Viet Nam Journey, 2016

Dear friends of Bridging Hope,

Joan and I had a wonderful trip visiting Viet Nam earlier this year.  It was good to have her on the trip with me so she could meet the faces of the women and children that you, Bridging Hope, have been supporting.  I would like to share the experience and invite you to walk with us throughout the journey.

Viet Nam 2016 Site Visit – Day 1

Welcome Aboard!

Joan, Bridging Hope’s chair, and I are on the way to make site visits to the programs in Viet Nam. We arrived in LAX, Taipei and Ha Noi, Viet Nam. Lonna, a Bridging Hope’s friend, will join us in Saigon. The purpose of our trip is to maintain Bridging Hope’s relationship with the women and children and the staff we work with in Viet Nam.

We both had a pleasant flight on EVA airline – good service and the food was relatively good for an airline.

We stopped in Taiwan Taiyuan Airport. FYI, this airport has electrical massage chairs in the Green Room. It’s wonderful! We both took advantage of this very hospitable feature of the airport. — Joan had a 15 minutes session but I had 30 minutes. The rest of the flight was also a pleasant one. Overall, we’ve survived our first flight!

Viet Nam 2016 Site Visit – Day 2

We arrived in Ha Noi before noon, went smoothly through customs and checked into the hotel located near the Ha Noi Old Town.

Our main purpose in Ha Noi was to connect with friends and volunteers. Joan had lunch and dinner with friends. I visited Vinh’s father. (Vinh’s mother passed away about two weeks ago) Hadn’t seen him since 2005! Wow! That was a long time. Vinh’s sister Thư and her daughter Liên took me out for dinner along with Phương’s family, his wife Hạnh and two kids.

The next day, Phương took me to Tam Cốc in Ninh Bình and his friend Thong came along.  We had planed to have Liên and Phương’s two kids on this trip  but they backed out at the last minute.

The trip to Tam Cốc was pleasant. After a long flight, it was nice to be with nature. (See pics).
We took a boat ride on the river and the boat rider paddled the boats with his feet.  It was amazing!!!

Viet Nam 2016 Site Visit – Day 3

We were on our way to Danang. The weather in Hanoi was cloudy most of the time so it was good to see the full sunshine in Danang.  It was about lunch time so Joan and I went to a Bánh Xèo Bà Dưỡng (Miss Duong’s sizzling Vietnamese Pancake) restaurant in town. I was a little concerned how Joan would take it. She loved it! Big relief.  After lunch, we went visiting the elder shelter in Đà  Nẵng. It is run by the Sisters of St. Paul. Bridging Hope has supported this shelter in the past but discontinued for the last few years due to lack of financial resources. We would hope to support them again.

We stayed in Hội An – a little charming tourist town that has a variety activities to attract tourists. We went to a night market nearby.  In the midst of this little town and all the activities, we heard Peter, Paul and Mary music sung by a young Western couple. Joan felt so at home!

The next day, we visited the Lyly Art Gallery owned by a woman named Nga. I have been working with this woman for over 10 years. It was through her that Provide-N-Ce had a connection with Le Phan Quoc, a well known artist for many of us in Denver, Colorado. Provide-N-Ce displayed his work in 2007.  He joined at the opening.  We bought several paintings at this gallery for our next fundraiser.

We had lunch at the Cooking School in Hội An ran by the local chef. The food was wonderful!
We had a lot of walking — good excuse for a foot massage. We left Hội An the next day.
Though it is a tourist town, signs of poverty are still visible. Vendor women are still struggling for their daily basic needs. A good reminder for me.

Viet Nam 2016 Site Visit – Day 4

Joan and I took a night bus from Hội An to Nha Trang. This bus provided reclining chairs that can lay flat as beds to the surface. We traveled this way in order to save time. You get on the bus in the early evening, sleep (ideally), and the next morning you will be at your destination. Its distance is about 10 hours from Hội An to Nha Trang.

I was in Nha Trang in the 1970’s for a scout camping trip. As I recall, it was very undeveloped — beautiful pristine beach – lying gracefully along the ocean curved like the body of a young woman! I visited again in 2002. By then, signs of development had already begun. And now, absolutely there is no sign of respect for our Mother Earth!

Our plan is to visit Mái Ấn Thiện Tâm, a shelter for abandoned children, but since we haven’t been able to contact its staff we cancelled the visit.

To get some photos for the next BH fundraiser, we visited Long Thanh’s Photo Gallery. A friend introduced me to him a few years ago. In this digital age, Long Thanh still takes photos with film and develops images in the darkroom. Yes, I envy him!!! We bought 5. He donated 3. We hope this is a good investment. He took us the next day to visit a fishing village. We also visited the XQ’s, the place that produces many spectacular embroidery pieces – hand embroidered by the hands of many young women. Time in Nha Trang was short, but it was enough.

Viet Nam 2016 Site Visit – Day 5

From Nha Trang, Joan and I took a night bus to Phan Thiết, about 5 hours on bus ride. We arrived in Phan Thiet after mid-night.

The next day, we had a brief follow-up meeting with the women Vincentian volunteers. Afterward, they took us visiting the elders that lived around the village. Before 1975, this was a fishing village, but in the 90’s it grew and merged into the city. The elders live at home with their relatives. Bridging Hope provides them nutrition and healthcare. The Women Vincentian Volunteers,(WVV) about 14 of them, are the extended hands of Bridging Hope. They divide up the elders by location then assigned 1 or 2 to visit the elders almost everyday. They stop by to chat and check to be sure the elders have food in the house and are basically okay. The elders obviously enjoy the time to talk with the volunteers.

Here we also visited Thanh Bach and her family. According to her mother, she still takes her to the children’s hospital in Saigon for regular check ups. It seems that no surgery will be required. The blood vessel tumor is much smaller. We need to evaluate this situation with the WVV to see if she still needs financial help with her medical treatment, and if the WVV still wants to follow up on this case.

