December 2015/March 2016
Each year we give rice to the blind and severely visually impaired in our district. This year there were 132. The blind are brought by family, friends, neighbors. Itís always an emotional day, with scene after scene of compassionate help unfolding before us, as the helpers carry the rice and lead the blind to bicycle or motorbike for the ride home.
Here is the observation of Paul Driben, a Vietnam Project supporter who was visiting.
"This afternoon the VNP distributed rice to the blind. I have never seen anything like this. Marny said he didn't know whether to laugh or cry - the blind literally leading the blind. I broke down. Tears come to my eyes just thinking of what I saw. It was beautiful and heart wrenching at the same time. I saw one woman whose sack of rice had a little tear. She was carrying it as best she could for another who was unable to manage on his own. A few grains spilled out, and she gathered these with her hands as if they were precious gems. Like I said, I have never seen anything like this before."
We also gave 200kg (440lbs) to the charity kitchen of a district hospital. Most hospitals in Vietnam do not prepare food for the patients. Itís up to the families, and many hospitals have a charity kitchen. In this hospital, various local individuals, charities and social organizations have a specific day to help each month. We were invited by a nun at the local pagoda to help, so in addition to giving rice we had the opportunity to see the preparation and to help serve the food. We were rewarded with a delicious vegetarian meal.
We also gave rice to an additional 926 people, usually in 15kg (33lbs) packages. Most often this is done in our local district and a few nearby towns in adjoining districts. This year, due to emergency conditions, we ventured a little further afield. Our province, Ben Tre, is an island province at the northern part of the Mekong Delta. It has an average elevation of 5 feet and is laced with canals for irrigation. Each year as monsoon season ends and the flow of the Mekong is reduced, salt water moves inland twice a day, with the tides. This year was the worst in history, with the salt water moving further inland than usual and staying longer. Tan Phu district was hardest hit. Emergency fresh water was brought in from neighboring Tien Giang province for hospitals. Of even greater impact, rice crops died, meaning loss of food and income. We contacted local officials and brought in 15kg packages of rice for 296 families.
November 2014/February 2015
We have had some mixed opinions about giving rice. For some of us, it seemed like the rice was given, eaten, and then gone. We preferred more lasting, more sustainable, forms of giving, such as helping with education, building houses, giving people a way to earn money for themselves, fixing kids’ hearts. Others think giving rice is one of the most important things that we do.
Rice is the quintessential element of Vietnamese culture. It is the most basic necessity of life. It is the first thing Vietnamese think about when helping others is on their mind. It is eaten every day. Someone without rice, even if they have other things to eat, doesn't have "food." A common greeting is "Have you eaten rice yet?"
Almost all the people who get rice from us can afford to buy enough of it to eat, but sometimes not much more. What about medicine for when they're sick? What about protein and fat so their kids will not be undernourished and can grow and develop normally? What about books for their kids so their education will not be limited to the most basic? What about something extra to celebrate their most important cultural holiday - Tet, the lunar new year?
When we give someone rice it is most deeply appreciated. Having rice makes them feel happy, less worried. And, on the most practical level, it frees up a little money for the other necessities of living beyond mere survival.
For these reasons, we have recommitted to giving rice.
We bought a little over 11 tons of rice and distributed 15kg (33lb) packages of rice to 530 people in 8 towns based on lists given to us by the town governments, 133 blind people, and 12 individuals that we found to be in extreme need.
We buy good quality rice, the same as we eat at home. The cost this year was 23 cents a pound, the same as last year.
November 2013/February 2014
Giving rice is a common and appreciated form of charity in Vietnam. While most of our recipients have enough to eat, many of them don’t get enough variety and malnutrition is still common. Giving rice frees up a little money for other food items.
We distributed rice to 455 people in 10kg (22 lbs) or 15kg (33 lbs) portions, according to the wishes of the town governments. When we ask a town government to prepare a list of recipients for us, we offer them 15 kg portions. In two cases this year the towns asked if we could give 10kg portions but to more people and we agreed, as it is our policy to follow local requests as long as they fit our guidelines. This year we asked the town governments to concentrate on the elderly, the disabled and single parent families when preparing recipient lists for us.
The price of rice this year was just under twenty three cents a pound, about 5% less than last year.
November 2012/February 2013
We gave 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of rice to 534 families in six towns, and to 115 blind or severely visually impaired people from Mo Cay Bac district, Ben Tre province.
Giving rice is a common form of charity in Vietnam. This year we limited our recipients to those officially classified as poor by the government – those with incomes less than $19 per person per month. Because it is our preference to use our contributions for projects with long lasting impact, we are thinking about limiting rice distribution next year to those over 60, the disabled, and single parent families. The price of rice this year was about the same as last year.
Our cost: $7.97 per recipient
December 2011/February 2012
We gave 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of rice to 312 families in six towns, and to 110 blind or severely visually impaired people from Mo Cay Bac district
Rice is the quintessential element of Vietnamese food and culture, and while most of the people to whom we give rice can afford to buy enough to eat, they are all very poor and a gift of rice is most appreciated because it frees up a little money to buy other food products, school supplies, medicine and other essential needs. The price of rice is up about 15% from last year, and this especially hurts the poor.
Our cost: $4,008
November 2010/February 2011
We gave 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of rice to 564 people. 464 of them were referred to us by the Peoples Committees in six towns. 100 of them were blind or severely visually disabled from various towns in Mo Cay Bac district.
