Sunday, December 18, 2011

Gifts That Give Twice

The tag line at Reaching Out where we volunteer in Vietnam is "gifts that give twice", meaning that by buying a gift in this fair trade social enterprise, the recipient of the gift is happy and also the disabled artisan who has made the gift is happy with his or her gift of independence and pride.

I love this idea and the expression holds true for me. I have loved opening the mail these days, to find cheques for our Journeys of the Heart. Our generous donors are also feeling the satisfaction of sending a child to school, supplying library books for remote villages, giving a victim of Agent Orange a "leg up" in starting a new home based business or sponsoring the training of a disabled crafts person. The recipients of your generosity will be happy for many years as the gifts go on and on, as their opportunities expand.

In early January, a tour group from Salt Spring will be taking a supply of bandages to Hoi An for distribution to a leper village. These lovingly created cotton knit bandages provide relief from irritation, pain and injury.

I am grateful to all who have contributed this year to our projects in Vietnam.

I am also grateful to the people with whom we work, who have dedicated their lives to enabling the Vietnamese.
  • Linda Hutchinson-Burn: Children's Education Fund Vietnam
  • Linda Stocker: Bandage Brigade
  • Le Ly Hayslip: Global Village Foundation
  • Phuong, Hoa and Tinh: Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange
  • Mai Thi Kim Quyen and Le Nguyen Binh: Reaching Out Vietnam
May your holiday season be filled with joy!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Flooding in Hoi An

Once again the river has overflowed its banks in Hoi An town. This picture is one of several forwarded to us by Le Ly Hayslip. Merchants, families, pagodas and resorts alike are now cleaning up all the silt left by the receding waters.

Floods are almost an annual event at this time of year in Quang Nam province on the central coast of Vietnam. This year their neighbours in Cambodia and Thailand have also suffered high flood waters.

We are coconcerned for all peoples affected by the waters who have lost their homes, their crops, their businesses and are now threatened with the spread of disease through unclean water.

Please remember these unfortunate souls when you are thinking of your holiday giving.

Monday, October 3, 2011

2012 Appeal Launched

We know that our Journeys of the Heart to Vietnam are touching your hearts when we begin receiving donations even before we have launched our annual campaign! Such has been the case this year, with donors excited about contributing again to "their" projects. Our hope is that despite the trying economic times you too will support our work.

We have witnessed such progress in the last four years!

. Here is a lovely example of two initiatives coming together. Linda Hutchinson-Burn of Children's Education Foundation is responsible for bringing these promising young scholars from the leprosy village of Hoa Van, where the school only goes to grade six, to the city of Da Nang so that they are able to attend high school.

The students are shown accepting hand knit bandages for their parents or grandparents who suffer the loss of digits through the ravages of leprosy. The bandages are knit by women all over the world and are distributed through the Bandage Brigade, run by Linda Stocker and her association with the D.O.V.E. Fund. Journeys of the Heart support both organizations and was able to bring them together to serve Hoa Van, supporting the further education of their young and relieving the suffering of the elders.

In this picture we are facilitating a meeting with Le Nguyen Binh, CEO of Reaching Out, developing a new human resources strategy. This Fair Trade social enterprise has grown to a total of 100 disabled artisans working in the shop or from their homes. We could not have imagined this growth four years ago when we started to work with Binh and his wife Quyen. They have a acquired a second facility which doubles as an "over flow" workshop and a lunch room where the 56 Hoi An employees sit down to lunch daily. Scholarships for skills training and new equipment have been provided by Journeys of the Heart.

This year in addition to giving small gifts of cash to victims of Agent Orange we were able with the help of, VAVA ( Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange) and your donations, to provide loans to victims who had made a proposal for a new business. This gentleman, whose daughter is mentally challenged proposed that with a small investment he could refit an old fish boat and return to the sea. Before we left Hoi An he had reported his first catch...a wopping $300 one. His loan will soon be paid off so that others will be abel to benefit from the loan program, which we hope will be enduring.

The headline picture on this post is of Bruce and a young Vietnamese volunteer. They are supervising the children at the presentation of their mobile library in a remote village in Hiep Duc district. The library program is run by Le Ly Hayslip and her Global Village Foundation, with support from Journeys of the Heart.

Please help us to continue this good work.

Contact us at for details about getting a cheque to us.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

2011 Journey of the Heart Report

We are now safely home in our wee cottage on Salt Spring, after our fourth annual Journey of the Heart in Vietnam. Our work was, if possible, more rewarding than ever before. We have focused our efforts on four projects whose leaders we have come to highly respect and where we are seeing the results in very real terms...more disabled trained and contributing at Reaching Out, more girls from a leprosy village being educated and achieving good results in high school, more victims of Agent Orange showing initiative and beginning to support themselves through small home based businesses and libraries going to school children in more remote and poorer villages.

