By: Derek Swanson
Tet is a time when some choose to provide for those that are less lucky, much like the charitable donations increase in the United States leading up to Christmas. With the Tet holiday next week, Rebecca and I accompanied 20 students through the city to distribute food goods, supplies, and financial donations to a variety of people in need. The money was raised through efforts of the students at the school with the intention of providing nutritious food items, rather than empty calories. With two bus loads of food, supplies, and students, we set off to the first child center (the politically correct, and more modern term for orphanage. Orphanage carries with it the connotations that the child isn’t cared for, and conjures images of the 1800s).
The Thao Dan Child Center in District 3 provides care for about 30 children aged 4 to 15 years old. The students that Rebecca and I teach were each given a stuffed animal, which they gave to a child of their choice. Meanwhile, as we stacked our donation in the main area of the Child Center, the children were asked by the director of the facility to form a circle, one visitor, one child. We played a variety of games, from passing a stuffed animal around while singing, to a more active London Bridges falling down game. Word about the generosity of our students made it to the local media, who sent a reporter to generate the story. We had limited time at the first child center, and after about an hour we loaded up to proceed to a new district, Go Vap, and to the second child center.
The second child center was not as well maintained, as it is typically serving kids that are "fresh off the street". The children at the second child center were not accustom to visitors, and quickly shied away. The director gave an overview of the building, and talked about lessons that were taught to the children. Some of the posters on the wall provided reasons why not to trust some people, and the consequences of doing so. We toured the facility, and saw the classroom, but also the sleeping quarters. The bunk beds consisted of a plywood board on a metal frame, with a straw mat to sleep on. No pillow, no blanket, no mattress. The roof leaked in the facility, the fans to move air were broken, and many of the books were old. The students from our school noticed and want to do something to fix it, setting a modest goal of $500 to make the necessary improvements.
The last several stops on the trip focused on helping individuals that face poor circumstances in their life. The first of four stops was to a woman that is 98 years old, nearly blind, unable to walk due to broken legs, that lives in a room with her son in law (the woman's daughter had passed away). The son in law, in his 60's cared for the older woman and himself as best he could, but the living conditions were very difficult. We provided food, but also a donation that will likely pay their rent for the next year.
Our next stop was to a woman that the neighborhood had sought to help. The woman in her 60's was living under a tarp on an empty lot. She had a small garden, and electricity provided by a neighbor. The food and money that we provided should help her to find a home.
A man in his 50's that was suffering from a degenerative mental condition, living in a small room at the end of an alley was the next recipient. Although he didn't say much, the people around the area said thanks to us as we left.
Finally, we ended at a small house of a woman that was in the final stages of brain cancer. The woman, in her 50's was released from the hospital to return home nearly a month ago, as the doctors suspected she would not make it to see 2015. She spoke to the students saying that she was not sure what to do with the money, since her time was so near. One of the students sat with the woman listened intently to the details of her story. The student reassured her that there a lots of people in the world that care for her. As we departed, the woman was weeping, an image that will stay with us.
All in all, the students distributed all of the money that was raised, 23.000.000 VND, which is equivalent to the national income average of a typical person in Vietnam. The donations will certainly help the recipients, and I hope that the charity trip established new understandings for our students about giving back and gave them some perspective on what are really issues in the world while empowering them to know that despite their young age, they can make a difference in the world.