Latest Updates

February - May 2018

Education

University students

We got to Vietnam right at the end of the Tet holiday this year, and our three undergraduate scholarship recipients had a chance to come visit us before going back to school and to let us know how they are doing.

Phuong Linh, Huu Hung, Tai
Phuong Linh, Huu Hung, Tai

Huu Hung, the tall one in center, is now in his third year, studying tourism. His grades improve every year. Second semester last year he had GPA 3.56, and first semester this year 3.85. In addition to school work, he is getting training a a local (Can Tho) tourist company three afternoons a week.

Phuong Linh, at left, studying food processing, and Tai, studying civil engineering, both in their first year, have gotten off to a slow start. They were both excellent students in high school, so it is likely their grades will improve once they get accustomed to the university environment.

Tai’s dad died last year and his mom is living in very difficult circumstances, with little work available. We have arranged for her to get 15kg of rice monthly for a year.


Thy with Phuong and Marny
Thy with Phuong and Marny

Thy, our star university scholarship student, after taking two years off to get practical experience working and teaching at an English language school, began her two year Masters program in October at Can Tho University.

She now speaks American English without a trace of foreign accent, fluently and comfortably. Her goals have changed. She originally wanted to teach high school, but she now finds this idea limiting as she would be teaching students who are taking the subject as a requirement. She now wants to teach at the university level, where she can have students who are English majors, or at an English language center where she can teach many different levels and where she can continue to improve her own language and teaching skills.

It has been a pleasure to watch her change from a nervous high school graduate who had no way to continue her education without our help, to a confident young woman with solid accomplishments behind her and clear goals for her future.

Exercise Books

Exercise books are always the top requests from school principals and teachers. The youngest kids use them to practice writing, and the older kids use them to take notes in class and for homework.

We get lists of students whose families are officially classified as poor (income under $19/month/family member), prepare gift wrapped sets of 10 exercise books and hand them to each student individually at a ceremony at each school. This year we bought 10,160 exercise books and distributed them to 1,016 students in eight elementary schools and four junior high schools.

Phuong gives notebooks to elementary school students
Phuong gives notebooks to elementary school students
Taking the new books back to class
Taking the new books back to class

Some of this year's kids

Some of this year's kids Some of this year's kids Some of this year's kids Some of this year's kids
Some of this year's kids Some of this year's kids Some of this year's kids Some of this year's kids
Some of this year's kids Some of this year's kids Some of this year's kids Some of this year's kids
Some of this year's kids Some of this year's kids Some of this year's kids Some of this year's kids
Some of this year's kids Some of this year's kids    

Houses

We originally planned to build five houses on this trip. Then, with about a month left we were asked by the district government to replace a house that had collapsed, and shortly after that another house that had burned. Because it was near the end of our trip and we had spent or committed most of our money, we asked the town and district governments if they would help us, and they agreed. We bought all the construction material and they paid for the labor. The one that burned down was made of natural materials like most of the houses we replace. The residents were a 43-year-old mom and a 17-year-old daughter. They lost everything, including four pomelo trees and three coconut trees that provided them a bit of income from selling the fruit. Neighbors gave them a used bed, a blanket, a small amount of cash, and a few pieces of roofing material that they put up as temporary shelter, and the town’s Peoples Committee gave them 10kg of rice.

Here’s the one that collapsed. Husband, 44 is not able to work. Wife, 38, gets a little work around the neighborhood. Their 16 year old daughter is in high school. When we were introduced to them they were living in a temporary house made from remnants of the old house and roofing material donated by the community.

Phuong, right, talks to town officials on the floor of the collapsed house
Phuong, right, talks to town officials on the floor of the collapsed house
Temporary house
Temporary house
New house, temporary house at back
New house, temporary house at back

We found this one last year but had already committed all of our money, so we promised it for this year. Parents in their thirties, a ten year old boy in grade 4 and a seven year old boy in grade 1. The dad works construction in Saigon and comes home for the weekends.

Phuong speaks to homeowner in front of old house
Phuong speaks to homeowner in front of old house
Back of old house
Back of old house
New house
New house
Outdoor kitchen
Outdoor kitchen
Homeowner receiving house documents
Homeowner receiving house documents
The sign is unveiled
The sign is unveiled

This one is for two sisters in their seventies, who do not have children to support them.

Old house
Old house
Walking to the new house
Walking to the new house
Receiving house documents; check out that smile!
Receiving house documents; check out that smile!

Infrastructure Improvements

Our infrastructure improvement project is now in full swing. After focusing on individual recipients from the beginning of Vietnam Project, we’ve found that we can make very good use of some of our money with community based projects. Our ideal project is to identify a village road, trail or small bridge that needs improvement or repair, and to engage the community in sharing the work with us.

This year our project was improving a 600m dirt trail that serves about 30 families, most of them on side trails. We replaced it with a concrete road 2m wide and 10cm thick. It was raised above the level of the trail to prevent flooding during the twice a month high tides, and can now accommodate small trucks which can be used to deliver building supplies and to transport produce to market or other buyers.

It’s exactly the type of infrastructure projects we’re looking for, truly a collaborative, community effort. Some of the 30 or so families on the road are poor, some better off. Some gave money, some contributed labor, some made food for the workers. Everyone did something.

On the morning construction began, a small altar was set up and the local god was offered incense, wine, tea, rice, fruit, a chicken and a duck along with wishes for a successful project and the safety of the workers. After that there was a small civil ceremony with town officials, and then they fired up the mixer and got to work.