Reaching Out $2000: The staff at Reaching Out now consists of 50 disabled artisans in the shop and 50 more throughout the countryside operating from their homes. Part of our "hands on " at RO this year was to help Binh and Quyen refine their recruitment and selection skills and while we were there we participated in the selection of a new Sales Supervisor for the shop. The leadership team now consists of that supervisor, and team leaders for the workshop, the warehouse, sewing and jewellery and metal work. We designated $2000 US towards leadership training for these people, who will be so integral to the continuing growth and success of this Fair Trade social enterprise.

Education for Children ( or grandchildren of lepers from Hoa Van village) $1650: Linda Hutchinson-Burn and her organization Children's Education Foundation which focuses on the education of disadvantaged girls, have captured our hearts and loyalty. We believe that this very small organization of volunteers are focused and driven by their mission " to help girls grow to be women with choices". Occasionally a boy with great potential and in severe poverty is also supported. Our donors dollars helped four promising high school students from the leprosy village of Hoa Van, with boarding and tuition expenses so that they could go to school in Da Nang. A very special boy Nam, will have his tuition paid next term.

Victims of Agent Orange $2400: This was one of our most generously endowed projects and one which this year was a most gratifying involvement for us. We continued to donate funds to desperately poor families whose disabilities are directed related to the dioxin agent orange sprayed as a defoliant by the Americans during the war. However, this year we were also able to break new ground with the Hoi An chapter of VAVA ( Vietnamese Association for victims of Agent Orange). Miss Hoa, the Director and her lovely assistant Phuong embraced our suggestion of setting up a " micro loan" program. Now, families can submit proposals for home based businesses and apply for a loan. We saw the first "pilot" project launched with our funds last year...a front yard recreation business, with a ping pong table and fooz ball, pay for play. The neighbourhood kids love it and this family of blind parents of a daughter with cerebral palsy are looking forward to saving enough of their profits to buy a refridgerator. Soon to follow were a small fishing boat repair (with record catches on the maiden voyage), a thatch for roofing business and a sewing machine for at home work. The joy in seeing these diligent people, proudly earning a living was a highlight of our 2011 Journey of the Heart.

Libraries for Remote Village Schools $2000:  When we first were involved with Le Ly Hayslip and Global Village Foundation four years ago, we knew that our interest and support would be enduring and so also has it been with a dedicated group of our donors. This year we welcomed Olivia and Hannah, two eight year old girls from North Vancouver to our team....they donated the funds collected at their joint birthday party!!! It was very moving to show Olivia and Hannah's picture to the kids in the remote and destitute hill tribe village in Hiep Duc and tell them that these two kids their age wanted them to experience the same joy that they have when reading. 

We have returned home again with full hearts. We are very grateful that we have found this meaningful way to spend our "retirement" years....learning, contributing and being amongst these beautiful people...the Vietnamese that we serve, the dedicated volunteers whom we meet. We are especially appreciative of you, our home team of donors and supporters, who make it possible for us to spread the love of many Canadians and Americans. Thank you! Cam On!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Wedding

Today we celebrated with the whole Reaching Out family (and about 400 relatives and friends), at the wedding of Minh Trang and Dieu Trinh..... two speech and hearing impaired staff members.

What a joyous, crazy wild occassion! As honored guests we were seated right up front with the staff, under the four foot high speakers, which blared relentlessly. Imagine sitting cheek to jowl on little red stools, under a tent covering which was little protection from the mounting heat at high noon. How Trang managed to look so radiant in each of her heavy gowns and Trinh so cool in his suit, I'll never know! As is the custom, Trang wore a white gown for the ceremonies, which entail a few shouted words from the MC, a speech from the dads, cutting the cake and pouring pink "champagne" over a tower of glasses. There were mini fireworks and rocket like shots of confetti throughout. Later Trang changed into the bright pink dress.
Their parents were so proud and the grandparents and granduncles and aunties charmed us both. We couldn't resist snapping pictures and laughing together.

The best singer of the parade of amateurs who mounted the stage was Nguyen...what a fabulous, strong voice. He really belted out a fine tribute to his work mates.
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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hooray for Olivia and Hannah

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Please meet Olivia and Hannah. These two cutie pies live in North Vancouver. On their birthdays this year, they invited their friends to a swmiiming party.They had such fun AND asked their friends to help them help children in a developing country who were less fortunate than themselves. With the money they raised, which was matched by a loving grandmother, they were able to buy a bookbox for the children in the Hiep Duc district of Central Vietnam. We delivered their box of books today, along with three others from our fabulous Journeys of the Heart  home team.

