Sunday, February 28, 2010

Salt Spring Sends Kids to School

It is still shocking and heartbreaking for us when we are faced again with the harsh reality that many children do not go to school in Vietnam. If the family is too poor to pay the school fees for the children, they do not go to school. Even though the fees are only $50 a term, if the family income is a mere $600 a year and there ar two or three children; school fees, books and uniforms are more than they can handle.If the family lives too far from the nearest school for the little ones to walk to school, they do not go. If the child has a disability they may not go to school.They have no way to get to school as there is no access for mobility impaired kids and very little Special Education because there are few trained teachers and no equipment.

For the children from Hoa Van leprosy village, the problems are three fold. There is no school in the village beyond grade six, their parents are very poor and they suffer from discrimination.

Our friend Linda has found a creative way to help these childen. Through careful screening she has found the most promising scholars, located "foster" homes or the homes of relatives on the outskirts of the city of Da Nang, sought permission for the children to attend school in the district and set up sponsorship for the fees and living expences. The annual fees range from $300-$600, depending on whether the child is living with relatives or a "foster" family.

Today we went with Linda to meet the children and deliver the next term's fees to the parents. We were so pleased to be able to support three more of these beautiful kids for a year.  Thanks to the Salt Spring team of Journey of the Heart supporters, Stan and Marie, Stan and Anne, Peggy, Richard, John and Margaret and Janice. Off islanders Ellen and Avril also pitched in and Andrea and Marty contributed last fall to support a child. SO...a total of four in the picture above are "ours"!!!

When we asked the students what they liked best about school in Da Nang, they said they liked being able to go to school everyday!!!! When we asked them about their ambitions we heard from aspiring doctors, engineers, teachers, a designer, a journalist and a tour guide. Oh we hope so....we hope so!!!

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Friday, February 26, 2010

More News of Hoa

Back in the fall of 2009, we were told of Hoa's plight. She and her family needed to be moved to safer accomodation during the floods. Her house was completely underwater. Her friends found her family temporary quarters and Journey of the Heart paid the rent.

Hoa is mobility challenged and recently has also been diagnosed with breast disease, first suspected to be cancer and now the diagnosis is "uncertain". She had been on a regimen of traditional medicine, which brought the tumors to the surface for easier removal.....but now she is on a course of "Western" drugs. She says she feels better. The medication however is very expensive and the meager monthly income which her uneducated husband earns as a motor bike taxi driver is no where near the $100 US a month that the drugs cost. So, she only buys them when she can. There were at least eight different medications which she showed us, and the irregularity of her taking them is worrisome. Because of the generosity of friends of Journey of the Heart, Tracey, Pat, Heather,Nancy and Lonia we were able today to give Hoa the gift of three months of  medication.

Our friend Linda at Children's Education Fund is seeing that the school fees and books are paid for Hoa's eldest daughter Thung, the six year old cutie on the right. CEF also took care of the house repairs after the flood. The small two room abode is now sturdy, with new windows and door. While we visited today, Thung and her little sister Thu played quietly and Thung proudly showed us her neatly written school workbook.

This sweet family welcomed us today with the gifts of their smiles, a stool to sit and a cool glass of water. Our tears came as we cycled home in the heat, our hearts and hopes with Hoa.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Hoa and Thuyet have been friends since they were nine year old kids in Hoi An. They were recruited by the Viet Cong as lookouts and runners during the American war, as were a lot of children in their community pictured here, lower left.

By the time they were fifteen, Hoa and Thuyet ( pictures upper right) were rounded up with other kids, all suspected Viet Cong child soldiers and hussled off to an internment camp in Da Lat, up in the mountains about 300 miles away.

There they spent the next three years, until they were moved to other prisons or released. Hoa was released, came home and joined the regular Viet Cong forces. Despite being imprisoned seven more times during the course of the war, she survived and rose within the ranks, retiring as a respected hero. She was 33 when her husband died, leaving her with two small boys to care for.

Thuyet ultimately became the head of the Women's Union in the province of Quang Nam, after her service with the Viet Cong.

We learned this incredible story on yet another visit with Hoa and our friends at VAVA ( Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange) where Hoa is now the Director, a volunteer position. Thuyet is a victim of Agent Orange, having contracted two forms of cancer and losing a breast to the disease. She has never married.