Early in December the price of rice was edging up almost daily, so we bought about nine tons and stored it in borrowed space. We then transferred it to 15 kilogram sacks as we made arrangements to distribute it in the various towns.
Our cost: $4,515.
Taking home the rice.
The district (county) where we do most of our work has split into two districts and the new district offices are in our town. This has brought new organizations closer to where we live, and one of them is the association for the blind for the new Mo Cay Bac district.. The director approached us and asked if we could help with food – rice and noodles – for the 109 blind and severely visually impaired people in the district. We agreed and bought 15 kilos of rice and a box of 50 packs of instant noodles for each of them. Each recipient showed up with one or two helper/guides, relatives or neighbors, and it was very heartwarming to see the help and compassion they were shown.
We also bought 15 kilos of rice for an additional 235 people in four towns. While the price of rice has stabilized at about 60 cents a kilogram (about 27 cents a pound) it is till triple what it cost a few years ago and the poorest people often do not have enough to eat.Our cost: $3,142.
We gave 15 kilos of rice to 705 people in 9 towns.Tet, the lunar new year, was on January 26 this year, and it's the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture. The tone of the day is said to set the tone for the year, so it's important for people to have as good a day as possible. Because of this, we included a small Tet package for each family with the rice - cooking oil, soy sauce, msg and a package of candy. These families have very little, and ithe few extra items will help them to have nice Tet meal. We purchased the candy from a local family that makes it at home. Our cost: $7.18 per family.
Happy to have food!
Vietnam has had higher than 25% inflation since the beginning of the year. Food, fuel and anything that has to be transported have experienced large price increases. Poor people have been hurt the most. The cost of rice has gone up about 60% since we were last there in January. People who barely had enough to eat before, now don’t have enough, or only have rice and a few vegetables to eat. Because of this, we used a higher than usual part of our money to buy rice.
We gave 15 kilos of rice to 657 people in 9 towns.
December 2007/January 2008
Marv distributes rice in Tan Phu Tay
We gave 15 kilos of rice to 240 people in six towns. All of the people we help are poor, but the rice recipients are among the poorest, usually barely having enough to eat, and our gifts of rice are greatly appreciated.
Janie distributes rice in Phuoc My Trung
Last October there was an unusually strong storm in Ben Tre province. It only lasted about an hour, but extremely strong winds destroyed some homes and blew the roofs off of many others. More importantly for many local residents, young coconuts were blown off of the trees before they had a chance to mature. This is an area where many people rely on coconuts as their primary source of income, and we found that when we got there in March an unusually high number of people did not have enough to eat. Because of this, we bought and distributed more rice than usual.
We gave 310 people in seven towns 20 liters (about 15 kilograms) of rice each.
In the Mekong Delta, an average person eats about 13 kilos of rice per month a laborer 15 kilos. Even though we only gave each person enough rice for one month it was greatly appreciated.
As our contributions have increased we have been able to buy rice for more people without sacrificing our core programs.
Giving rice is the most basic form of charity in Vietnamese culture, so our efforts in this area are highly appreciated. Most of our recipients are women, many of them old, many of them with dependent children or grandchildren.
We distributed rice to 165 people in the towns of Phuoc My Trung, Vinh Hoa and Tan Phu Tay.
Distributing rice in Thanh An
Board member Raphiel Benjamin observing rice distribution
in Phuoc My Trung
We purchased and distributed 20 liters of rice to 20 individuals and families, all referred to us by the Thanh An Peoples Committee as being in need of food. Our cost was just under $4.00 per family.
Phuoc My Trung
We purchased and distributed 20 liters of rice to 30 individuals and families, all referred by the Phuoc My Trung Peoples Committee.
In January we built a house for Mr. Tan, age 85. He is now in hospital and not doing well. We purchased 40 liters of rice for his son and grandson.
Hung Khanh Trung
We again purchased rice for Nguyen Van Tri and his family, this time 80 liters
In all cases we, or Phuong’s brother who is one of our volunteer assistants, personally distributed the food to each family.
Daughter of a food recipient
We purchased and distributed 20 liters of rice to each of 20 families, all referred to us by the Thanh An Peoples Committee as being in need of food. Our cost was just under $4.00 per family.
Phuoc My Trung
We purchased and distributed food to 50 families, all referred by the Phuoc My Trung Peoples Committee. Because this food was distributed just before Tet, we bought slightly less rice for each family and added a bottle of cooking oil, a bottle of soy sauce, some instant noodles, candy and msg. Tet is the most important holiday of the year the beginning of spring and the new year. If the first day of Tet is good it bodes well for the rest of the year. It is difficult for families in these circumstances to get a nice start to the year and our gifts were very much appreciated.
Hung Khanh Trung
We purchased 40 liters of rice for Nguyen Van Tri. Last June we repaired his roof and purchased 40 ducks to raise (we had planned on chickens but he preferred ducks). This project did not work out very well. Some of the ducks escaped, some were sold and some were used for food as the family barely has enough to eat. There are still four ducks and they keep them for eggs. There is good news as well. A few months ago the government built a compassion house for the family so their housing has improved. Buying a cow for them is still on our want list.
In all cases we personally distributed the food to each family.
We purchased and distributed 20 liters of rice to each of 40 people in two towns. Each person was recommended by the local Peoples Committee as being in need of food. Most of them are old women who live alone or take care of neices, nephews or grandchildren. At one of the meetings, a woman of about 90 was in tears that anyone would offer her this help.