Latest Updates

December 2015/March 2016

Special Projects

We are often presented with opportunities to help that don’t fit neatly into one of our other categories. Mostly they are one shot deals, helping an individual, a family, or an organization. Some, like the two projects this year, may become regular annual programs.

Rural Infrastructure Improvement

Our focus for the last 17 years has been on the individual and family – improving people’s lives one person at a time. We have now found that we can make very efficient use of some of our money by doing some community based work improving village trails, roads and small bridges. Additionally, this type of work is highly valued and appreciated by local residents and government. Our idea is to identify a project referred by town or district officials, offer to buy the construction materials and ask them to arrange labor from the community – from those directly affected by the project. Our first two small test projects have been successful.

The main road through the rural area of one town, Phuoc My Trung, is concrete, about eight feet wide. It is heavily traveled, by motorbike, bicycle, pedestrian, and even some (very) small trucks, usually delivering building supplies, or taking out coconuts and nursery products. This heavy usage has caused large cracks and in some places the edges have broken off. For $152 we bought cement, sand and stone to prepare concrete and local residents made the repairs.

For our second project we improved about 100 meters of dirt trail, which had become barely passable in monsoon season due to its low level and frequent use. First, banks are built up on the sides of the trail with mud from adjacent canals. Then a slurry of silt and water is pumped in to bring the trail up to the level of the banks. The silt (dredged from the Mekong after its annual flooding) is self levelling and dries to a hard, durable surface. In this case the local residents bought some crushed shell to cover the silt, making the trail even more durable, beautiful, and pleasing to the ear as you walk or ride on it. Labor was supplied by local residents. Our cost was $445 for four boatloads of silt.


Trail to be rebuilt
Trail to be rebuilt
Trail to be rebuilt
Trail to be rebuilt
Rebuilt trail
Rebuilt trail
Rebuilt trail
Rebuilt trail
Rebuilt trail
Banks of new trail
Video pumping the silt for the new trail
Video | Pumping the silt
Walking the new trail
Video | Walking the new trail


Video | Bridge to be replaced next year
We have already chosen a project for next trip – replacement of a very narrow bridge with a wider, safer one. Our estimate for material for this project is about $2,500 and the district government has agreed to arrange the labor. If this project goes as planned we will add Rural Infrastructure Improvement to our regular annual work.


Mobility for the Disabled

We asked our local district government to identify people who could not walk, but had use of their arms. They referred eight people, and after checking them out we bought push-trikes for all eight, and arranged for them to show up at the district offices to pick up their trikes. A few took right to them and were able to operate them immediately. For a few others the learning was a little more difficult. All of them, though, got something they hadn’t had before – the ability to get around on their own. It is life changing. Rather than being completely dependent on others, they can now take care of some of their own needs, including earning an income. A frequent use of these push-trikes is to move about town selling lottery tickets – a common occupation for the disabled. Our cost per trike including delivery from Saigon was $176 (Phuong bargained hard for them).

Some years ago we bought push-trikes for a few people in a neighboring district. Last year we bought five in a joint project with Lotus Humanitarian Aid Foundation in Quang Tri province. Our difficulty up to now has been finding recipients. We have asked the Ben Tre Association to Help the Poor, the Disabled, and Orphans to find recipients for us in another district in our province for next trip. If they do, we plan to make this a regular part of our work.

Getting into a trike for the 1st time
Getting into a trike for the 1st time

Getting into a trike for the 1st time
Getting into a trike for the 1st time


Education

University Scholarships

We have had excellent results with this program. In 2015 three of our students graduated and have found work. They showed up over the Tet holiday to bring us up to date.

Phan Huu Hung

Huu Hung, our newest scholarship recipient, has completed his first year at Can Tho University. He is studying to be a tourist guide. His GPA for the first semester was 3.19, for the second semester it was 3.5.

Hung, Phuong, and Thy
Hung, Phuong, and Thy

Cao Thi Mai Thy

It has been a pleasure to watch Thy change from a nervous teenager when we first met her to a confident young woman who has made the most of her four years of university. Here are her major accomplishments. She speaks English fluently She passed the C1 exam on her first try. The C1 exam is a requirement for teaching English and has only a 10% pass rate.

She has a job at an English language center in Can Tho, teaching English and doing office work, and earns enough to support herself and help her grandmother.

She has clearly thought out plans for the future. In Fall of 2017 she will start a two year Masters program. Because much of this program involves teaching methodology, she wants to have a year teaching experience before going back to school. The entrance exam has four parts – English, French, teaching methodology and linguistics. And, the two languages each have four parts – speaking, listening, reading and writing. When she starts school she will stop the office work part of her job (regular daytime hours) and continue teaching English (flexible hours). The sponsor for Thy’s undergraduate education has offered to continue to support her for the Masters degree. Stay tuned for updates next year.

Nguyen Thi Kim Hang

Hang brings Phuong up to date
Hang now has a Bachelor of Arts degree in nursing. She found work shortly after graduating and has a job at the Ben Tre Provincial Hospital. Her first assignment is working in the surgery recovery room. She is very happy to have this work and is looking forward to a full career in nursing and being able to help support her mom.


Nguyen Thi Hoai An

Hoai An has found work as a receptionist at a restaurant in Saigon. It is a good paying job and she is able to support herself and to help her mom. She still would prefer to work for government, and has applied for jobs at the local district government and the Ben Tre provincial government.

Exercise Books

Video | Distributing the exercise books

As usual, exercise books were the top request from school principals, and the kids are always happy to get them. They use them every day in school and for homework as well. The little kids use them to practice writing, and the older kids use them for lesson notes.

