I awoke this morning with a heavy heart.
We knew that yesterday would be difficult; that our task would take all the objectivity that we could muster despite our hearts being pummeled. We knew that the people that we have come to know and love and who have lived in isolation (because some of their family members had been stricken with leprosy), were relocated last year because the government had expropriated their land in the pristine remote beach-side location where they fished and farmed with pride despite their humble homes and meager incomes. We had heard the rumor that a Club Med would be built.
We also knew the villagers would be relocated to homes on the outskirts of the city of Da Nang, to properties that they purchased near a railroad track or to a blockhouse. Compensation would be paid to each family.
Our job was to assist Children’s Education Foundation to determine the continuing needs for school tuition for the high school children from the village. Many had been boarding with relatives or friends while their parents still lived in the village. Their yearly expenses were high. But now the families were reunited and perhaps their needs would be fewer.
The conditions under which some of these “refugees” are living were shocking. Not only is the housing barren and often filthy, but the parents are also unable to imagine how to make a living here. Some of the men try to fish, by travelling great distances to launch their boats back at the village. Others have no work and cannot comprehend what they might do and are relying on their compensation package to survive. As far as we could tell, this compensation will last about two years. Some have blown the whole package on decorating their homes with furniture and televisions. As one young salesperson at Reaching Out declared this morning, “They have no knowledge about how to handle their money and put savings in the bank”. Thank god that Binh and Quyen are teaching their disabled staff how to manage their money!
Families could choose to live in what are called “block houses”. Sixty-four families now reside in concrete row houses, which are newly built on a barren stretch of land far from their gardens, rice paddies, fishing beach and their ancestors’ graves.
Surprisingly the high school students who are sponsored by CEF, Go Philanthropic and Journeys of the Heart donors love their new homes. They are with their parents and they have friends at school. In their innocence they do not see the grim future that their families will suffer when the money is gone.
The parents do know. “ How will I feed my children?” asked one mother of four whose teenager from an early first marriage is one of the children in high school. “We cannot work,” said two older sufferers of leprosy; parents of another recipient of CEF support. One father that we met seemed to be relying on alcohol to ease his pain, much to his daughter’s embarrassment. She is one of the best students. Quiet and bespectacled she manages to study despite living in a house with nine relatives including two small boys who love loud cartoons which played while we conducted the assessment and the two toddlers climbed all over our blushing young student.
As always there were moments when the strength and resilience of the Vietnamese shone on our day. At one home, not twenty feet from the railway track an inveterate farmer had begun to grow his garden in pots and every available patch of dirt, the little green plants signaling his hope that his family will eat and all will be well in this strange new city.
The day was tiring and at times tedious but often tender, with true warmth from some of the families and the “head woman” of the blockhouse commune. Assessment will be difficult for our team of three, Linda DeWolf (a volunteer with Go Philanthropic), Bruce and I. Of course I want all the children to go to school and will have to endeavor to be objective in our meeting this afternoon when we make our recommendations.
You can see more photos of this day at:
https://picasaweb.google.com/108545015218666540885/Vn7DaNangStudents?authkey=Gv1sRgCMGOl-aJq5a-Mg. This website shows all the photos that we took on this heart wrenching day. The pictures tell the story which my words cannot describe. For all of our past photos click “My Photos” when you get to the site to see all albums.