Bài luận của Nguyễn Văn Dương – SV Khoa Công nghệ kỹ thuật hóa học thuộc Trường ĐH Sư Phạm Kỹ Thuật SG khóa học 2015 – 2019
Em muốn kể cho mọi người nghe câu chuyện của chính em. Khi em lớn lên ở tuổi vừa mới biết nhận thức thì em được nghe những người hàng xóm và trong gia đình kể lại rằng: ngày trước, khi em chào đời được khoảng 20 ngày thì mẹ bỏ em ra đi không biết vì lý do gì. Rồi sau đó, ba em cũng như mẹ em, bỏ con ra đi, bỏ cả cha mẹ ra đi cũng không hiểu nguyên cớ từ đâu.
Từ đó, em luôn có một câu hỏi. Câu hỏi này em đã hỏi chính em, hỏi bà nội em, hỏi cô em, hỏi những người xung quanh em trong mười mấy năm qua là: “Tại sao cha, mẹ lại bỏ con?”. Tới nay câu hỏi đó vẫn chưa có câu trả lời. 18 năm qua, cha mẹ em chưa hề quay lại, em cũng không biết là cha mẹ em còn sống hay là đã mất. Em không có một tấm hình nào của cha mẹ, không được nhìn thấy cha mẹ dù chỉ một lần. Hình ảnh của mẹ chỉ xuất hiện trong giấc mơ và trí tưởng tượng của một đứa trẻ luôn khao khát được hưởng tình yêu thương của cha mẹ như bao đứa trẻ khác.
Sau khi cha mẹ bỏ đi, em sống với bà nội. Rồi đến khi bà đã già yếu quá, không còn đủ sức để cho em nương tựa thì em được một người cô nhận nuôi. Song cái khó bó cái khôn, hoàn cảnh của cô em cũng chẳng khá giả gì, cô lại phải nuôi một đàn con thơ nên mặc dù cố gắng hết sức, cô cũng chỉ có thể nuôi em ăn học hết lớp 12. Ngày em đi thi tốt nghiệp phổ thông cô nói với em rằng: “Từ nay cháu phải tự lo cho cháu, cô đã làm tất cả những gì có thể”. Em thực sự rất biết ơn cô! Nhưng trong lòng thì không khỏi buồn, tủi và tuyệt vọng. 18 năm qua, để có thể đến trường, em đã đi bán vé số. Đây là công việc và nguồn thu chính của em và bà nội.
Điều mơ ước duy nhất của bản thân em là được đến trường để học như bao đứa trẻ khác và có một mái ấm gia đình để em không còn lo nghĩ và tập trung cho việc học của mình. Hằng ngày em phải đối diện với thực tế là nhìn bao đứa trẻ khác được ba mẹ đưa đón đến trường, được ba mẹ ôm ấp trong vòng tay yêu thương trìu mến. Em rất buồn và tủi thân, em tự hỏi vì sao mình lại không được hưởng những điều đơn giản nhất, những điều mà hầu như ai trong cuộc đời cũng có được. Song, nghĩ lại em vẫn thấy mình còn chút may mắn khi vẫn còn bà nội, còn cô để em có thể nương tựa được. Suy nghĩ này chính là động lực, nó giúp em vượt qua khó khăn về vật chất, thiếu thốn về tình thương và đặc biệt là sự buồn tủi, mặc cảm với bạn bè, để em vươn lên trong cuộc sống. Muốn thay đổi số phận, muốn đền đáp công nuôi dưỡng của nội, của cô, trong 12 năm học phổ thông em luôn cố gắng học tốt nhất có thể. Thành quả thi đậu vào trường Đại học Sư Phạm Kỹ Thuật ngành Công Nghệ Kỹ Thuật Hóa Học, đối với những người khác có thể là bình thường nhưng đối với em đó là cả một chặng đường dài đầy gian lao mà ở đó em đã chiến thắng số phận nghiệt ngã, chiến thắng chính bản thân mình.
Hiện tại em rất lo lắng vì không có người thân nào có thể tiếp sức cho em trong 4 năm học đại học. Em đang phải đối mặt với thực tế khó khăn là em sẽ phải làm những gì để có thể trang trải cho việc học trong 4 năm mà vẫn có thể đi học đều đặn, không phải bỏ học để đi làm kiếm tiền? Em rất mong nhận được sự giúp đỡ từ quỹ học bổng VNHelp để em tiếp tục con đường học vấn của mình, để có thể thay đổi số phận, phụng dưỡng bà nội, trở thành một người công dân tốt có ích cho xã hội, đặc biệt là em có thể tiếp sức cho những mảnh đời kém may mắn, gặp nhiều khó khăn như em vươn lên trong cuộc sống.
Em xin chân thành cám ơn quỹ học bổng VNHelp đã mở ra cho em và những bạn bè kém may mắn một cánh cửa như trong truyện cổ tích, ở đó chúng em được thấu hiểu, được quan tâm và chắp cánh ước mơ.
Nguyễn Văn Dương
Essay by Nguyen Van Duong, submitted with the application for VNHelp scholarship, 2015-2019
I would like to share with you the story of my life. This is the story that I was told by my family and neighbors when I was old enough to grasp the meaning of my origin. Shortly after my birth, when I was about 20 days old, my mother abandoned me without giving any reason. Then my father followed my mother’s footsteps and also left me and his own family. Again, no one understood the reason for his departure.
Ever since, I have been haunted by a single question. I ask myself, my grandmother, my aunt and everyone around me all these years: “Why? Why did my parents leave me?” Until now, I still have no answer. After eighteen years, my mother and father have never returned. I do not know if they are alive or dead. I have no photo of my parents. I have never seen my parents, not even once! The image of my mother appears only in dreams and my imagination… only in dreams can I pretend to enjoy the parental love that I never had.
After my parents left, I lived with my grandmother. Then when my grandmother was too old and weak, one of my aunts took me in and cared for me. Like one torn leave that tries to cover another, we had little to share among ourselves. My aunt already had her hands full with her own children. She did the best that she could when she took me in, but she was only able to take care of me until I finished high school. On the day of my high school graduation, my aunt told me with tears in her eyes, “I have done everything that I can for you, and now you must take care of yourself going forward.” Truly, I was so very grateful for my aunt! But at the same time, I felt a deep sadness and quiet desperation swelling inside. For 18 years, to support myself through school, I have been selling lottery tickets. This has been my work that generates the main income for myself and my grandmother.
My one and only wish is to be able to attend college. I always dream of having a family love and support so that I could concentrate on my education. Every day, I see other children who are dropped off and picked up at school by their parent. I see other children cared for and embraced by their families. I often wonder why it is that the simplest things in life, things that everyone can take for granted, are simply not in my reach. Nevertheless, when I think more deeply, I come to realize that I can still be thankful to have my grandmother and my aunt, someone that I can lean on. This thought gives me the driving force and the courage to carry on with my daily life. It helps me to overcome so many obstacles, particularly the emotional challenges that I face when I compare myself to my friends. To change fate and to return the love from my grandmother and my aunt, I must carry on with my education the best that I can. Passing the entrance exam at the [Polytechnic University] is probably considered a normal feat for most people. But for me, this is a huge achievement after a long journey and bitter struggle against my own fate. It is no small victory against the weaker side of my own self!
Presently, I am full of worry because I have no family to support me during the 4 years of college. I will need to encounter the practical challenges so that I can afford the 4 years of education. Will I need to drop out to earn a living? I very much hope that I will receive assistance from the VNHelp scholarship so that I can continue on my journey and change my destiny. I would like to be able to support my grandmother, become a productive citizen who contributes to society and, in particular, help other unfortunate people so that they can better themselves.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to VNHelp for making scholarships available to myself and other poor students. May it be a door that will allow us to transform ourselves and make our most fantastic dreams come true.
On Saturday April 02, 2016, the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) at Mipitas High School, CA (MHS) had their annual cultural show. It was heart-warming to hear them speak about VNHelp and the orphan they sponsored through VNHelp’s Sponsor A Child Program. A few dollars from each student, they raised enough money to sponsor 4-year old Nguyen thi Bao Nhi for the third year! Congratulations to VSA at MHS for a successful show and thank you for your kind support for Bao Nhi. You are young people with a big heart!
Teacher, advisor of VSA & President of VNHelp MHS students attending the donation table
VNHelp’s gifts – key chains made by mute & deaf children Donations for Baby Bao Nhi
On Feb 20, 2016, VNHelp opened another school – Giuc Tuong Kindergarten in Kien Giang Province. VNHelp’s Executive Director, Thu Do, Mr. Huong Le of Lee Laundromat and Rotary Club of San Jose attended the opening ceremony. There were a a hug e crowd of students and parents joining the ceremony and they were all so excited about this new school.
Children performing at the ceremony Cute faces!
Sponsors handing out backpacks to students Ribbon cutting ceremony
VNHELP’s Executive Director, Thu Do, attended the opening ceremony of the water filtration plant in Ha Vinh Village, Ha Trung District, Thanh Hoa Province on Friday, Feb 26, 2016. Thu also visited many beneficiary’s homes to see people enjoyed the crystal clear water right at their home. The entire water system includes wells, many function tanks, water tower, machine room, main pipeline network, and mini-pipelines that connect more than a thousand families to clean water.
This project was made possible with the combined grants from Yahoo, Vibrant Village Foundation and Mrs. Mai Dolch.
Many villagers attending the ceremony Clean water to every household
Recognition of the water plant’s sponsors Thu Do (blue shirt) cutting the ribbon
VNHelp aims for rapid growth in the next few years and is looking for talented individuals with a passion for public service. We currently have three openings for Communication & Public Relations Director (USA), Vietnam Program Development Director (VN), and Executive Assistant (USA). Salaries are negotiable depending on the experience of the candidates. We also welcome volunteers for the positions.
Position: Communication and Public Relations Director
On Feb 19, VNHelp opened one new school, and on Feb 20 VNHelp opened another one. The constructions of these schools were funded by Mr Huong Le with the dollar-to-dollar matching fund from VNHelp. The furniture, internal equipment, and playground equipment were purchased by the fund from the Rotary Club of San Jose. Mr. Huong Le represents Lee Laundromat, of which he is the owner. Mrs. Jean Rose represents the Rotary Club of San Jose. The students, teachers, parents, and local officials were so happy and appreciated the new schools.
Huong gave backpacks to students Thu is handing out a cash gift to 12 teachers
VNHelp logo at the roof of the school Excited about the new school!
VNHelp built a bridge nearby the school we constructed in Thới Quản Village, Gò Quao District, Kien Giang Province. It provides students a safe way to cross the river to go to school. The construction of the bridge was sponsored by Mr. Huong Le (Lê Văn Hưởng) of Lee Laundromat in northern CA. Per the local tradition, the bridge was blessed by a Buddhist priest (most people in the area are Buddhist). On Feb 19 2016, VNHelp’s Executive Director, Thu Do, attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new bridge.
The bridge was blessed by a buddhist priest Walking on the new bridge
Group picture with local people Ribbon cutting ceremony
On Feb 24, VNHelp’s Executive Director, Thu Do, visited Vinh Phuc Province to check out the VNHelp’s micro-finance project in Hop Hoa Village, Tam Duong District. In the last five years, this project lends money to women who have a good investment plan and have demonstrated the ability to execute their plan to generate incomes. The loan amounts range from $100 to $500. During the visit, Thu Do met with a group of borrowers and listened to their stories. She also visited the candidates for the Trồng Gấc Program in An Hoa and Dao Tu villages. Trồng Gấc Program is planned to begin this Spring (March-April 2016) for the first harvest in October -November 2016.