 Many of the children who came to school today were from the surrounding minority villages. They were skinny and shy and many looked very dirty. This little girl, with a very short haircut captured our hearts. She probably can not yet read and may even speak the dialect of her people and not Vietnamese, but she was very alert and excited about learning.

Before we presented the big boxes of books which are created by Global Village Foundation, we helped the children make book marks. They loved the exercise, even though we had to show a few how to use a glue stick. Along the way, they learned some English words and they were shouting "book mark" very well by the end of the morning.

This is Le Ly Hayslip and she is the Founder and CEO of Global Village Foundation. Her granddaughters in California are just a little younger than Olivia and Hannah. She was so impressed with what our two young girls had done in North Vancouver, she wanted all the children to know the story. She told the story for all to hear and we practised saying the names Olivia and Hannah and then "Thank You" in English.

The kids were so excited, but they managed to line up quietly so that they could each take a book from the library...but not before Ba Elaine washed their grimey little hands.

There were 100 children at the school today. Many had never seen such an array of books and even the ones who could not yet read, cherished the pictures. Our hope is that this gift of books will inspire their teachers to teach reading creatively and open the world to their students.

Off the libraries go to the neighbouring schools on the backs of the teachers' motor bikes. This one is from the Red Tent Book Club of Vancouver. Thanks to Victoria and Carole and Philip who also donated book boxes.
We are so proud of Olivia and Hannah and all of our friends who are inspired to help us deliver books and learning to these sweet children.

Cam On!          Thank you!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Scholars from Hoa Van Leprosy Village

Lan Phuong, Ai Quynh, Kim An, and My Le pictured with Bruce and Elaine

Today we traveled to Da Nang to see the students from Hoa Van leprosy village who are fortunate to still be going to highschool, because our pal Linda at Children's Education Foundation has worked tirelessly to get all the levels of approval necessary, find these kids homes to board in Da Nang, monitoring their progress and communicating that to each of their sponsors.

Some of our Journeys of the Heart team who have sponsored specific children, will have received thank you letters from Linda, but we wanted to show you that we were able to sponsor all four kids pictured above by accumulating the donations of many on our team.

We met in the People's Commitee Hall, where the Women's Friendship Union also have offices. The village headman, his assistant, the Director of the Women's Union and several parents were in attendance. We received a bouquet of flowers and certificates of appreciation. We wanted to pass that appreciation on to all of our donors, who like us, see that education, particularly that of girls and women is critical to the future of this country. We also presented the headman, his assistant and the director of the women's union with small pins of crossed flags ( Canadian and Vietnamese) as a token of our friendship and partnership in working together to keep these deserving young people in school.

We once again asked the students their career or continuing educational goals and many were the same as last year. However our aspiring fashion designer has now decided to be a teacher and one young man, who last year had professed to want to be a doctor, now wants to drive a train! Apparently grade 10 biology was a difficult subject for him. We know that this serious young man will be a very responsible locomotive engineer.
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Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Road Less Traveled

We traveled to the district of Hiep Duc yesterday with a Global Village Foundation team. Beyond the city of Hiep Duc and into the foothills, our destination was a tiny, isolated and very poor minority village. There are 54 different minority tribes in Vietnam, many still marginalized. The people often speak in their own dialect, can not read nor write and schooling for the children is spotty.

The journey itself was an adventure. As you can see the government is making efforts to improve road access, but for us it was a harrowing journey, with our bus often scraping its undercarriage on the deeply rutted road. At one point our progress was impeded by a stuck truck ahead, so we unloaded so that our men could help push the truck and so that our bus could get through with a lighter load.

 Posted by PicasaOur first stop was in the center of the village where we toured the village meeting house, wandered the roads and met the villagers. Although a GVF of volunteer youth from Singapore had spent time in the village our group, there to follow up on their project and offer health care advice and aid,was still a curiousity.

The guys added a few light standards and poles for basketball hoops in the square. A Vietnamese female doctor and Le Ly, our leader, delivered information about cleanliness and basic health. We then handed out goodie bags with the requisite shampoo and soap, and a new set of clothes.

Also pictured above are the old house and the new, which GVF built for a rural family, who are very poor.

Our last stop was at a small school building, where the local children are taught three days a week. The structure had been home for the Singapore students, then converted to a small classroom. We played with the kids, drew pictures, painted, exchanged a few words about our pictures of flowers, houses and birthday cakes. Of course the main attraction was the box of books, donated by Journeys of the Heart, through the Global Village foundation.