The picture upper left, was taken at a reunion several years ago of the survivors of the original group from Hoi An interned in Da Lat. Seven of the group of fifteen were then still alive.

It took us all morning to piece together the stories of these two amazing women, using our very limited Vietnamese, the help of our young interpreter Phuong, the pictures and a book about these war heroines. We visited both of their homes for tea and met their mother's.

The strength of the love between these two women, their love for their country and their families, their resilience and fortitude are beautiful and humbling to behold.
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More News of Hien

This stunning painting is one of Hien's. We would like to invite you to view Hien's website at (link on the right of this blog) to see more of his work.

A few weeks ago we went to Hien's wedding (see the blog entry below about that marvelous day.) Our gift, from Journeys of the Heart was a computer for the home which he now shares with his beautiful new bride Ly. Now he will be able to access his own site and market his beautiful paintings to a wider audience with greater ease.

Hien's website tells the story of his remarkable rehabilitaton of body and spirit. In a country where persons of disability are still denied an education, job training, access to public buildings and an opporunity to live independently, he is a shining example of hope and inspiration.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Books from Friends in Canada

One of the projects which continues to capture the hearts of our home team, is the Portable Libraries project of Global Village Foundation. These boxes, each containing 250 books selected from the approved reading list published by the Department of Education, rotate from one school to the next in remote villages, where the students have little reading material. The objective is to deliver four to six boxes to each central school, so that over the course of the year the kids have access to 1000 books.

The GVF team, conducts a day long workshop, to deliver skills to the teachers, to enable them to make reading fun, incorporating drama, art, and team projects. When we have been part of these workshops we have wondered whether the teachers or the students are the most enthusiastic!

This year, Journeys of the Heart, home team supporters, Victoria, Carole and Philip and the Red Tent Book Club, gave funds to send three libraries to these receptive and eager students. That is 750 books that will reach fertile minds!

Thank you from the province of Quang Nam, Vietnam.
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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Gifts That Give Twice

The tag line on the Reaching Out logo is " Gifts that Give Twice". What it means is that every gift purchased in the store or on-line is not only a beautiful gift for friends and family, but a gift to the disabled person who has crafted and perhaps designed the item...a gift of independence and empowerment.

We are finding that the circle of giving includes gifts to us, in many ways. It is a priviledge to offer our talents to the endeavours of this social business and we are also proud to deliver the support from our Journey of the Heart home team.

Today we were part of the Reaching Out Annual Staff Meeting. What a celebration it was! We celebrated the fact that the revenues far exceeded the targets set by the teams for 2009. We celebrated again the two weddings and two births which caused Quyen to jokingly suggest that the next development for the business might have to be a day care centre. We celebrated the release of a video which portrays the story of our business and is being used to encourage other self help groups throughout Vietnam.

Bruce and I were delighted that a significant agenda item was the presentation of gifts from Journey of the Heart. Thanks to Suzanne and Jeff, a new kitchen facility and renovations to the bathroom will improve working conditions for the 45 people who are now employed at this location. Everyday the whole crew is fed an amazingly fresh and healthy lunch from the tiny space pictured above. ( we couldn't get near the bathroom to take a photo....the one commode is always busy!)

Jo An and Michel have once again supported new important as Binh and Quyen contemplate the opening of another workshop, so that they can include more persons of disability in the business.

As many of our readers and followers know, Jeff and Michel were Elaine's mentors at A&W and we are so lucky that our friendships have endured, as have those with their wives, Suzanne and JoAn.

We watched Binh conducting this important meeting covering all of the pertinent financial data; the reports from his team leaders on their progress towards their targets; the honoring of outstanding performers; the "fatherly" guidance to staff about responsibly managing their sizable bonuses; the pride in seeing the success of their careful planning and decision making based on values. This is truly amazing for this small band of disabled people in Vietnam, where Western business practises are not widely known or applied, never mind some some fairly progressive ideas of involvement and ownership.

We were both struck by the significace that we were delivering expertise which our business realtionships had nurtured AND the love and trust of extraordiary friends. We know that these home team supporters of our Jouney of the Heart were there with us in spirit. Their "gifts have given twice."

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