Discussing about Trồng Gấc Program Handing money to the Loan Officer
Meeting with micro-loan recipients Group pictures with micro-loan recipients
VNHelp continues to support Lien Minh Clinic in Nam Dinh Province in 2016. VNHelp’s Executive Director, Thu Do, visited the clinic on Feb 23. She met with doctors, clinic workers, and 14 family nurses and observed their operations. The clinic provides services including medical examinations, maternity care, and pediatric care. It serves a population of 10,000 people.
Medical check for local people Meeting with clinic staff
In 2015, five orphanages continued to receive support from VNHelp. These orphanages cared for 422 children. VNHelp was able to connect sponsors in the US to 282 of these children. Besides providing the fund for food and education, we also funded regular English and computer classes at the orphanages.
Computer classes for orphans Children from Dieu Giac Orphanage
Children from Thien An Orphanage Children from Tu Hanh Orphanage
In November 2015, 328 patients received free eye surgery at Saigon Eye Hospital. The patients were from low-income families in Cà Mau, Đồng Nai, Đồng Tháp, Long An, Tây Ninh, Tiền Giang, Vĩnh Long, An Giang, Bình Phước, Bình Dương, Đồng Nai, and Vũng Tàu. Most of them suffered from cataracts while some had pterygium. Besides free surgery, the patients also received free lunch, transportation and post-op care. This surgical mission wouldn’t have been possible without the generous contribution from Mr. & Mrs. Thomas & Trang Nguyen (Orange County) and Son Nam Charity Group (San Jose). In total, 699 cataract patients were benefited from the VNHelp’s Vision for the Poor Program in 2015.
Patients gathering at the waiting room Pre-surgery
Tôi viết thư này gửi đến các bạn trong lúc mọi người đang háo hức đón tết Bính Thân. “Ông Táo” vừa được tiễn về trời; nhìn hình ảnh từ Việt Nam gửi sang thấy chợ tết thật đông vui; tại vùng San Jose các bánh chưng, dưa món, bao mừng tuổi… đang được bày bán nhiều nơi. Năm nay đối với tôi dường như không khí tết có phần vui hơn mọi năm, có lẽ vì lòng tôi cảm thấy hân hoan khác thường.
Tôi cảm thấy hạnh phúc vì mấy hôm nay VNHelp nhân được rất nhiều email của các sinh viên từ khắp các tinh Cần Thơ, Sài Gòn, Huế, Hà Nội… viết những lời cám ơn và chúc tết; tôi thấy phấn khởi vì một số ân nhân bảo trợ đang chuẩn bị cùng đi Việt Nam với tôi một tuần sau tết để khánh thành 2 trường học và nhà máy nước; tôi mừng vì năm 2016 sẽ đánh dấu 25 năm hoạt động của VNHelp!
Nhìn lại những thành quả tốt đẹp của VNHelp trong năm 2015 cũng như trong suốt 25 năm qua, tôi xin được bày tỏ lòng biết ơn sâu sắc nhất đến các ân nhân ủng hộ tài chính, các thiện nguyện viện góp sức góp công, các đối tác tại Việt Nam nhiệt tình hợp tác, và các thân hữu luôn khuyến khích tinh thần. Nhờ mỗi người một tay mà VNHelp đã lớn mạnh không ngừng và đã tạo được nhiều thay đổi tích cực trong cuộc sống của người dân nghèo.
Xin thay mặt những người nhận sự trợ giúp của VNHelp tại Việt Nam, kính chúc các bạn năm mới An Khang Thịnh Vượng.
Đỗ Anh Thư, viết trong ngày 24 tết
Welcome the New Year
I am writing this letter while Vietnamese from all over the world are getting ready to welcome Year of the Monkey. As Tết is the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture, through pictures I can feel the festivities on the streets and in every home in Vietnam. In the San Jose area, where VNHelp is located, Vietnamese Americans also keep the tradition; new year food, flowers, and red envelops are displayed in almost every store. This year I feel Tết is more joyful than previous years. The mood of Tết seems to be more delightful to me personally, and I know exactly why.
I am happy to receive so many emails from our scholarship recipients expressing their gratitude and new year wishes to VNHelp and our donors. I feel encouraged because some VNHelp’s sponsors are preparing to join me in my upcoming working trip in Vietnam. And I am proud to see VNHelp celebrating its 25th anniversary this year; step by step the organization is growing strong and continues to create positive impacts in Vietnam.
Recounting the VNHelp’s achievements in 2015 and in the past 25 years, I am thankful for the support VNHelp has been receiving from so many people. We wouldn’t have accomplished what we set out to do without the generosity of our donors, the dedication of our volunteers, the collaboration of our local partners, and the kind words of support from many friends. Everyone has assisted us in different ways, but all share the same goal to help the needy in Vietnam. Your special ways and generous heart make a beautiful difference. Thank you!
May Year of the Monkey bring you good health, happiness, and prosperity. Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!
For a person with a physical disability, Vietnam’s traffic is immobilizing. The lack of basic infrastructure can make commuting a daily struggle for those with disabilities, and public and private facilities have no accommodations for those who need it. We distribute free wheelchairs to disabled individuals so they can get their lives going. In 2014, VNHELP and ABS Foundation distributed wheelchairs to 20 disabled individuals in Hue Province and offered 3 months of vocational training in sewing, embroidery and carpentry. See photos here
You’ve probably heard of Black Friday and it’s digital cousin Cyber Monday, but have you heard of Giving Tuesday?
Giving Tuesday first began in 2012. It was started by 92Y, a community center and nonprofit organization in New York City. The folks at 92Y observed that in the U.S., there’s a day to celebrate thanksgiving and two whole days to indulge in shopping, but no day to celebrate generosity. Why? Generosity has been a backbone of culture and society, but rarely does it receive the limelight. So Giving Tuesday aims to change that by dedicating a day to giving. It’s a day to encourage one another to give to charity and think about how we can best put our dollars to use helping others in need. Giving Tuesday always falls on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving Thursday, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. This year, it is December 3rd, 2013.
At VNHELP, we hope you’ll give to your favorite charities, both ones doing work locally and globally. We hope you’ll consider making a donation to VNHELP as part of your Giving Tuesday plans too. We sincerely appreciate it.
Now that the 2013 Mùa Thu Cho Em concert series has officially wrapped up, we’d like to send a big thank you to the sponsors who were part of making the concerts possible. Please check out their information after the jump!
Congratulations to the 30 youths who took part in our third motorbike vocational training cycle! The 30 youths underwent 390 hours of practical training and 150 hours of theoretical training as part of an intensive mechanics training course. All 30 students made it through the course and many of them have already secured employment with their new-found skills. Big props to these youths for their patience and hard work. We’re wishing them a bright future while keeping up with the fourth cohort of students who began their training on September 15th! See more pictures after the jump!
On Oct.1, the new An Phu Primary School officially opened its doors to students and community members after construction was completed in September. The new school has five classrooms for students from grades 1 to 5, a staff room, lavatories (which, unfortunately, are still lacking in manyVietnamese schools), and new furnishings.
An Phu is located north of Saigon, close to Vietnam’s border with Cambodia. Many of the students are ethnically Cambodian, which makes them ethnic minorities in Vietnam. Our hope is that this new school will play a part in closing the education gap between Vietnam’s ethnic minorities and the majority Viet Kinh population. We want these children to be able to pursue early education, helping them succeed later in life.
A big thanks goes out to the Nepheli Foundation for their generosity in supporting this project. Check out some of the photos below:
Meet Nguyen Thi My Linh, a second year student at the University of Agriculture and Forestry in Saigon majoring in Information Technology. My Linh also happens to be a 4-year recipient of the Nguyen Truong To Scholarship.
My Linh was chosen among hundreds of applicants for her amazing fortitude and optimistic attitude. She grew up in a coastal town, where her father supported the family doing various seafaring jobs. But the nature of his work was unstable, so her family’s economic situation was never very secure. Meanwhile, her mother’s health was poor, and there are still two younger siblings (one now in 10th grade and one now in 2nd grade), to take care of. In a chat with VNHELP, My Linh admitted, “When I received my scholarship, I tried to give that money to my mother so she could use it to take care of our family. But my mother sent the money back to me telling me to use it for my tuition and living expenses.”
Being the smart girl that she is, My Linh realized that the best path towards ensuring a brighter future was through education. She worked hard in high school and made her way to university in the city. She dreams of becoming a university lecturer in IT in the future, improving her life and defying gender stereotypes as a woman in technology at the same time.
With this kind of determination and kindness, it’s hard not to root for a girl like My Linh.
Follow the jump to the Vietnamese translation of this article.
On June 8, the VNHELP Board of Directors held a special gathering to acknowledge the contribution of a few individuals who have consistently supported our Vietnam programs in the last five years: Mai Dolch, Van-Hanh Nguyen, Golden Pacific Investments LLC, Hop Duc Bui, and the Hitz Foundation. We especially paid tribute to Ms. Mai Dolch for her contributions to our causes since 2007. Her generosity has changed many thousands of lives in Vietnam. Nine schools were built for 1,400 students; three health clinics were funded to serve 50,000 patients annually; safe drinking water systems were installed for 37 schools with 10,000 students; and cataract surgeries were performed on 1,000 low-income patients to name a few projects that were made possible by Ms. Dolch. Mai Dolch shared her thoughts on her philanthropy and what keeps her giving. Her speech is excerpted below. We hope her message will inspire you as well.
We’re excited to report on three cataract surgery missions that were completed in quarter 2! The first two missions took place in Hanoi at the Vietnam-Japan Eye Hospital for 197 patients from Nam Đinh and 177 patients from Thái Bình. They received food, transporation, medical care, free cataract surgeries, and post-op care. These missions were made possible by the generosity of Mr. Bui Duc Hop and Son Nam Group (San Jose, CA) and Mr. Bui Van Vien (Hanoi, Vietnam).
Thanks to the support of Mr. Thomas Nguyen (Orange County, CA), the third, ongoing surgical mission is currently taking place at the Thu Duc Hospital for patients from Phan Thiet, Binh Thuan. Our plan is to provide free surgery to another 200 patients by the mission’s end. As of this printing, 163 patients have been served and regained their vision.
The patients were very diverse, including both males and females. So far, the eldest patient was born in 1934, and the youngest patient was born in 1993. That’s a 59 year age gap, which just goes to show how cataracts are a pervasive problem that can affect a range of people in Vietnam.
(Click “Read the rest of this entry” below for the Vietnamese translation!)
As a diaspora community matures, its relationship to the homeland inevitably grows more tenuous. Second and third generation diaspora members, born overseas, don’t experience their culture the way their parents or grandparents did. Instead, their identities are shaped as much—if not more—by their adoptive culture.
But in an age where multicultural competency is proving to be an invaluable asset, how can we encourage younger generations to retain the culture of their homeland as well? At least one student group has found the answer in philanthropy.
Each year, the Union of North American Vietnamese Student Associations (UNAVSA) hosts what they call the “Collective Philanthropy Project” (CPP). It’s a yearlong-fundraising initiative that brings a decidedly democratic twist to philanthropy, and it’s brought in north of $50,000 for select nonprofit organizations.