Friday, February 18, 2011

My Lai Massacre Memorial Site

We journeyed to the My Lai Massacre site yesterday and although we have been to this now tranquil memorial park on several occassions it was, as always a poignant day.

The day was slightly overcast and cool enough that we were able to stroll the now quiet gardens, slowly. Birds sang and the rice fields and vegetable gardens, within and along side the park, were green and healthy. New life has replaced the charred ruins and devastation of so many lives. The 504 souls, still are present to those who pause to contemplate the events of that fateful day in 1968.

Ha Thi Quy, a survivor, lives a short walk down a neighbouring lane in the village. She and her son and granddaughter remembered us from previous visits and welcomed us into their home. She greeted us with huge hugs and smiles.

The memories of the horror of that day for the families of this tiny hamlet in Central Vietnam are searlingly fresh, yet they cherish life, the land and the family that remains. We are humbled by their forgiveness and acceptance of us. We are moved by their "love, which passeth all understanding".
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Funeral

At 4:30 am we were wakened by what sounded like two old aluminium garbage can lids being banged together. Up and down the lanes, the tinny, rhythmic beating, ebbed and flowed. Unable to sleep we showered and dressed and were about to sit down for breakfast when, military like music echoed down the lane and into our garden.

"It is for dead people", said our hostess Le. We rushed for the camera and strode to the corner, where a crowd of neighbours was gathering for the funeral procession. Apparently, the drumming at 4:30 was to awaken the neighbours and invite them to the funeral.

We had front row seats to this moving rite. We had seen the banners flying at the gate of a nearby house over the last couple of days where the deceased had been lying in his coffin. On this day three, the coffin would be paraded ceremonially through the neighbourhood so that everyone could "say good bye". The family and mourners would then continue to the graveyard.

We have learned that the military music was not symbolic of a military career, it was simply that the family could affrod a band and "Vietnamese like this kind of music".

Pictured above are the son of the deceased carrying his picture, followed by the mother and wife.

The brilliantly clad and menacingly made up character was described to us as the ":sargeant" of the cortege and his job was not only to direct traffic, give orders for the pall bearers to take a break etc. but symbolically he also was an ominous precense to scare away the restless spirits and ensure a safe and peaceful journey to heaven for the deceased's soul.

The Buddhist shrine on a bicycle cart, a Monk and burning incence are added  for good measure.

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When I saw these two men in the procession, each with a single fragrant tuberose on their motor bikes I was struck once again by the contrasts in this culture which clings to ancient tradition, while riding the crest of rapid development.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tet is Family Time

This mornning on the first day of the Year of the Cat, we joined Binh, Quyen and Sesame for a family breakfast, before going to the pagoda to honor the ancestors.

We went to the two oldest pagodas in Hoi An. At one we venerated Quyen's Grandmother. Sesame wore traditional garments for this day and was a very good little fellow while we followed the rituals. He and Ba Elaine did sneak off to count the fish in the fish pond in front of the Lady Buddha though...I don't think Buddha or Grandma would mind!
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End of Year Celebration at Reaching Out

This year has been one of unparalled success at Reaching Out. Everyone has worked so hard to meet their targets and Binh and Quyen recognized all the staff with healthy bonuses, baskets of goodies for their families and words of encouragement and thanks. Lan An, wrote Binh's words as he spoke so that they could be signed for the speech and hearing impaired staff.

They celebrated not only the financial success of their Fair Trade, social business but marriages, babies, new houses and motor bikes. It was a good year also for health, there were no serious illnesses amongst the staff, which speaks well of their nutritious lunches every day, daily rest time and good working conditions.

Bruce and I are so touched to see the growing independence of all 50 workers and their new found confidence and pride in becoming integrated into their communities. What a gift it is for us to be associated with this exemplary young company.
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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Making Banh Tet

Banh Tet is a traditional, staple food prepared specifically for Tet. The process is painstaking, but artful, with the wrapping technique skillful, so that in the cooking process, no water and only the moisture and flavour of the banana leaves permeates the rice and bean filling.

This food is favoured because it lasts for many days after being boiled for 20 hours in a large cauldron.

At Vuon Trau, this is a fun family event, with "specialists" brought in to make the banh Tet and sweet rice flour and bean cookies. Check the slide show (upper right corner of the blog) for more pictures of Bruce and Elaine pounding the sweet honey and orange into the rice flour and best of all the smiles on the faces of our Vietnamese friends. Our fumbling attempts are the entertainment!
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