Dear Friends of the Vietnam Children, dear Sponsors, Greetings from Paris.
Fr. Isaac invited me to write this newsletter due my recent visit to the Children last May 2017. First of all, I send my warmest Christmas Greetings and good wishes for the Year 2018 to you and your family. To give you a first hand account of the situation, I just summarize my diary during the days of my visit and add some reflections.
Last may 17th, I landed in Hué and was met by Brother Vu, a Vietnamese Spiritan brother. He is an artist painter and knows Hué very well due to his studies there a few years ago. We went to stay in a small hotel near the cathedral and had lots of time to share and enjoy Vietnamese hospitality. Brother Vu helped me to interview the children. With the partners in charge of various groups of children, it was easier since most of them speak either French or English. Fr. Peter Cong, the main coordinator, together with Miss Lai, helped us plan the visit. As we were meeting lots of children, Brother Vu and I tried to update the data of each child, adding the new pictures. I was happy to be again in Hué, a city I have visited so many times, where I have the privilege to convey your faithful support to the poor families.
Thursday, May 18th: we begin the day with a planning of the visits. Then we head to the Kindergarten run by Sr. Julienne’s congregation. Parents and children receive us very well, and for the interviews, we are assisted by Huyen, a young lady whose studies we have sponsored. I ask Sister Julienne: What about the children we have sponsored in the beginning of the program? ‘Some are getting work day by day, others assist in offices, some sell clothes, others have continued their studies up to University level; some girls have their first child after getting married.’
In the afternoon, we meet a number of children belonging to the groups of Miss Lai, a retired school teacher. Many children have been replaced, we try to get the information regarding each child. We also update the information about the cost of studies in Vietnam. Basically, there are two items: day school, and evening classes.
|Rate: 1 USD = 22,500 Vietnam Dongs||For day school||For evening classes||others|
|Kindergarten (Sr. Julienne)||600,000/month ($26)|
|Primary level||2,5 millions/year ($111)||2 to 3 classes in the 2 last years of primary|
|Junior High||2,5 millions/year||1 to 3 classes
|One student needs 2 to 3 evening classes, during 9 months. ($160 to 240/year)|
|Senior High||3 millions/year||250,000 to 300,000 / class/month||Without evening classes, it is not possible to enter the university|
|University||4 to 6 million/semester
(350 to 530/year)
|Add transportation and housing costs|
A non-qualified worker on a building site gets 150 to 200,000 dongs per day.
Regarding our sponsorship, we decided from the beginning not to cover all expenses, and to focus on families who are not the poorest, but who cannot afford to send their children to school. We pay part of the expenses, and the parents cover the rest. As for the poorest families, they are sponsored by other programs where sponsors pay 20 to 30 € every month. Our partners also work with these others NGOs.
Friday, May 19th. Visit to the boat children and at Peter Chinh’s village, where we meet the children coming back from school. Peter updates us on the situation in the country since my last visit in 2013. The Sampaniers (formerly living on boats) are still poor, because there is no work and they have no land. The young leave school early. Why? ‘To work with the family, because their academic level is weak; because they follow others who have dropped out; because university degrees do not give access to work; they start apprenticeship. Some children as young as 12 or 14 years old leave to Ho Chi Minh City of Hanoi to work 12 to 14 hours daily in sweatshops which are not controlled by the authorities.’
Saturday, May 20th: day in Binh Dien Parish. Our local coordinator, Fr. Pierre Cong, is the parish priest, and today is the consecration of the new church built by his community. The local Bishop is there, and thus I can introduce our program to him. He is relaxed and encouraging. He is happy that the people and local authorities have seen a foreigner celebrating with them: authorities are often nervous when foreigners are around, and the bishop would like them to stop being afraid!
Sunday, May 21st: to A Luoi, in the mountain bordering Laos. The road has improved since my last visit. Everything is well prepared when we arrive, Brother Vu can conduct interviews with the children. He tells me that every second child dreams to become a policeman. We guess that they have no other model of a person earning money… we are at the border with Laos, and there may be some smuggling and corruption going on, especially with wood. Outside the town of A Luoi, the people are mountaineers. They seem very poor, their living conditions are basic, and their capacities to study are limited. And there are many disabled people among them. The Sisters would like to open a day-care center for disabled people, but have not received permission from the authorities. They visit many disabled people at home, without support. The houses are not equipped with basic facilities, such as latrines. The family members have to carry them outside day or night, which creates problems of diseases. The sister asks for help to build the toilets. Her seriousness, her abilities, her enthusiasm and love for the poor inspire me. It is my second time to meet her. I would like to introduce her to other people. (Interview on Youtube https://youtu.be/fLzzbcjHP_0) This is when I begin to think bringing a group of visitors next year, including 2 days in A Luoi.