Before the fundraising commences, students offer various nonprofit organizations the chance to submit a proposal (full disclosure: VNHELP has submitted proposals to CPP in the past), and then caucus and vote on which organizations they want to fundraise for the year. This allows budding philanthropists to get involved at all levels of the philanthropic process, from selection to strategy and development. It also allows students to learn of an array of causes pertinent to their motherland while building that personal tie to their culture.
To learn more about this initiative, I caught up with Lisa Nguyen, a pharmacy student at the Virginia Commonwealth University and this year’s CPP Selection Director.
Q: To get readers caught up to speed, can you give us the lowdown on what UNAVSA and CPP are?
Lisa: UNAVSA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan, community-based organization, founded in 2004 consisting of leaders of Vietnamese Student Associations (VSAs) across North America, regional umbrella Vietnamese youth organizations, and young professionals. CPP launched in 2005 as an initiative for Vietnamese-American students and community organizations to collaborate toward a charitable cause. The CPP campaign raises awareness and collectively fundraises for non-profit organizations that serve the broader Vietnamese community. CPP’s goal is to further UNAVSA’s mission of networking, developing leadership, preserving the Vietnamese heritage, and creating a unified national effort to help those in need.
Q: How do you see philanthropy’s role in connecting younger generations to Vietnam?
Lisa: Philanthropy helps Vietnamese-American youth reconnect to Vietnam by reinforcing culture and traditions. The mission of selected nonprofits must relate to helping the Vietnamese community or purpose in some way. Therefore, philanthropic efforts by UNAVSA raise awareness of Vietnam’s current conditions among the younger Vietnamese community and as a result, help connect our generation back to our motherland without actually being there. Through CPP and UNAVSA, we learn more about our past to improve the future.
Q: Do you think there is a difference between how younger generations and how past generations approach philanthropy?
Lisa: It is more difficult for younger generations to truly understand the hardships that our parents and past generations endured. However, we have heard many stories which help reinforce how fortunate we are to be in America, the land of opportunity. Therefore, philanthropy is one way for us to show appreciation for what we have.
Q: Beyond funds CPP has raised for different NGOs, what are some of the other effects of CPP you’ve observed?
I have observed numerous friendships develop, leaders being made, culture and traditions upheld, and generosity arise from around the country. Personally, I have also seen changes in myself. By being heavily involved with CPP and UNAVSA, I have seen personal development where I take pleasure in volunteering my time and efforts for a great and selfless cause. There is no doubt that many other UNAVSA members have also had their eyes opened by being involved with CPP. They have learned to put others before themselves and be empathetic towards the less fortunate.
Q: Five, ten, fifteen years from now, what role do you see philanthropy having in Vietnamese American culture?
Lisa: Philanthropy will maintain a strong presence in the Vietnamese-American culture. There are many Vietnamese Americans who are successful in fields such as business, medicine, engineering, etc. As evidenced by the amount of donations the CPP has received these past 8 years, many of these Vietnamese professionals have no problem giving back. As role models, these charitable professionals create a future cycle of philanthropy by illustrating to younger generations the importance of selflessness. In addition, working together for one Vietnamese-related charitable cause encourages our generation to appreciate what we have and strengthens the bond with our culture.
Q: How can someone contact you if they want to be part of CPP?
Lisa: If you or someone you know would like to donate to this year’s CPP beneficiary, please contact email@example.com for more information. Online donation tools are currently being set up to make donating even easier!
To all our dear friends and supporters, please join VNHELP again this year for our 19th annual Mùa Thu Cho Em benefit concerts!
The concerts are a great chance to catch up with good friends, feature a line up of entertainers who are sure to delight, and will raise funds for our many poverty-alleviation projects in Vietnam. They will be on October 5th in Santa Clara and October 12th in Fountain Valley. See the concert page on our website for more details.
Performers for the night include:
Blessed with a precise yet rich and emotional voice, Mỹ Linh has been singing professionally since she was sixteen years old. Her musical talents were recognized when she was still just a little girl performing at various children’s music contests. Since then, she has gone on to win numerous prizes domestically and internationally, the most noted being “The Golden Voice of Asia Award” in 1999. In 2006, she became the only Vietnamese artist to sing at Asian Divas night in Nagoya, Japan.
A masterful stylist, her elegant and accessible music blends funk, soul, R&B and jazz. Mỹ Linh’s music is firmly entrenched in Vietnamese culture while remaining open to international influence. Mỹ Linh made her debut in America on the VNHELP stage in 2002, came back to perform for VNHELP for a second time in 2011, and is back again by popular demand this year.
*Mỹ Linh will only be appearing in the Northern California show this year.
Bằng Kiều was born into a musical family with the love of performance arts running through his veins. He began playing music when he was a child and took up studying the Bassoon at the Hanoi Conservatory of Music in 1989, but eventually switched to becoming a vocalist after realizing his passion for singing.
Bằng Kiều has produced a number of popular songs, including Neu Ðieu Ðo Xay Ra, Trai Tim Khong Ngu Yen, Mua Tren Ngay Thang Do. With his eloquent voice, stage charm and many talents, Bằng Kiều always makes his stage appearances exciting and full of delightful surprises. Bang Kieu sang for Mùa Thu Cho Em in 2004, 2010 and 2011, and requests from our audience has brought him back for the fourth year.
*Bằng Kiều will only be appearing in the Southern California show this year.
Trần Thu Hà
Trần Thu Hà is known as a vocalist with a colorful and eclectic performing style, singing with ease in everything from electronica and alternative rock to pop and indie.
At the age of 10, Thu Hà joined the Hà Nội School of Art and then studied Vocal Music at the Hà Nội Conservatory of Music. Her music has been well-received and recognized with a number of prestigious awards. In 2000, Thu Hà was voted favorite singer at the Golden Orchid Awards, and she has been consistently voted among the top ten singers in Vietnam by music critics and audiences since 1998. Trần Thu Hà joins Mùa Thu Cho Em for a third time this year after making her debut in America on the VNHELP stage in 2002 (with My Linh) and appearing in Mùa Thu Cho Em 2007.
Quang Tuấn grew up in Da Lat, Viet Nam and is a popular singer among the Vietnamese overseas community. He began studying modern and classical guitar at the age of 13, but never considered himself a singer. Then the support he received from audiences for his sweet and melodic voice encouraged him to pursue singing as a professional career.
Quang Tuấn studied music performance at Golden West College. In 1992, Quang Tuấn took first place “Golden Voice,” a singing contest organized by renowned musician Duy Khánh. Quang Tuấn has released 4 albums, which includes Gửi người em gái (2000), Huyền (2001), 10 ca khúc Thanh Trang (2002) and Cánh Hoa Duyên Kiếp (2004). All of these albums have been highly successful and appreciated by both Vietnamese and overseas communities. Quang Tuấn’s especially admired by his fans for singing “Nhạc Tiền Chiến” (beautiful classic songs written before 1954)
A native of California, Teresa Mai is a second generation Vietnamese American soprano singer. Mai earned her Bachelor of Music degree from California State University of Long Beach where she performed with the Opera Institute. She later went on to earn a Master of Music degree at The Boston Conservatory of Music in Voice Performance and spent time studying and singing in Los Angeles, Austria, and Italy.
As a soprano, Teresa has performed in a number of starring roles, including Adele in Die Fledermaus, Despina in Cosi Fan Tutte, Euridice in L’Orfeo and Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. In 2011, Mai made her debut with Harmonia Opera at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York in the role of Nyobo in the Japanese opera A Story of Three Women by Sadao Bekku. Closer to home, she was crowned Miss Los Angeles Vietnam 2011 and was a top 10 finalist in the Miss Vietnam Continents 2011, where she was also won Miss Talent.
We arrived in Thua Thien Hue on April 15th. We hadn’t originally planned to visit Thua Thien Hue, but realized we could squeeze in a trip to the country’s former capital en route to Da Lat. We ended up having an extremely productive detour.
Not a moment goes to waste when we’re in Vietnam. The night before we left Hanoi, we realized that we could squeeze in one more visit to the Vietnam – Japan Eye Hospital (VJEH), where a cataract surgery mission is taking place, before we had to be at the airport for our flight to Da Nang. So we decided, why not?
We arrived at VJEH a little after 10, later than expected because of Hanoi traffic. Even though we informed VJEH that we would stop by less than an hour prior to our arrival, Dr. Nguyen Vu Thien, who manages much of the hospital’s operation, was there to greet us.
There’s never been a dull moment since we arrived in Vietnam. Tiring, very. But dull, never.
The day after our trip to Nam Dinh, we headed towards Vinh Phuc province to visit participants of the microfinance program. Microfinance is excellent in theory: give small amounts of capital to female entrepreneurs, equip them with the power to make their own economic decisions, elevate the status of women in society, and watch the local economy grow. But only after visiting the program participants in the flesh can you truly come to understand how meaningful the program is on the borrowers’ lives.
First of all, it’s not just a program that passively gives out money. It helps the women build credit history and provides them with a host of other learning opportunities. On the day that we visited Vinh Phuc, there was actually a legal clinic being held on women’s property rights. Ms. Giang, an attorney who is dedicated to women’s rights, informed the women of changes in the laws and what it meant for their ability to hold and inherit property. The room was filled with women listening assiduously to Ms. Giang speak.
The surprising thing for us was that even after Ms. Giang told them about their rights, some of the women still weren’t convinced of the new laws’ utility. It just goes to show that Vietnam is still very much a patriarchal society, especially in rural and agriculture-based communities. We have a feeling, though, that once the women are able to see the new laws in practice, they will begin to excercise their rights more assertively.
After the morning’s legal session, we began visiting some of the borrowers’ in the microfinance program. Below is Ms. Dieu, who always has a smile in her eyes and giggles after every other sentence. She’s participated in the microfinance program for multiple cycles now, as she is steadily able to borrower larger amounts after building her credit history. She explained to us that participating in the program has improved her living standards and her outlook on life. When she told us that she’d sent her husband to do the day’s cooking so she could greet guests and attend the morning’s legal clinic, we knew right then that major improvements in women’s status had come to this rural commune. Just a few years, a woman to sending her husband into the kitchen would have been unheard of.
Here’s some raw footage of Ms. Dieu speaking to us! It’s unedited, so there are no subtitles for now, but we will get them up soon!
After visiting a few more microfinance participants, we stopped by a roadside restaurant for a family-style lunch. That means no shoes, lots of greens, and sitting on your derriere around a low-rise table. The food was fresh and delicious!
Feeling replenished, we once again began another round of visits to more women in the microfinance program. Ms. Yen below is a radiant 33 year old whose good spirit was infectious.
Ms. Yen explained to us that when she first got married, her husband and her had nothing. Not even a bed to sleep on! But now, she uses her microfinance loans to run a successful small business selling goods at open markets. Asked if she would want to scale up her business, Ms. Yen responded with an enthusiastic YES! Asked what her greatest worries were for her business, Ms. Yen replied that she thought she might not have enough inventory to sell. Hearing that, we immediately wanted to invest in this lovely lady’s enterprise.
There were many women that we visited that day, and these are just snippets of their stories. Eventually, we’ll sit down and share their stories in greater details with you. Please stay tuned!