Trail before improvement
Trail before improvement
Preparing for ceremony
Preparing for ceremony
The altar
The altar

The total cost, mostly for sand, rock and cement to make the concrete, was $7,315. This includes a gift of $200,000VND (about $9US) to five of the volunteer workers, one age 70 and one 80, who are very poor and showed up every day to work. Local people along the road contributed $794. The total cost to Vietnam Project: $6,521.

Setting forms
Setting forms
Materials and cement mixer
Materials and cement mixer
Road during construction
Road during construction

When the road was finished it was dedicated in a community ceremony that started with another altar, this time to thank the local god for a safe and successful project. Then a ribbon cutting, speeches by town and district officials, and the unveiling of the street sign – “Bo Cam Lai Road, built with the assistance of The Vietnam Project.” And following that, as with every opportunity in Vietnamese culture, a party.

Completed road
Completed road
Preparing for dedication
Preparing for dedication
Preparing the altar
Preparing the altar
Recognition awards
Recognition awards
Cutting the ribbon
Cutting the ribbon
Road built by the Vietnam Project
Road built by the Vietnam Project

Clean water

Availability of clean water is an ongoing problem where we do most of our work. Although Ben Tre province is laced with canals that fill and empty twice a day with the tides, the water is contaminated, and in the dry season becomes brackish as there is no rain and not enough river flow to keep the salt water out. The only source of drinkable water, other than buying it, is rain water and the people that we want to help, the very poor, can’t afford containers to collect it and to store it for the dry season. Many people use a couple of inexpensive chemicals in the canal water, one to precipitate out the solid matter and one to disinfect it. It can then be used for washing clothes and dishes and for bathing, but it’s still not drinkable and must be boiled for drinking or cooking.

About 10 years ago we tried a couple of different ways of providing storage. One was 2500 liter concrete tanks. Another was 200 liter clay jars. While they were appreciated by the recipients, neither way was cost effective. Last year we found high quality 1000 liter plastic storage tanks for about $65, and we bought and distributed 105 of them. This year we’ve made this one of the cornerstones of our work and bought and distributed 276 tanks. One hundred of them were distributed in Tan Phu district, which is on the South China Sea. A couple of years ago the water there was so bad during the dry season that water had to be trucked in to keep the hospital open. The tanks are manufactured in Saigon and delivery to us by truck is included in the price. The manufacturer offered us last year’s price because we are a charity.


Water tanks delivered by truck from Saigon
Roger Van Dyken, VNP supporter, helps deliver water tanks
Roger Van Dyken, VNP supporter, helps deliver water tanks

Picking up the tanks

Taking a tank home on a hand cart

Taking a tank home by motorbike

Loading tanks on a motorbike trailer

Heart Surgery for kids

This year we paid for heart surgery for eight children, bringing our total to 45, plus four for whom we shared the cost with Lotus Humanitarian Aid Foundation. We work with VinaCapital Foundation, a U.S. charity based in Saigon that makes all the arrangements for us, including getting additional funding, usually from national health insurance, sometimes from provincial societies to help poor people needing medical care, sometimes from other charities. If we bring them a child and $1,200 they make all the arrangements, including additional diagnostic testing, in some cases getting the child healthy enough for surgery, arranging the hospitalization and surgery, and follow up care.

Before each trip we call ahead to see if there are any kids in our province, Ben Tre, that need heart surgery but are waiting for funding. If there are, we have the medical records delivered to us as soon as we arrive, and we refer them to VinaCapital Foundation. If there are not, we fund as many kids as we have budgeted for the trip and ask VinaCapital to choose the children. There are about 5,000 on their waiting list.

This year we visited Tam Duc Heart Hospital in Saigon, where many of our kids have surgery. One and a half year old Tuong Vi was still in ICU, two and a half weeks after surgery. Following surgery on March 31 she had heart failure and then lung infection. Since then her recovery has gone well and her surgeon, Dr. Hoa, said she might go home in a few days.

Tam Duc Heart Hospital
Tam Duc Heart Hospital
ICU
ICU
Tuong Vi
Tuong Vi

We also met eight month old Khoa, who was there with his mom for a follow up exam.

Khoa and happy mom with Dr. Hoa
Khoa and happy mom with Dr. Hoa
Children (& parents) play area
Children (& parents) play area
Mr. Sang, head nurse; Marv; Miss Thuy, hospital director; Mr. Thanh, VinaCapital
Mr. Sang, head nurse; Marv; Miss Thuy, hospital director; Mr. Thanh, VinaCapital

Here are the reports on each child, written by VinaCapital Foundation staff.

HBVN report
HBVN report
HBVN report
HBVN report
HBVN report
HBVN report
HBVN report
HBVN report

Food

The blind and their helpers picking up the rice

We ordered 15.4 tons of rice which was delivered to our rice dealer in bulk, and she then repackaged it in 15kg (33lb) portions, which we distributed individually to 803 people in eight towns. We ask the Peoples Committee in each town to prepare a list of recipients for us paying particular attention to old people, disabled people and single parent families. We also gave 15kg packages to 130 blind or nearly blind people throughout our local district, Mo Cay Bac.

It’s always inspiring to give rice to the blind because of the compassion of their family, friends and neighbors who bring them to our distribution point at the district offices and help them pick up the rice and then take them home. Additionally, we arranged for eight families in esecially difficult circumstances to get 15kg of rice every month for a year.

Dick Wagner digital solutions