We visit 4 houses of families known by the Sisters. The situation in the first house is quite challenging: there is a disabled man, very deformed, and his mother. I sit by his side and try to communicate with him by touching and eyes. He seems to appreciate. Brother Vu and the Sister speak in Vietnamese with the lady. She takes care of her son daily, for the past 30 or 40 years. He sleeps 2 or 3 hours per night only. She puts a cloth in his mouth so that he won’t suffocate due to his big tong. She says his muscles are always sore. The other moving visit is to a mother with 4 young children and only one bag of rice just harvested, as only reserve till next harvest in October. What will she do when the rice is finished? ‘We will eat roots and wild berries.’ Why is the harvest so little? ‘The rice paddy is very small.’ There are about 10 stems of corn near the house. When I look at her, I can feel the weight of responsibility, a sense of powerlessness, and much tiredness.
Monday, May 22nd: day at Tan Hong and Quang Tri. From Hue, the narrow road seems very long, between rice fields, through villages, with lots of family temples to the ancestors, much bigger and richly adorned than the houses of the living! This looks very similar to the Min-Nan culture which I knew in Taiwan. People are in their rice paddies, with buffalos and ducks feeding on worms. Tan Hong is a Christian village. You will often meet families with 2 religious sisters and one priest. We meet the children in a private house, Vu takes pictures and carries the interviews. This is a very nice group, but we have to continue our trip after a prayer together.
In Quang Tri, the sisters and children are waiting for us. The visit goes smoothly. During the shared lunch, I ask for news. ‘Life is a little better in the mountains, houses have improved, there is a resident priest. But, as elsewhere, many young people go to the city looking for work. Ho Tapon (the boy who was sponsored by my own mother, and led to the beginning of this program) is married with 3 children – the oldest is 6 years old, all go to school -, he is assistant catechist and works as a motorbike driver.’ Next week, the Sisters will leave their house and after demolition, a larger orphanage will be built. Sister Anne shows us a 20 days old baby girl, who was abandoned by the hopeless and unknown mother. We say an emotional goodbye to the Sister, who seems to expect a lot from us to help her children. On the way back, we stop at the memorial for the communist soldiers killed before 1975, and we continue to La Vang, the national sanctuary to Our Lady.
Tuesday, May 23rd. Discussion at Miss Lai’s to conclude the visit. Many children have stopped studies because of their weak capacities. They become hairdresser, tailor or mechanic, often similar to what their parents were doing. Then, was it worth sponsoring their studies? ‘Yes, for the sake of socializing, for learning the basic knowledges and for the experience of school, where they may send their own children. The next generation will go further than their parents. And some do succeed with studies.’ Why do the children of this group have more problems with studies than children of other groups? ‘In the first years of their life, food is not enough so the brain does not develop completely. The living environment offers little stimulation to the children: parents are working outside in the fields or in low income jobs, they do not interact much with their children who do not receive stimulations. Children do not see around them examples of success through studies, which would encourage them. There is little prospect of finding work in Hue if you just study up to secondary school. All these add to lower the motivation of children to study.’
I have finished this visit very energized by our partners and the children who are happy to go to school. Despite the global economic growth of the country, there is still a need to help these poor families, because life has become more expansive, and for those with no or little income, it is even more difficult than before. Thus, the choice to help education, as a respectful way of allowing people to take responsibility for their future.
|February-July 2017||August-January 2018|
|Amount in Scholarship||8436(EUR)||9156(EUR)|
Finally, I send you many words of thanks and gratitude from the families of the children. They sincerely appreciate to receive from far away regular help for their children from people who are generous enough to help those in need in a distant country. Please continue to support them.
Warm greetings and God bless,
Fr. Jean-Pascal Lombart CSSp, from Paris.
December 18, 2017