What made the deepest impression for us throughout the day was the sense of unbounded optimism many of the women in the microfinance program have. All the loan recipients we spoke to today wished to continue with the program and borrow at larger amounts, and they were all fully confident of their ability to pay back larger amounts in a timely manner. We quickly came to realize that these women are all savvy risk takers–the very kind of people who are the backbone of progress. It was humbling getting to speak with them and getting to know the new ideas they are putting into motion. We’re looking forward to expanding the program to reach new borrowers and following-up with the women we met today.
We are so grateful to our local partners, the Center for Women and Community Development and the Center for Sustainable Development Studies, for joining us throughout the day and helping us realize this microfinance project!
The past two days in northern Vietnam have been a flurry of activity. Yesterday, the VNHELP team in Vietnam started our day at 6:30 am and didn’t get back till 11:30 pm! We visited Nam Dinh province, a three hour drive from Hanoi, where we have a number of health projects.
Hello from Hanoi! The VNHELP team is currently in Vietnam, visiting and evaluating projects. The first two days have been filled with meetings, and there are more to come. We’re excited to be here to learn about new developments in poverty relief and health intervention in Vietnam! Stay tuned for more updates from our travels in Vietnam–we’ll keep you updated as best we can.
Above is a view of the busy Hanoi streets from the hotel we are staying at.
March 22 is World Water Day! What better way to celebrate one of Earth’s most precious resources than to share with you its impact in VNHELP’s most recently completed water project?
With support from our partners and community, VNHELP brought clean water to 37 different schools in Quang Ngai province. Many schools in Vietnam lack access to a clean water source, which means students either have to bring their own water to school or drink unsanitized water from a tap. If there’s no tap, or if a student forgot to bring his water bottle to school, there’d be nothing to drink. Can you imagine how difficult it must be to go a whole day at school without a drop to drink? Thankfully, students at these schools no longer have to imagine such a situation. UV filtration systems were installed in the schools, and a faculty member at each of the school was trained on how to maintain the system.
To make this project even more meaningful, there was also a water, sanitation, and hygiene campaign to create better health awareness among children, teachers, and their families. Check out a slide show of the project below!
For our second Women of Vietnam feature, we’re taking a closer look at Ho Xuan Huong, one of Vietnam’s most beloved poets often referred to as the “Queen of Nom Poetry.”
Even though her poems are widely known and there are even a number of streets named after her in Vietnam, Ho Xuan Huong has been something of an enigma. She is believed to have been born in 1772 and died in 1822. Her family history is disputed, but the general consensus is that she eventually became the concubine of a man named Tong Cuc, a ranking official of the Le Dynasty.
Despite her role as a concubine, Ho Xuan Huong showed a rejection of social norms and irreverence uncommon for women of the time. (Remember that she was living in 17th/18th Century Vietnam–an era steeped in Confucian traditions, which brought with them the exaltation of education and family values, but often the subjugation of women as well.) Her convention-defying attitudes were conveyed in her poetry. She had an uncanny ability to write of mundane subjects, but inflect them with sensual undertones (or overtones). She was a master of the double entendre, delighting her audience and providing a rare voice against sociopolitical oppression.
Her poems were later translated into English by John Balaban in a book aptly titled Spring Essence, though it’s almost always better to read the original if you can. You can view some of them here.
Are you interested in learning more about Vietnam and the social issues the country faces? Do you have a can-do attitude and believe that every individual can contribute to making this world a better place? Are you looking for a better way to get involved?
If you answered yes, yes, and yes, then VNHELP wants youto be part of our newly formed Community Engagement Committee! The Community Engagement Committee (CEC) will work closely with VNHELP to generate awareness and raisefunds for poverty alleviation in Vietnam. Beyond that, you’ll also have the opportunity to lead new initiatives, learn about various causes, educate the community, and form friendships with good people who share your values.
For more mature individuals, this is a great chance to give back to your community on a deeper level. For younger individuals, you’ll learn leadership skills and receive mentorship from your peers. (Click on “Read the rest of this entry” below to see additional details.)
VNHELP recently completed the construction of Lam Dong Elementary, and the school held its opening ceremony in March. Students migrated from their old school to the new one. The day was captured in photos. View the slideshow below to see the evolution of a school–Lam Dong from start to finish!
Happy International Women’s Day everyone! On this day, we take a moment to celebrate all the wonderful contributions women have made to society. Some people might think, “Why do we even need an International Women’s Day? I hug my mom everyday without anyone reminding me, thank you very much!”
But the truth is, sometimes, if we don’t dedicate a moment to women, many of their contributions will go unappreciated and many of the challenges they face will still go unaddressed. Here’s a prime example of why we need International Women’s Day: according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), “Viet Nam is among a few countries in the world where gender pay gap has been widening while the gap has declined in most nations in the 2008-11 period compared to 1999-2007.”
On average, women in Vietnam make 70% – 80% of what men earn in comparable jobs. To reiterate: women earn up to 30% less than men for the same type of work! In a press release, the ILO stated, “The latest Labour Force Survey Report published in 2012 showed that female workers have lower monthly incomes than their male colleagues in all economic sectors – State, non-State and foreign-invested.”
Even in jobs traditionally dominated by women, such as healthcare and social work, women continue to earn less than their male counterparts. Furthermore, the glass ceiling is very much alive in Vietnam as the majority of management posts are still staffed by men. Vietnam also has a number of structural labor issues that increase the burden of low wages on women. For instance, even though working in healthcare may require more skills, jobs traditionally held by men but require less skills will still pay more.
These reasons alone point to why we need International Women’s Day. We need to bring these issues to the fore and rectify injustices. Really, we should be discussing these issues daily until women are treated truly equally to their male counterparts.
Happy March everyone! March is a month chock full of events and activities. For the mathematicians, 3/14 is Pi Day. For the Irish and others who’ve adopted Ireland’s culture, 3/17 is St. Patrick’s Day. And for the literary enthusiasts out there, 3/15 marks the Ides of March, the date notoriously immortalized in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.
For us at the VNHELP office, we are happy to see March commemorated as International Women’s History Month. Why not take the opportunity to honor some of the celebrated women in Vietnamese culture through a “Women of Vietnam” series?
We’re kicking off the series with the Trung Sisters, better known to many Vietnamese as “Hai Bà Trưng.”
If you grew up in a Vietnamese household, then you are sure to have heard of the names of these two sisters floated before. If not, here’s your chance to be privy about two of the most celebrated figures in Vietnamese history.
Last week, we reported on the wrap-up of our second cycle of vocational training. As we await the final results of the students’ job placements, we took time to review how the program is going and how we can improve it.
During these discussions, our volunteer project coordinators shared a story about one very special student named Truong Van Ni.
We’d like to share his inspiring story with you today too.
During the course of participating in our Sponsor a Child program, many sponsors form a special bond to the children they support. Many even ask us if they can adopt the child, to give him or her a new life and formally make the child part of the family. VNHELP is not an adoption agency, so we can’t advise on the matter, but in recent years, we’ve often had to play the bearer of bad news. Since 2008, U.S.-Vietnam adoption has been banned due to allegations of baby-selling and kidnapping for profit following U.S. investigations.
Yes, it pained us to think that there were people who could engage in a form of child trafficking for their own monetary gain. And it also pained us to see the crestfallen faces on sponsors when their hopes of forming or adding to their family was immediately quashed.
But now there may be some silver lining. According to the Associated Press, “Vietnam and the United States are close to an agreement allowing Americans to adopt Vietnamese children again.”
US Senators and adoption lobby groups have been urging the Vietnamese government to develop tighter regulations and monitoring of adoptions to avoid profiteering. Speaking from Hanoi, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, said, “The government of Vietnam seems to be willing to restart, and there are just some final details to be worked out with the government of the United States…We hope that it will be in the near future.”
It’s impossible to tell what “near future” actually means; it could be six months from now, a year, three years or later. But we will do our best to keep you updated.
Meanwhile, an agreement to resume adoptions between Vietnam and Ireland was signed in September last year, ending the adoption ban enacted in 2009.
Did you know Feb. 21 is International Mother Language Day? This day celebrates multilingualism and cultural diversity across the globe. It’s been observed since 2000, after UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) decided to form a day recognizing the importance of linguistic diversity.
We think International Mother Language Day is a great way to celebrate the over 6000 languages that exist in this world. It’s also a good time for us to reflect on the richness of the Vietnamese language.
Cung chúc tân xuân! Happy New Year from VNHELP! The Lunar New Year officially kicks off on February 10 this Year of the Water Snake. We hope your preparations for this joyous holiday are going swimmingly. 😉
For new celebrants of the Lunar New Year, there are quite a few traditions and customs you may be curious about. In between monitoring projects and reading poverty assessments, we’ve managed to scrounge together a list of 10 things to know about Tet for you. Enjoy!
Remember our re-launch of the vocational training in Vietnam program last year? In that first cycle, we gave 30 youth a chance to re-new their lives by participating in a 3.5 month training program to become skilled motorbike mechanics. 26 ended up graduating from the program. Following its success, we decided to continue the program with a new group of 30 youth. We are pleased to announce that all 30 participants graduated this time. Our project coordinators in Vietnam sent us printed photos of the second cycle, and we’ve scanned them to share with you!
Earlier this month, VNHELP’s Nguyen Truong To Scholarship program distributed a number of scholarships to students in Vietnam attending universities around the Saigon metropolis. It was an occasion marked by a bit of pomp and circumstance, a bit of silliness, and a whole lot of optimism for the future. We looking forward to seeing how the scholarships will help these students achieve their goal of completing university, and we have faith in the success that is sure to follow many of them.
Check out some pictures of the students in Vietnam and the scholarship ceremony below!
Many of our volunteers and supporters often ask us what role the board of directors plays in the organization. It’s a difficult question to answer because their role can be so encompassing and diverse. In its simplest form, the board of directors sets the tone and strategic vision of the organization, helping ensure that the organization stays on mission and finds new ways to more successfully achieve that mission. But more often than not, board members are much more than people who convene every now and then to answer the big questions of what do we do? who are we here to help and what can we do to help?. Board members get involved in fundraising, they help identify strategic partnerships, and they determine what program areas to expand to, among many other things.
With board members wearing so many hats–from fundraiser to event planner to consultant–it can’t be emphasized enough that having dedicated and compassionate board members is vital to an organization. Especially considering how nonprofit board members receive no compensation from the organization, finding the right board member sometimes feels like finding a needle in a haystack.
Hop Duc Bui, a retired engineer now residing in San Jose, CA, recently co-funded a water project in Pa Che with his colleagues at the Son Nam Charitable Group and the Yahoo! Employee Foundation. He compiled this story based on project reports from Vietnam and shares it with you.
Later this week, a group of world leaders and renowned economists will gather in conference rooms and workshops to discuss the state of the global economy. In particular, they will focus on the idea of “Resilient Dynamism,” this year’s theme at the World Economic Forum (WEF), happening January 23 – 27 in Davos, Switzerland.
In the context of their meeting, “resilient dynamism” refers to a country’s capability to adapt to changing conditions, withstand sudden shocks, and recover to a desired equilibrium in the event of inertia.
