort
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