Our family of 6 has been fortunate to be able to visit an amazing country and quite different culture and history as well as make a difference to many children in Vietnam. In our travels, we met many people who inspired us, made us cry, shared a laugh with and simply made us shake our heads in disbelief. Certainly inspiration was the theme experienced by all of us and that theme actually started before our feet touched Vietnamese soil.
Our life changing journey began 6 weeks before we left for our 5 week backpacking trip in Australia with a little idea of mine – to take some money with us to give to others who need it such as orphans, blind children, disabled and mentally challenged children. In 6 short weeks, what started as a tiny seed grew into a big fundraising tree! Many times over that period of time, Steve and I as well as the girls were astounded at and humbled by other people’s generosity to assist and get involved and contribute anything from $5 up to $500.
You all know who you are – family, friends, friends of friends, individuals, businesses, runners, sporting groups, community groups and local primary schools in the Macedon Ranges region and beyond. We raised a whopping $5,500 in just 6 weeks together as a community. This money was collected in an account and while we travelled from the top of Vietnam down to the bottom of it, we visited and met people who are making a real difference to so many kids at a grass roots level in Vietnam.
So here is where we allocated the money while we were away:
- 19/7/2012 – $500 to the Sister Superior General at the convent (where we stayed) in Hue.
- 19/7/2012 – $635 to the Sister Superior of the orphanage in Hue.
- 20/7/2012 – $75 to the Sister Superior of a poor rural community in Hue.
- 3/8/2012 – $2,024 to Jackie Wrafter’s Dien Ban Day Centre in Hoi An.
- 6/8/2012 – $500 to Mr Phong director of the Blind Centre in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City.
A total of $3,734 was distributed while we were in Vietnam. A small amount of shopping was achieved with books and colouring books being purchased and given to the orphanage. The many things that this money will assist with are the ongoing costs of medication, food, clothing, school books (both Braille and standard) and specialised intervention. The Dien Ban Day Centre that is operated by Jackie (the English woman living in Hoi An), we have been able to provide an entire years’ wages for a teaching assistant at her day centre. This is wonderful when one of their biggest issues is being able to keep paying the wages of locally trained staff who deal directly with the children’s needs. Jackie said they can only keep them until they run out of money, which is something that occurs all too often.
Before we left on our trip, we had grand ideas of doing big shopping trips and stocking up pantries with food, purchasing clothes, bedding…whatever! However, being there in person, especially at the orphanage and communities that the Sisters assist, we realised we had no idea how they did things in Vietnam. For instance there was no pantry (or a pantry as we know it). There was no refrigeration even. Every meal is prepared and cooked fresh. They use food as they need food. We had to quickly take off our western glasses with all of our ‘idealistic’ ways of solving their problems and readjust our perspective and work within their current systems that were obviously working for them.
To us, $500 may not seem like a ‘life-changing’ amount of money. And it may not be. But in Vietnam that amount of money (just under 10 million Dong) is quite significant and self-sustaining over a period of time. The average wage in Vietnam is around $2.
We have been able to establish an ongoing relationship with the sisters who operate the orphanage and Mr Phong who runs the amazing blind centre through email communication and we will transfer the balance of the funds into their accounts over a period of time.
As for Jackie’s Dien Ban Day Centre for Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy kids, we will continue to stay in contact with her and post the progress here at sixbackpacks.com (as well as the sisters progress with the orphanage and communities). Many children are still being affected by Agent Orange, the lethal sprays and defoliate that was saturated onto the rural areas near Hoi An during the Vietnam War. The condition of Down Syndrome in this particular area still affects 1 in 10 children born here. I am certain that she will outgrow her current centre and continue to expand. Without her facility, these kids from the rural areas live a very hard life with no intervention such as physio or medication to properly deal with their conditions plus no formal education. The same is true at the Centre for Blind People. The legacy of educating blind children that Mr Phong has created in Saigon gives so many children a brighter future.
The Sisters are also inspiring and generous and kind. They manage to assist another 40 odd communities, mostly in the rural areas surrounding the city of Hue, by providing money, facilities and support. This directly assists many children who would otherwise not obtain an education or any assistance. Remember, the Vietnamese government does not financially assist any of the centres or programs in Vietnam. It is up to the individual or community group to step up and make a difference there.
And so we feel like one lucky family who has had the opportunity to meet some inspiring individuals and sit with them and discuss their needs and wants over fresh pineapple and jack fruit and a glass of Coca Cola. Would we return to these places in the future? You betcha, with more money and more time to reach more children and other organisations that are doing something extraordinary for the kids in need. The journey may have just begun…