In advance of their annual meeting, the WEF also released the “Global Risks” report, which identifies both the global risks that have the greatest likelihood of occurring (these include severe income disparity, chronic fiscal imbalances, rising greenhouse gas emissions, water supplies crisis and mismanagement of aging population) and the risks that would have the greatest impact should they occur (these include major systemic financial failure, water supply crisis, chronic fiscal imbalance, food shortage, and weapons of mass destruction). Their conversations will be holistic, looking not just at isolated areas of concerns, but at how economic, environmental, governance, infrastructure and social systems relate and affect one another.
Looking through the WEF’s meeting programme, we at VNHELP can’t also help but contemplate what resilient dynamism means for Vietnam, its development, and the lives of the poor people we seek to assist.
Even though 2013 New Year Celebrations have come to and end and many of us have returned to the routine of daily life and keeping up with resolutions, VNHELP is actually already at work planning another new year celebration. Tet, or Lunar New Year, will be celebrated in Vietnam on February 10th this year. Although Vietnam also uses the Gregorian calendar officially, Tet is still considered the most significant holiday in Vietnam. Many celebrate the holiday for a full two weeks, and the streets are awash in lucky red and gold. It’s a time for families to get together, friends to hang out leisurely, and children to gleefully hold their hands out in anticipation of receiving li xi (red envelopes filled with lucky money.)
The weekly news roundup brings you a recap of the latest happenings in Vietnam and international development. This week, we have bears and Buddhist in Vietnam, and jobs and money talk across the globe.
It’s almost Thanksgiving–time to officially ring in the holiday season! Before you chow down on a scrumptious holiday dinner, we hope you’ll take a moment to think about what your grateful and what you can continue to do give back to your community.
On behalf of everyone here at VNHELP, our executive director would like to send you all a special greeting.
Cataracts are a serious issue in Vietnam. According to a 2011 study in the journal BMC Opthamology:
Cataract is the leading cause of blindness in Vietnam, affecting 87.6 new cases per 100,000 each year and causing approximately 65% of all blindness. There is currently a very high prevalence of blindness, affecting 4,304 people per 100,000. Of even more concern is the staggering numbers who are living with low vision, approximately 18,086 people per 100,000, much of which is caused by untreated cataract.
The good news is that cataracts can be treated through a relatively simple procedure. The bad news is that the cost of a procedure, which hovers around $350 – $400 in Vietnam, can be far too expensive for many poor patients. Recognizing the need and realizing that this is a fixable situation, VNHELP decided to initiate the Vision for the Poor program in 2007 to sponsor free cataract surgeries for low-income patients across Vietnam. We also established a matching fund, where we meet donations of $5000 and above, to encourage donors to give to the program.
In the past two decades, Vietnam has made tremendous socio-economic developments and reforms. With an emerging middle class and declining poverty rate, Vietnam today is considered by many to be a cosmopolitan nation experiencing rapid economic growth and success. In addition to decreasing poverty and hunger rates, many national and international efforts have been made to increase the education, social, and economic opportunities available to women. But these efforts haven’t always worked out as hoped.
Meet Little Miss Phuong Anh, one of the latest beneficiaries of our wheelchair distribution program. Despite being born without legs and a left hand, Phuong Anh is a cheerful and bubbly four-year-old. She loves to play and move around, but it used to be painful for her to go outside because she had to crawl. The unpaved and rocky streets in Vietnam were a source of constant discomfort. With her own wheelchair, she’s now riding in style!
Special thanks to Thanh Huong Sandwiches in San Jose for donating to our wheelchair program!
Back in May, VNHELP wrote about the start of a new school construction project in Son La province. Construction actually began in March, and six months later, in September, the school was completed! The timing was perfect–just when the fall school season was about to go in session. The school is now a place where young primary-school aged children are learning writing, maths, and other important creative and critical thinking skills. We’re looking forward to seeing how the school’s presence will brighten up these children’s futures!
The school’s specific location is Pa Che Village, home to many ethnic minority groups.
It’s been nearly two weeks since we concluded our 2012 Mua Thu Cho Em charity concert series, and we’re still feeling the after effects of the fun and generosity from those two nights. To prolong the euphoria and keep us reminded of how blessed we are are as an organization to receive such tremendous community support, we love to go back and browse through photos, reminiscing about the good memories. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out our concert recap for the Northern California concert. Here’s the Southern California recap too…
Worldwide, October 17 was the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. In Vietnam, October 17 was also the National Day of the Poor. Taking advantage of an apt date, the local United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) administrators used October 17 as an opportunity to present Vietnam’s new poverty reduction plans through 2015. Read the fact sheet here.
The most salient aspect of the new poverty plan is the push to alleviate poverty among ethnic minorities. As noted by several of the UNDP coordinators, poverty remains much more pronounced among ethnic minorities. Although Vietnam has successfully reduced poverty from 58.1% in 1993 to 14.5% in 2008 and malnutrition from 41% to 11.7%, poverty rates among some ethnic groups remains as high as 86%. In absolute terms, ethnic minorities make up 14% of Vietnam’s total population but 54% of its poor.
VNHELP hosted the first of two Mua Thu Cho Em fundraising concerts for this year on October 7th. The concert took place at the Santa Clara Convention to a packed house, with people of all backgrounds coming together to enjoy a night of culture and charity. See for yourself in the snapshot below!
Since Vietnam began opening up its markets in the 1980s, the country’s economy has and continues to experience rapid growth. Economic reforms, coupled with aid from international agencies, have helped Vietnam reduce extreme poverty by more than three-quarters and hunger by two-thirds since 1990. Furthermore, Vietnam’s GINI Index in 2008, a scale that measures national distribution of income (with 0 representing perfect equality and 100 signifying absolute inequality), ranked at 37.57, a slight improvement from 2006’s 37.77 and 2004’s 39.16.
As Vietnam’s gross domestic product (GDP) increases to $320 billion in 2012 from $280 billion in 2010, the number of millionaires in the country dramatically rises as well. In June 2012, the Central Institute for Economic Management (CIEM) reported its findings on income gap reduction in Asia for the first half of 2011. CIEM revealed that the number of millionaires in Vietnam increased by 33% from the same period in the previous year. Official statistics from the Vietnam Stock Exchange in 2011 show the 100 richest people on the stock exchange market are worth over $2 million each, with two people qualifying for the United States’ $100 million CEO club.
However, as the number of Vietnamese millionaires increases and the market expands, the economic gap between rich and poor also widens. Despite improvements in the GINI index, the proportion of population below poverty line in Vietnam actually increased from 12.3% in 2009 to 14.5% in 2010. The monthly average income per capita by residence in 2010 was 2,130,000 VND ($102) in urban areas, with the top-earning regions being in the southeast (notably the Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province and Saigon [HCMC]) at 2,304,000 VND ($110). On the other hand, rural areas averaged 1,071,000 VND ($51), with the lowest-earning northern midlands, mountains and coastal regions coming in at just 905,000 VND ($43). The gap in income is reflected in spending as well, with the wealthiest spending 3.8 times more in healthcare and 6 times more in education than their poorer counterparts.
According to the report, products that could likely involve child labor in Vietnam include bricks and garments. Garment production may also involve forced labor.
Nearly all of the Southeast Asian countries, including Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, are included on the list, although the number of products with the risk of child labor production ranges in number.
The report is released in the midst of increased discussions on human trafficking following President Barack Obama affirmation that he would help clamp down on trafficking at the UN summit on Tuesday. Evoking the harshest of terms, Obama said:
It is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name – modern slavery.
As the new president of the World Bank, Dr. Jim Yong Kim has been asking, “What will it take?”
That is, what will it take to end poverty when 1.3 billion people are living on less than $1.25/day. As Dr. Kim notes in this new video released by the World Bank, that’s 1 our of every 5 people in this world barely scraping by.
Vietnam fares slightly better with 17% percent of the population (a little under 1 in every 5 people) living at $1.25/day, according to the latest World Bank figures available. But when you inch that number up to $2/day, the proportion of the population living in poverty is nearly half at 43%.
So we’re just as curious as Dr. Kim. What do you think it takes to end poverty? Will it be in collective action and people combining resources for a common good? Will it be private sector growth and new job openings? Is it a world where everyone is an entrepreneur? How does the environment fit into the equation? Is it a combination of everything?
We’re ecstatic and grateful: thanks to our supporters, we met our OneVietnam challenge–and then some. With your donations, VNHELP is now one of the top three fundraisers on OneVietnam Network. These numbers and rankings change almost daily, so we don’t know how long we’ll be there, but we’ll enjoy it while it lasts. Will we ever get to the top spot? Who knows! But more important than an ranking is the fact that we have new funds to support our humanitarian and development projects in Vietnam. From money to connect poor households to clean water sources to scholarships for university students, you make it possible. Thank you!
Philanthropic culture evolved in different ways in the East and West. The giving instinct for many Asians, particularly those from East Asia and parts of Southeast Asia, is often rooted in emotional ties to their homeland, Confucian values (duty to family and community) or religious traditions (compassion and generosity). For these reasons, many Asians aren’t compelled to institutionalize their giving as is done in the Western world.
VNHELP is now on OneVietnam Network, a new crowfunding platform that enables you to easily donate to your favorite causes and receive timely updates on the projects you’ve helped support. Please check out our page at www.onevietnam.org/vnhelp! OneVietnam has challenged to reach 50 donations in one month–we’re currently almost half there at 21. Please help bring us to 50 and earn us a permanent spot on the network! We really appreciate your support, and the money we raise through OneVietnam will go directly into our projects to help the poor in Vietnam.
Note how some families must spend up to 70% of their income to meet nutritional needs, with the proportion raising up to 85% during times of inflating prices. This means that just 15% of income can be allocated to education, health, and other essential needs. Trade-offs are inevitable.
In Vietnam, food, prices, and hunger are complicated issues. Although many of us would like to think of Vietnam as a country abundant in cheap, delicious foods, the Global Hunger Index actually categorizes Vietnam as having “serious” hunger problems. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which produces the Global Hunger Index, an average of 31% of Vietnamese were undernourished between 1990 – 1992. But just as Vietnam has been able to drastically reduce its poverty rates, it’s also been able to reduce the proportion of the population undernourished. Between 1995 – 1997, the average dropped to 22%, then 17% between 2000 – 2002, and 11% between 2005 – 2007.
Inflating food prices can also a carry an array of effects on Vietnam’s poor. THE IFPRI noted that increasing prices between 2006 – 2008 could have actually reduced poverty in Vietnam by 8% because the increase food prices benefited many rice farmers, who constitute Vietnam’s rural poor. On the flip side, a recent post on CNBC.com noted that China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam are the three Asian economies most vulnerable to soaring food prices. This, according to economists at Nomura, a financial management consultant firm, is because food prices make up a large portion of Asian countries’ Consumer Price Index (CPI), a measure that weighs the average price of basic goods for a consumer.
Tai Hui, a head economist at the Regional Research for Asia with Standard Chartered, explained to CNBC that China, Hong Kong, Vietnam are particularly vulnerable to food inflation because their CPI baskets are highly correlated with global prices as measured by the CBR/Reuters Food Index, which have been increasing in the past three months: “Hui said for every one percentage point increase in the CRB Food Index, inflation in Vietnam, and China and Hong Kong goes up 13.7 basis points, 6.3 basis points and 4.9 basis points, respectively.”
For now, though, hunger in these three economies has not hit crisis levels. We’re hoping it remains that way–and gets better.