We get lists of students whose families are officially classified as poor (income under $19/month/family member) and 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 11,800 exercise books and distributed them to 1180 students in 15 schools.

Our average cost for a set of ten for one student was $2.05, a bit less than last year.


School Clothes

We bought sets of school clothes, blue pants and a white shirt or blouse, for 90 students in three elementary schools. The kids are always really happy to get new clothes. Our cost: $6.68 per set.

More of this year's kids

more of this year's kids more of this year's kids more of this year's kids more of this year's kids
more of this year's kids more of this year's kids more of this year's kids more of this year's kids
more of this year's kids more of this year's kids more of this year's kids more of this year's kids
more of this year's kids more of this year's kids more of this year's kids  

Houses

We built 10 houses, with an average cost of $1,520 per house. They’re small – 2 rooms, 344 square feet – but always a big improvement over what we replaced. Foundation and floor are concrete, walls are brick, roof is fiberglass panels. Windows have metal grills but no glass. Materials saved from the old house are usually used to add a kitchen or bedroom to the new house. Here is one story.

Nguyen Thi Kien, 46, lives with her 12 year old daughter. Their house, like most we replace, was made of natural materials, was tiny – only one room – and did not keep the weather out. The two of them slept on an old chaise lounge chair. Unusually, they did not have electricity. Kien collects recyclable trash – paper, plastic, cans – for a living. They barely get by. She seemed hopeless when we met her, with no opportunity to improve her life.

A local official said he would arrange for electricity to be connected and we gave her a coir spinning machine so she could earn more income.

House being replaced
House being replaced
Mom and daughter slept on this chair
Mom and daughter slept on this chair

New house
New house
Phuong gives the deed to Kien
Phuong gives the deed to Kien

Unveiling the VNP sign

Some of the other houses we replaced

Some of the other houses we replaced Some of the other houses we replaced Some of the other houses we replaced
Some of the other houses we replaced Some of the other houses we replaced Some of the other houses we replaced

Some of our other house recipients

Some of our other house recipients Some of our other house recipients Some of our other house recipients
Some of our other house recipients Some of our other house recipients Some of our other house recipients


Heart Surgery for kids

We paid for heart surgeries for five kids, bringing our total to 34. Our oldest this time was eight years old; our youngest less than a year. There were good outcomes for all five.

When identifying our “heart babies,” we first look for local kids. Sometimes they show up at our house, brought by a parent or a teacher. Sometimes someone approaches us while we are distributing rice, or spinners, or dedicating a house. After the local kids, we ask for referrals from the Ben Tre Provincial Society to Help the Sick, the Disabled, and Orphans. We obtain whatever medical records are available and take them and $1,000 per child to VinaCapital Foundation, our partner in Saigon. They arrange additional funding, usually from national insurance program and from provincial social organizations, arrange the surgery and after care for the children, and send us progress reports.

Tran Quoc Anh

Tran Quoc Anh

Age 7, Anh was diagnosed with ventricular septal defect. He had surgery on April 29 and was discharged a few days later.


VinaCapital Foundation Report

Medical report

Le Thi Bich Tuyen

Le Thi Bich Tuyen

Age 1, Tuyen was diagnosed with ventricular septal defect. She had open heart surgery on April 17.


VinaCapital Foundation Report

medical report

Huynh Phuoc Thinh

Huynh Phuoc Thinh

Age 7, Thinh was diagnosed with Ebstein’s anomaly of tricuspid valve. He had open heart surgery on April 7 and was discharged on April 15.


VinaCapital Foundation Report

medical report

Phan Bao Lam

Almost 1, Lam was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot. Like most kids with this diagnosis, he will need a second surgery.


VinaCapital Foundation Report

medical report

Phan Ba Phuoc

Phan Ba Phuoc

Age 5, was diagnosed with Pulmonary Atresia Type III. He had open heart surgery on March 28 and was discharged April 5.


VinaCapital Foundation Report

medical report

Business Start-up

Coir Spinning Machines

We’re now in our tenth year of this very successful and popular program, and counting the 228 we distributed this year, we have now given 1,740 spinners, almost all to women, enabling them to earn an income while at home. This is especially important to women with young children, and to older people who can’t get out to do more strenuous work. Our cost this year, including 40kg (88lbs) of raw material to get each of them started, was $50.52 per recipient. We get great bang for our buck here. For fifty bucks we give a family a way to earn immediate income and materially improve their lives.

Taking a spinner home
Taking a spinner home
Spinner and 88 pounds of coir
Spinner and 88 pounds of coir


Video | taking the coir home

Video | Taking spinners home by cart and motorbike

taking a spinner home by bicycle
Video | Taking a spinner home by bicycle
carrying the coir
Video | Carrying the coir

hauling a spinner on a bicycle isn't easy!
Video | Hauling a spinner on a bicycle isn't easy!


Food

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. It’s 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."

Distributing the rice
Distributing the rice
Getting assistance taking the rice home
Getting assistance taking the rice home


Distributing rice to the blind

The blind get assistance taking their rice home

We also gave 200kg (440lbs) to the charity kitchen of a district hospital. Most hospitals in Vietnam do not prepare food for the patients. It’s 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.

Preparing vegetarian food at hospital charity kitchen
Preparing vegetarian food at hospital charity kitchen

Preparing the rice

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.

Rice ready for distribution
Rice ready for distribution
Got rice, waiting for a ride
Got rice, waiting for a ride

Video | Picking up the rice
Video | Picking up the rice
Video | Taking the rice home
Video | Taking the rice home
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