A new blog post from the World Bank asks, “Is Vietnam’s workforce ready for the future?… Are Vietnam’s workers ready to move from low to high tech production? From rice to robots?”
These are all extremely relevant questions facing Vietnam today, and it’s something we often ponder about at VNHELP as well. While we are optimistic about Vietnam’s development, we are also tepid. A common critique leveled at Vietnam is that it’s education system is antiquated, placing too much of an emphasis on memorization and not enough on creativity and critical thinking. As true as this may be, we also think this is just one of many problems the Vietnam’s education authorities address. To have better workers, we believe that you also need good mentors. You need experienced people who are willing to cultivate younger workers, and you need young workers who are willing to share their experiences with their peers. But according to many whom we’ve conversed and consulted with, Vietnamlacks a culture of mentorship. The education structure, as well as the competitive businesses environment, promotes a race to leapfrog to the top rather than an ethic of teamwork, both vertically and laterally.
So, we believe for Vietnamese workers to be globally competitive, it is not just a matter of enhancing technical and cognitive skills, it is also a question of whether Vietnam can get into the right mindset for success.
What are your thoughts?
Video from the World Bank
Photo from the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Last week, VNHELP received some photos from the opening ceremony of the new school we helped build in Kien Giang as part of our school construction program. There will be more photos and video footage coming in, but we wanted to share what we have with you now.
About: Kien Giang is located in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region. The province is known for its aquaculture and rice farming, though much still needs to be done for the province in terms of education, health, and economic development. Please take a look at our project pictures below!
Parts of Kien Giang remain underdeveloped, lacking in basic infrastructure and connectivity.
You can see how many things are in various states of disrepair.
That’s why a neat, new school, like the one we’ve helped build above, are so vital to the community.
Almost time for the opening ceremony!
The students are coming in!
It’s a moment worth capturing on film!
Inside the classroom: here, great minds will flourish.
The desks look a tad small for the event organizers, but they should be just right for the new students!
Bikes were given away to help the students get to and from school.
For the 18th annual Mua Thu Cho Em fundraising concert, VNHELP is offering up something new: a mini website chock full of images, music samples, and details about our events.
Please check out our website to find out more about on concerts and how you can be part of our fundraising efforts benefiting the poor in Vietnam. Don’t forget to forward the site to your friends as well!
A lot has happened in the past week, impacting not just our human existence, but our natural world as well. Most notably, the HIV/AIDS conference in Washington D.C. is about to wrap up, and the World Wildlife Fund came out with a new report warning about the treatment of endangered species in Vietnam.
This is the second post on a two-part series on HIV/AIDS in Vietnam. Our first post focused on the current HIV/AIDS situation in Vietnam. As the International AIDS conference in Washington D.C. rolls on, this second post will focus on the history and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in the country.
Hey VNHELPers, will you be in Madison, Wisconsin anytime between now and September 30?
If you are, please stop by the Tamarack Studio & Gallery on Washington Avenue to see “Soul of Vietnam,” a photo exhibition by photographer, musician and aviator Lawrence D’Attillio. Lawrence has spent an extensive amount of time capturing Vietnam’s transition from a country recovering from war to a country entering the global economic and cultural landscape. Included in Lawrence’s exhibit will be photos he’s taken of various microfinance projects in Vietnam. Lawrence and the Elmsbrook Rotary Club were instrumental in getting the VNHELP microfinance program on its feet, so we’re thrilled he’ll be able to showcase the positive impact of microfinance on women’s live to a national audience.
Lawrence’s photo exhibition will begin a national museum tour in 2013, but will stay in Madison till the end of September. If you’re unable to make it to Wisconsin this time, cross your fingers and hope the exhibition will make a stop at a museum near you.
Best of luck to you and your photo exhibition Lawrence!
How innovative is Vietnam? This is a simple question that can be difficult to answer.
On the one hand, Vietnamese people can be incredibly resourceful. How often do you see parts of a presumably out-of-commission truck strapped to an ox to create a new mobile contraption? (The efficiency of this invention, though, seems questionable.)
On the other hand, Vietnam has lax intellectual property right laws that end up promoting brand imitation rather than innovation. Case in point: Google-branded toilet paper. Probably not what the tech giant had in mind when it wanted to expand to new markets.
Here’s the second installment of our international development and Vietnam weekly news roundup. This week, we’ve combed through the internet to bring you articles on English teachers in Vietnam, civil conflicts, obesity, macroeconomics and foreign policy. Please check them out below.
This is the first time in 22 years that the world’s largest HIV/AIDS conference will be held in the US. Although the conference hosted its 1985 inaugural meeting in the U.S. and two additional meetings in 1987 and 1990, a controversial decision to ban travelers with HIV/AIDS from entering the US sparked enough outrage that the conference had to be held outside of its first home for over two decades. The decision to return stateside only came after President Barack Obama’s 2009 pledge to remove travel restrictions on people living with HIV/AIDS, which came into effect early 2010.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Turning the Tide’s Together,” a recognition that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has reached a defining moment where new medical advancements could lead to large-scale prevention and treatment. The theme also reflects the cross-sector response needed to effectively stem the spread of the disease and the misconceptions associated with it. Governments, the private sector, NGOs and private individuals all have a role in reversing the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
As the conference date approaches, VNHELP will bring you a two-part post on HIV/AIDS in Vietnam. The first will be an overview of the current state of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam and what’s being done about it. The second part will take a closer look at the history of the disease in Vietnam.
Welcome to VNHELP’s new blog feature: a weekly news roundup of the latest events in Vietnam’s social and economic development. There is always a ton of stuff going on in Vietnam and in the international development world, and sometimes it can be hard to keep track of what the latest innovation in water technology is or why inflation in Vietnam is sinking or cresting. We’ve prepared the weekly round up to help you stay posted with interesting and informative articles around the web. The weekly round up is curated by our staff, with an emphasis on global news that directly and indirectly affects Vietnam.
Thanks to donors who go above and beyond the usual amount of support we request for the kids in our Sponsor A Child program, the Dieu Giac Orphanage’s staff were able to save up enough money to take the children for a summer trip to Vũng Tàu!
Vũng Tàu is famous for it’s beaches, and it’s about 130 kilometers (80 miles or so) away from Saigon, where the Dieu Giac Orphanage is located. Imagine how much fun it must have been for the kids. They shared with us a few snapshots, which we’ve put together below.
Seeing the kids smile so brightly really makes us feel like everything we do is worth it. What a way to open the weekend!
If you’re interested in becoming a sponsor, please feel free to contact us at VNHELP.
You’ve been asking and we’ve been keeping coy about it, but now we can final announce it: This year’s Mua Tho Cho Em concert will be on Sunday, October 7 in Northern California and Sunday, October 14 in Southern California! Headlining the show will be singers Thu Phuong, Ha Anh Tuan, and Quang Linh. More details after the jump.
On June 19, the U.S. State Department released its findings for the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report. Released annually, the Trafficking in Persons report provides a comprehensive understanding on the state of human trafficking–both sex and exploitative labor–throughout the world.
Human trafficking is often referred to as 21st century slavery. Presently, an estimated 27 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking. But overall, there seems to be progress. As more people become aware of the issue, more is being done by governments, international organizations, grassroot organizations and individuals to combat human trafficking. Compared to last year, 29 countries, including Vietnam, were upgraded on the Trafficking in Persons report’s tiered list.
Want to light up a cigarette in public? Not so fast, say lawmakers in Vietnam.
Yesterday, it was confirmed that Vietnam has passed a law banning smoking in all public places. The law also prohibits tobacco advertising and bans the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18. The law is set to go into effect in May 2013.
High tobacco use is certainly an issue in Vietnam and throughout most of Asia. According to the World Health Organization, 40,000 people die of tobacco-related causes in Vietnam each year. The figure is expected to rise. One in three boys ages 15 – 24 smokes. The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), an anti-smoking group, estimates that there are 15.3 million smokers in Vietnam, and nearly half of all adult males smoke.
The question now is, will this new law have any impact? A similar decree was passed in 2010, banning smoking in public, raising taxes on tobacco and restricting cigarette sales. But the decree was seen to have little effect, as public smoking and cigarette sales remain casual sights in Vietnam.
Rather than pure legislative action, regulation coupled with a greater public health awareness campaign might be the path to go.
Are you more likely to be happy living in Vietnam than in Switzerland, Norway, the U.S. and even Bhutan (the only country to measure “gross national happiness“)?
That’s what the results of this year’s Happy Planet Index (HPI) suggest. Designed by the New Economics Foundation (motto: “economics as if people and the planet mattered”), the HPI sets forth to be the “leading global measure of sustainable, well-being.” It ranks countries on how well they create the conditions for citizens to live long, happy, sustainable lives using three primary indicators: life expectancy, experienced well-being and Ecological footprint.
To many people, dengue, like cholera and tuberculosis, seems to be one of those diseases from the days of yore. This may be because dengue made its greatest marks on global history during WWII, when mass movements of troops across the Pacific Theatre facilitated the spread of the disease. But that was over 70 years ago, a time of which few of us have any living recollection. More recent outbreaks of dengue rarely draw the same media attention that outbreaks of diseases like avian flu or swine flu do, so many of us go about without any awareness of dengue.
The Global Peace Index, an initiative of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), recently released the 2012 Global Peace rankings. The Index compares 158 countries according to their “absence of violence” across 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators (see below). This year, Vietnam came in 34th, putting it in the first tier of the world’s most peaceful countries. Southeast Asian neighbors Malaysia (20th) and Singapore (23rd) are almost among the world’s 35 most peaceful countries.
When the world’s largest development agency speaks, the rest of the NGO/NPO community listens–whether to critique, scrutinize or get new ideas from.
Following its May update on the East Asia and Pacific region, the World Bank has released the results of the mid-year World Bank Group-Vietnam consultative discussions and made public the newest Vietnam country cooperative strategy for 2012 – 2016. We’ve been soaking up all the information these two reports have to offer. Between the cooperation strategy and consultative discussion, there are over 200 pages of material. Much of it underscores what many us can feel instinctivelly: that after a quarter century of model development, Vietnam’s growth has slowed; that much of Vietnam’s earlier growth came at the expense of the environment and plans for sustainable must be set in motion; and that Vietnam’s human capital, infrastructure and innovation systems must be developed for it to avoid the “middle income trap.” But all is not grim–buttressed by a young workforce and a strong export portfolio (for the time being), Vietnam has plenty of potential to tap into.
So that you can avoid pouring days over the two reports, we’ve perused, combined and summarized highlights from both.
Four months ago, a group of 30 Vietnamese youth arrived at the doors of the A Dong vocational school in Saigon (HCMC), hungry for an education and a shot at a stable livelihood. None of these youth really knew each other. Some were from right in the city, passing through A Dong’s school gates for the very first time; others came from distant villages. All were looking forward to a change in their lives, and all formed the first cohort of VNHELP’s new pilot vocational project, which aims to train disadvantaged youth to become skilled motorbike mechanics.
According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Vietnam has made major progress in education in recent years. Official figures estimate that enrollment rates in primary education have reached near universal levels, such that more children are receiving an education now than ever before.
But in our view, any one child out of school is still one child too many.
As mentioned in yesterday’s post, VNHELP also partners with the Thien An Institute in Can Tho to help orphans, street kids and children with difficult family circumstances. Like at Dieu Giac, each of these children are connected to a kind-hearted sponsor in the U.S. or a different country from abroad. They send letters, correspondence, photos and sometimes even get a chance to meet in person. Thank you again to our VNHELPer, Dang Le, who brought back a packet of photos for us which we’ve scanned to share with you all. And of course, thank you to the wonderful philanthropists and sponsors who are making a difference in these children’s lives. The slide show below is just a small selection of some of the children who are currently being helped through the program.
Since 2006, VNHELP has partnered with the Dieu Giac Orphanage in HCMC (Saigon) to provide a warm, nourishing environment to orphans and street children in Vietnam. Through our Sponsor A Child Program, we connect a compassionate donor from the U.S. to a child in need of support in Vietnam. Some of these children are orphans, some are street kids and some are admitted on a special basis when their families are unable to continue giving them proper care. We sponsor over a hundred children annually at both Dieu Giac and our additional partner, the Thien An Institute. One of our very dedicated VNHELPers, Dang Le, just returned from a personal trip to Vietnam andwas gracious enough to bring back a few photos of the kids currently sponsored through VNHELP for us. Say hello to some of the children below.
When you’re dedicated to poverty reduction and community development, it’s important to keep up with the latest economic headlines. Economics, poverty, and development often go hand-in-hand, whether it’s through creating stable employment or through sculpting an ecosystem that gives budding entrepreneurs a chance to start their own enterprises. The relationship between the three isn’t always simple, but they’re all highly dependent on one another.
May is the start of the rainy season in Vietnam. Although heavy rains are often necessary to replenish the soil and renew the land, they also pose serious flooding risks that ultimately disrupt many livelihoods and leave people in a precarious position. Just this week, a cyclone wreaked havoc in Vietnam’s Lao Cao province, uprooting more than 100 trees, inundating the land and blowing the top off of 35 homes. According to Prevention Web, Vietnam ranks 4th of 162 countries in flood risks, 10th of 89 countries in cyclone risks and 12th of 76 countries in tsunami risks.
It’s hard not to be awestruck by the natural beauty of Son La province. Bordered by Laos to the South and Yen Bai, Lao Cai and Lao Chau provinces to the north, Son La is Vietnam’s 5th largest province. The weather is temperate and roughly 80% of its land is mountainous, making it a hiker’s paradise.
VNHELP has a new home. Over the weekend, we moved down a floor to a different suite in the same building. Our new suite is more spacious, so now we have more room to greet visitors and display the different projects we’ve worked on in Vietnam. Do come by and say hi!
Special thanks to some truly wonderful volunteers who came by and helped us with the move. They were: Steve, Bill, Annie, and Dan of the local scouts; Khoa, a long time volunteer; and some of our staff’s family members. Although it was just one floor down, we really couldn’t have lugged down all that heavy furniture without them. VNHELP has the best volunteers, hands down.
Clack, clamp, scrape. Clack, clamp, scrape. The sound of a shovel dragging up against the dirt. On a warm April afternoon, a team of men are at working leveling the hilly grounds of Son La province. They move with methodical precision, making sure the land is pat and the bricks are laid out tightly atop each other.
A big thank you to UC Santa Cruz’s Vietnamese Student Association for selecting VNHELP as the beneficiary for their 6th annual charity show. We’ll be at UCSC on May 13 to speak a little bit about our mission, our projects, and what drives us to work on behalf of Vietnam’s poor. The event starts at 7:30 p.m. and will also include performances from various UCSC student groups. You can view the event page here for more details and ticket information. Please come and join VNHELP in the festivities. It’s Mother’s Day on the 13th, so bring your moms for a fun-filled evening!
VNHELP is proud to announce that we’ve been selected as a $5000 “quick-grant” recipient by the Yahoo Employee Foundation. $5000 is the maximum awarded for quick grants. The Yahoo! grant will go towards funding our clean water projects in Vietnam. With so many of Vietnam’s rural poor still obtaining water from unsanitary sources, ensuring that all citizens can access clean water for their consumption and living needs will be a challenge for Vietnam’s future development. So thank you Yahoo! and Yahoo! employees, for enabling VNHELP to connect poor households with the water they need to live healthy, productive lives. Rest assured that someone’s life will change for the better as a result of your generosity.
2012 has been a rollicking year for VNHELP so far. We started construction on a new school in Kien Giang in January, launched another round of our vocational training program in February, and started looking at how we can expand our microfinance programs to help Vietnam’s poor–all while continuously screening new proposals and planning events in the States.
In the midst of all these activities, we took a look at our website and decided it was time to modernize our online presence. We want you to be able to better understand and keep up with VNHELP’s volunteering and donor opportunities, and one of the most effective ways to do this is by strengthening our web platforms. The main site will stay functional as we work on it, but we decided to start this blog as a way to keep in contact more frequently and more regularly.
So keep posted for a cleaner VNHELP.org, visit our blog, and like us on Facebook for even more VNHELP updates!
Tiếp tục chương trình y tế cho người nghèo, trong năm 2015 VNHELP đã phối hợp cùng nhóm thiện nguyện Sơn Nam tổ chức 6 đợt mổ mắt miễn phí tại Bệnh viện Mắt, Sài Gòn trong tháng 3, tháng 4 và tháng 11. Tất cả 699 bệnh nhân thuộc gia đình nghèo đến từ các tỉnh Long An, Cà Mau, Đồng Tháp, An Giang, Bình Phước và Bà Rịa, Vĩnh Long. Bệnh nhân già nhất là 99 tuổi, và trẻ nhất là 15 tuổi.
Xin chia sẽ vài câu chuyện “bên lề” của chương trình mổ mắt năm 2015, với đủ vui và buồn, phấn khởi và nhức đầu, tháo vát và nhẫn nại, qua lời kể của điều phối viên Trương Thị Tuyết Nương:
“Bé Tư đâu?”
Để chuẩn bị ngày mổ đầu tiên, tối ngày 18/3/2015, tôi để đồng hồ báo thức lúc 4g30 sáng. Đang ngủ ngon lành, bỗng nhiên điện thoại reo lên, tôi choàng thức dậy, nhìn đồng hồ mới 3g30 sáng, nghĩ rằng tối qua tôi để lầm giờ báo thức! Tôi nghe máy, thì giọng Bé Tư, trưởng đoàn Cà Mau: “Chế ơi, tụi em đến nơi rồi!” (“Chế” là chị, theo cách gọi của nhiều người gốc Hoa).
Tôi bảo: “Sao đến sớm quá vậy? Hẹn 6 giờ sáng mà!”. Tôi cẩn thận bảo: “Vào hỏi bảo vệ xem có đúng địa chỉ không?”
Bé Tư còn lầm bầm: “Ở thành phố chỉ có Bệnh viện Mắt này thôi chứ còn ở đâu nữa!” Tôi cúp máy.
Khoảng 5 phút sau, Bé Tư gọi lại: “Bảo vệ bảo không phải ở đây chế ơi! Họ chỉ đi ngược lên đường Điện Biên Phủ”.
Tôi bảo: “Bảo tài xế chạy qua đường Nguyễn Đình Chiểu (vì đường Điện Biên Phủ một chiều), rồi qua Lý Thái Tổ vòng đầu đường Điện Biên Phủ chạy xuống, hoặc đưa máy để tôi hướng dẫn tài xế”. Thì lúc đó, tôi được biết, tài xế sau khi thả bệnh nhân trước cửa bệnh viện, đã đem xe đi gửi chỗ khác. Thế là bảo vệ phải chỉ đường cho cả đoàn 36 người đi bộ đến địa điểm mổ cách đó khoảng hơn 2 km.
Chờ khoảng 15 phút, tôi gọi lại Bé Tư xem tình hình ra sao. Bé Tư trả lời: “Chế ơi, đến bệnh viện Bình Dân, nhưng không ai biết trung tâm mổ mắt ở đâu? Hay chế qua đây chỉ cho tụi em!”.
Tôi kêu lên: “Trời ơi, giờ này làm sao tôi qua đó được! Bé Tư cứ đi tiếp theo hướng đó và tìm số nhà đầu hẽm là số 611”.
Một chốc, điện thoại lại reo: “Em hỏi không ai biết Trung tâm đó ở đâu?”
Tôi nghe tiếng lao xao, dường như họ đang hỏi đường ai đó. Tôi bảo: “Đưa máy cho người chỉ đường để tôi hướng dẫn”. Thật quả có người chỉ đường.
Tôi hỏi: “Đoàn đang đứng ở đâu vậy em?”
Có tiếng trả lời: “Dạ, gần đường Nguyễn Thiện Thuật, nhưng em không biết trung tâm đó ở đâu?”.
Tôi mừng quá, buột miệng: “Gần đến nơi rồi, em bảo họ đi thẳng tiếp chừng 500m, đến đầu hẽm số nhà 611, quẹo vào căn đầu tiên là Trung tâm chăm sóc mắt cộng đồng!”
Từ đó về sau, không nghe tiếng Bé Tư gọi lại nữa. Chắc họ đã tìm ra địa điểm rồi! Chuông báo thức reo báo đã 4g30. Tôi vội chuẩn bị để đi qua bệnh viện xem tình hình ra sao! Đúng 6 giờ tôi đến nơi, người đầu tiên tôi gặp là một bà to béo, dềnh dàng. Tôi hỏi: “Đoàn Cà Mau đến rồi phải không chị? Bé Tư đâu?”
Chị ấy trả lời: “Em là Bé Tư đây. Cô là cô Nương?”
“Đúng rồi. Nói chuyện qua điện thoại, tưởng Bé Tư bé bỏng như tên gọi, không ngờ…”.
Bé Tư tiếp lời: “Khổng lồ quá hả chế?” chị bật cười ha hả.
Tôi cũng cười theo vui vẻ. Tôi hỏi thăm: “Đoàn đi từ mấy giờ mà đến sớm quá vậy?”
Bé Tư đáp: “Dạ, từ 7 giờ chiều, đến đây 3g30 sáng”.
“… có ai cầm nhằm túi xách không?”
Hai bệnh nhân cuối cùng thuộc đoàn Cần Đước, khi thay quần áo mổ trả cho bệnh viện, tìm áo quần của mình không thấy, hỏi tạp vụ bảo không biết, họ rối lên. Tôi gọi các trưởng đoàn xem có ai cầm nhằm túi xách không. Trưởng đoàn Cần Đước hỏi gần bệnh viện có nơi nào bán áo quần may sẵn không? Anh định đi mua 2 bộ đồ cho bệnh nhân mình thay để trả lại quần áo cho bệnh viện. Một bệnh nhân bảo: “Mua 2 đôi dép nữa, vì dép cũng bỏ trong túi xách”. Mọi người cười ồ: “Đi mổ về lại có quần áo và giày dép mới thì sướng quá rồi!” Vừa lúc đó, chị tạp vụ chạy vội xuống tầng 1, bảo đã tìm được giỏ xách rồi! Mọi người thở phào nhẹ nhỏm.
… và vài trường hợp cần giải quyết linh động:
… bác sĩ đề nghị một bệnh nhân dân tộc thiểu số ở Bình Phước (có chồng đã được mổ, và con trai đi theo) nằm lại qua đêm tại bệnh viện, để sáng hôm sau cho xét nghiệm lại, nếu được sẽ cho mổ luôn. Tôi phải mời anh Tuyến phụ trách đoàn Bình Phước đến trao đổi. Gia đình bệnh nhân (ba người) đồng ý ngủ lại bệnh viện, hôm sau, khi xong hết mọi việc, anh Tuyến sẽ đưa họ ra xe đò, hướng dẫn đường đi thật kỹ, viết trên giấy, gửi gấm cho tài xế xe đò và chi phí tiền xe đò và Honda ôm về nhà. Anh Tuyến sẽ dùng “Quỹ Tình Thương Việt” để chi trả.
Một trường hợp khác cũng ở Cần Đước, mắt bị đục thủy tinh thể, nhưng nằm sâu đáy mắt (trường hợp khó, nghiêng về đáy mắt), bác sĩ cho chuyển sang Cơ sở 1, Bệnh viện Mắt (280 Điện Biên Phủ, Q.3) để xử lý. Bệnh viện bảo bệnh nhân cần có thân nhân theo nuôi. Tôi làm việc với trưởng đoàn, gọi điện liên lạc với gia đình cho một thân nhân sáng mai theo xe đoàn Cần Đước lên nuôi. Khi có trường hợp chuyển viện, như thế nhân viên bệnh viện sẽ đem hồ sơ bệnh án, giấy chuyển viện và điều dưỡng, đưa bệnh nhân đi, và sẽ được mổ MIỄN PHÍ.
Các bệnh nhân này rất vui mừng vì giải tỏa được mối lo trong lòng, họ cứ lo lắng sợ không ai đưa họ về, vì họ không biết đường đi và không có tiền! Nhất là bệnh nhân Cần Đước, có hai người cứ quấn lấy tôi, bảo: “Cô nhớ giúp cho em về nghe!” Thật là đáng thương cho những người nghèo, chân chất, thật thà, hiền lành, ở mãi nông thôn, có khi cả đời không đi ra khỏi Xã, Huyện, nên rất sợ lạc đường! Đến khi tôi dẫn họ đến giao và gửi gấm trưởng đoàn, họ mới an tâm.
… sau khi mổ:
– Bà Trần Thị Gấm (99 tuổi) ở huyện Lộc Ninh, tỉnh Bình Phước, mổ cườm mắt phải, quá vui mừng vì sau mổ mắt sáng hẳn lên, có thể tự đi ra ngoài, xem TV, tự tắm rửa được. Trước khi mổ, bà không thấy đường, đi ra ngoài phải có người dẫn, nhưng rất sợ mổ! Bà thấy có bệnh nhân cùng xã đi mổ đợt I về được sáng mắt, bà đòi đi. Bà muốn xin mổ tiếp mắt trái đợt sau này.
– Bà Lê Thị Ghết (75 tuổi), ở huyện Bù Đốp, tỉnh Bình Phước, mổ đục thủy tinh thể mắt phải, quá hạnh phúc vì sau khi mổ, mắt bà rất sáng, có thể xỏ kim vá áo được, trong khi mắt trái đã mổ nơi khác trước đây, bị mờ không nhìn rõ.
– Ông Nguyễn Hùng Sơn (71 tuổi) ở Bù Đốp, tỉnh Bình Phước, mổ đục thủy tinh thể mắt phải, sau mổ nhìn quá rõ, ông vui mừng không tả nổi và xin mổ tiếp mắt trái đợt sau.
Lúc tiễn bệnh nhân về, họ cứ nắm lấy tay tôi: “Cô ở lại mạnh giỏi, em cám ơn cô nhiều lắm!”. Một nguồn cảm xúc tự nhiên dâng tràn, tôi cảm nhận “tình người” từ những mái đầu bạc phơ, khuôn mặt nhăn nheo, lam lũ, bàn tay cứng ngắt khô cằn và đôi mắt tưởng mù lòa cho đến hết đời. Ngày mai mắt sẽ sáng lại và họ sẽ tìm được niềm vui khi nhìn rõ mặt con cháu, tự chăm sóc cho bản thân và đóng góp phần đời còn lại cho gia đình. Đây là một động cơ khiến tôi nhận lời làm thiện nguyện cho “Chương trình đem ánh sáng cho người nghèo”. Người xưa nói: “Nghìn vàng mua lấy nụ cười”. Các ân nhân chỉ bỏ ra có khoảng 50 đô đã đem lại cho người nghèo mù biết bao nụ cười khi họ sáng mắt và cảm thấy cuộc sống tươi đẹp và ý nghĩa hơn.
As part of the Vision for the Poor program, VNHelp collaborated with the Son Nam charity group and held 6 rounds of free cataract surgeries at the Eye Hospital, Saigon, in March, April, and November 2015. In all, 699 patients of poor families came from the provinces of Long An, Ca Mau, Dong Thap, An Giang, Binh Phuoc, Ba Ria, and Vinh Long. The oldest patient was 99 years old and the youngest was 15 years old.
Here are some stories, which brought a mixture of joy and sorrow, excitement and headaches, resourcefulness and patience, thoughtfully reflected in the words of the program coordinator Truong Thi Tuyet Nuong.
“Where is Little Bé Tư?”
To prepare for the first day of the surgery mission, I set my alarm clock at 4:30am before going to bed in the evening of March 18, 2015. While sound asleep, the phone rang suddenly waking me up. I looked at the clock, barely 3:30 in the morning, thinking that perhaps I mistakenly set the alarm clock for the wrong time last night. I answered the phone and could hear the voice of Little Bé Tư, a volunteer leading the group of patients from Ca Mau: “Chế , we have arrived.” (“Chế” means older sister, spoken in the dialect of Chinese origin).
I responded, “Why so early? We meet at 6am, right? “. Then, I gently reminded her: “Ask the security guard whether you are at the correct address.”
Bé Tư muttered: “In the city, there is only this Eye Hospital, are there any more?” I hung up.
About 5 minutes later, Bé Tư called again: “Security says this is not the right place. He says to go back Dien Bien Phu Boulevard.“
I gave some directions: “Tell the driver to go to Nguyen Dinh Chieu Road (beause Dien Bien Phu Blvd is one way), then over to Ly Thai To Street, then drive down Dien Bien Phu Blvd. Or, put the driver on the phone and I will guide him”. Then, I realized that the driver went somewhere to park after unloading the patients in front of the hospital. Hence, the security guard had to show the group of 36 people to walk about 2 km to the actual location of surgery.
After 15 minutes, I called Bé Tư again to get an update. She replied: “Chế, we are at Binh Dan Hospital, but no one knows where the eye surgery center is. Can you come and show us?”
I worried: “My God, how can I come at this hour? Please keep going in that direction and find alley number 611.“
A few moments later, the phone rang again: “I asked but no one knew the center.”
I heard voice in the background. It seemed someone was asking for directions. I said, “Give the phone to the person for my direction.” In fact, someone there was trying to show them the way.
I asked: “Where is your location?”
The person answered: “Near Nguyen Thien Thuat Street, but I do not know where that center is”.
I blurted out in glee: “They are almost there. Please tell them to go straight about 500m and head for alley number 611. Then, take the first turn into the community eye care center.”
After that, there were no more phone calls from Bé Tư. Perhaps, they found the place. The alarm rang at 4:30am. I hurriedly got ready and headed for the hospital.
I arrived at exactly 6:00am and the first person I met was a big lady. I asked, “The patients from Ca Mau are here already, right? Where is Little Tư?”
She answered: “I am Bé Tư. Are you Miss Nuong? “
“Yes. From your voice on the phone and your name (the name means Baby Tư or Little Tư), I thought you would be a petite person, who would have known …” Bé Tư continued: “I too huge, am I not?” She broke into laughter.
I also laughed and asked: “Your group arrived so early. What time did you depart from Ca Mau?”
Bé Tư replied: “We left at 7pm and arrived here at 3:30 in the morning.”
“… did someone pick up a garment bag by mistake?”
After surgery and while taking off their hospital gowns, the last 2 patients from Can Duoc could not find their own clothes to change into. This started a little panic. I gathered all the group leaders and asked whether someone picked up their bags by mistake. But, no one knew. The Can Duoc group leader thought about running to a store to buy some clothes. One of the patients said: “Buy 2 pairs of sandals also because we left our sandals in the bag, too.” Everyone broke out in laughter: “Wow, new clothes and sandals after free eye surgery. What a treat!” At that moment, a housekeeping staff found the garment bags and ran down to the first floor to inform the Can Duoc group. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
… And some cases needing flexible solutions
One of the doctors suggested to a patient of ethnic origin and her son, (her husband just went through the operation), to stay overnight at the hospital. He would examine her in the morning and operate on her also. I asked Mr. Tuyen, leader of the Binh Phuoc group to discuss the suggestion with her. The family agreed to stay at the hospital. The next day, after the operation completed, Mr. Tuyen took them to the bus station, carefully wrote directions in detail and gave to the bus driver. He paid for the bus fare and gave some money for the family to take the motorbike taxi home. He used the money from the Viet Love fund to pay for these expenses.
We had another case involving a patient from Can Duoc. He had cataract but it was deep in the socket (such a surgery was considered as difficult). The doctor authorized the patient to transfer to the Eye Hospital at 280 Dien Bien Phu Blvd for diagnosis. The hospital asked the patient to call a family member to come to care for him. I worked with the group leader and arranged for a relative to come from Can Duoc the next morning. Whenever a patient needs to be transferred like this, the hospital staff would bring the medical records along while accompanying the patient during the transfer, all free of charge.
Generally, these patients were happy because their predicament had been addressed. But, they usually worried how they would get home and they had no money. Two patients from Can Duoc followed me closely and pleaded: “Miss, please help us to get home.” I felt a deep compassion for these poor people. They were so sincere and gentle. They lived deep in the countryside all their lives, perhaps never having left their village, and were very afraid of getting lost. The two patients finally felt completely assured when I personally turned them to the care of their group leader.
… After surgery:
– Mrs. Tran Thi Gam (99 years old) from Loc Ninh District, Binh Phuoc Province, was so happy after surgery. She could see clearly, go outside, watch TV, and take care of her daily needs. Before the surgery, she could not see at all and always needed someone to guide her, but she was much in fear of eye surgery. After a patient from her village received surgery and regained full vision. She was encouraged and happy to be on this trip. She asked for another surgery for her left eye on the next trip.
– Mrs. Le Thi Ghet (75 years old) from Bu Dop District, Binh Phuoc Province, was elated after cataract surgery on her right eye. She could see clearly and even thread a needle and sew her clothes. Her left eye was previously operated at another hospital but it became blurry after sometime.
– Mr. Nguyen Hung Son (71 years) from Bu Dop District, Binh Phuoc Province, had cataract surgery in his right eye. He regained his sight and said there was no word that could describe his happiness. He asked for surgery on his left eye in the next round of operation.
During our goodbyes, the patients took turns holding my hands: “Thank you very much. I wish you good health. I looked at their heads with silver white hair and faces weathered with harsh wrinkles, while touching their hands dried through a life time of hard work. I felt so happy for them. Tomorrow will be bright again. Their lives will be filled with joy when they can see their children and grand children again. They will be able to take care of themselves and have meaningful lives with their families and society. This is my motivation for volunteering in the Vision for the Poor Program. We have an old saying: “Thousands of gold to buy a smile”. It takes a donation of only 50 U.S. dollars to bring thousands of smiles to a person who regain their vision and live their life in full beauty and purpose.