The visit ended with a delicious lunch prepared by the hands of the WVV. It was a true joy for Joan and me. It was a genuine spirit of collaboration.

Viet Nam 2016 Site Visit – Day 6

Joan and I took the bus from Phan Thiet to Saigon.  Lonna, a friend from Denver, began joining us for the rest of the trip. The next day, we had a New Year’s party with the Women of Threads and their children at Regina Mundi, Sister Thao’s convent. Though Bridging Hope doesn’t have a specific project with these women, we still maintain our relationship.  And for me, after over 25 years of walking along with them, there is an undeniable bond between us. The party went well. Everyone seemed to have a good time. Thanks to Thuỷ, Đình Bảo’s sister! She put everything together though it was on such a short notice! Thanks Đình Bảo, too, for introducing Thuỷ to us.  Bridging Hope now has a new friend.

Viet Nam 2016 Site Visit – Day 7

The next morning, we rented  a van heading for Củ Chi to visit the Mái Ấm Hoa Hồng (MAHH). There were 5 of us: Joan, Lonna, Thuy, Viet, (Thuy’s friend), and me. The ride was over an hour, about 60 km from Saigon. Located on the northwest, Củ Chi is a suburban district of Saigon.

Founded by the Dominican Sisters, the center was built in 2004. The members are the elders (though we didn’t see any during this trip), mentally and physically disadvantaged, blind, deaf and dumb, cerebral-palsied, orphans… The mission is to provide a loving environment as family to all members. MAHH was introduced to us by the Christmas for Breafast (C4B) in California. This was our first time visiting the center and its members

According to Sister My, director of the center, MAHH provides care for over 60 members. At the time of our visit, 26 of them were in school Long An, a city nearby.
We enjoyed visiting the children. They seemed to enjoy us as well. They danced, sang… lots of joyful noise. As usual, it was very difficult to leave them. Actually, they didn’t want to let us go!!!!

Viet Nam 2016 Site Visit – Day 8 – Saigon.

While we were in Saigon, we visited the Bridging Hope’s Daily Bread Project (DBP) at the Mai Tam Program. Mai Tam is a network of services and shelters for women with HIV/AIDS and their children. These women are some of the poorest and most marginalized in Viet Nam. This year, the Bridging Hope, partnering with the Sisters of St. Joseph, directly serve 24 mothers, providing them daily nutrition to sustain their health in fighting such a serious disease and to restore their lives.

The visit was good. The ground floor of the center is used for sewing. It has several sewing machines and cabinets full of threads. It was wonderful to see the women in action. They were busy making cloths, ordered by local companies. The room was lightened by the colors of fabrics, threads and of the happy noise.

Viet Nam 2016 Site Visit – Day 9

Bridging Hope also helps to provide nutrition to the children who are suffering from HIV/AIDS in the Mai Tam program in Saigon. Currently, collaborating with the Christmas for Breakfast program, Bridging Hope has provided a daily breakfast for some 300-plus children. Some of the children reside in one of Mai Tam shelters, but the vast majority live with foster parents either because their parents have died or because they are incapable of being the primary caretakers.
Beside visiting the children and their mothers, another purpose of our visit to the Mai Tam Children Shelter was to work with the Mai Tam’s staff to set up guidelines for some of the administrative tasks. Therefore, we don’t have many good photos to show. Sorry!!!

Viet Nam 2016 Site Visit – Day 10

After staying in Saigon for a few days, we were ready to get away from the noise and heavy traffic, heading south to the Mekong Deltar to visit Cồn Én School.

Young, pre-school children on this small island were usually hungry, unsupervised, and often unsafe (especially during the monsoon season). Recognizing the need of safety for these youngsters, the parents asked the local Catholic Church to open a daycare in order to provide a safe environment and early childcare for their children. Since 2009 Bridging Hope has collaborated with the local church providing supervision, nutrition and education for approximately 60 impoverished children.

We rented a private van instead of taking the public bus. The driver was very thoughtful. He took us via small/back roads which allowed us to see the beauty and serene landscapes of Viet Nam. It was very refreshing. Hope you can experience it via the photos.

The roads are much better now. I recalled how before, it took me about 7 hours to get there including 2 small ferry-boat rides. Now it took not even 5 hours and only one big ferry-boat.
The visit was good. As usual, the hospitality of the Vietnamese was outstanding!

Viet Nam 2016 Site Visit – Day 11

After visiting Cồn Én School, Joan, Lonna and I traveled to Cần Thơ. Bridging Hope has no project there but since it is so close, we wanted to observe more of the life of the people in the Mekong Delta.

We stayed at one of the hotels in Cần Thơ — woke up early the next morning (5 am). We traveled on a small motor boat to the floating market in Cái Răng, a district of Cần Thơ.

It was still dark, but through the boats’ lights and motors’ sound around us, we knew the actions of the day had already begun. After about 30 minutes, the boat driver dropped us at a coffee shop located on the river’s banks. Yes, coffee sounded wonderful. When the first dawn appeared, we were among the “tourists”, touring the Mekong.

Floating market is like a wholesale market. Vendors come here to buy food from farmers then go sell them in the markets in the areas.

Though the river’s waters are vital for agricultural production, the undeniable scenes of poverty along the Mekong are disheartening.

On our way back to the hotel, the sun was up high. Another day as every other day for people of the Mekong!

We rode back to Saigon on the same day. Along the way, we saw, again, the endless rice fields — many with white tombs. They reminded me of some lines from Kay Mullen’s poem,

“The Bridge:”
“I think of the bamboo bridge…
the foot bridgings over cannals
of the Mekong. It may be an ancient memory buried deep
in you, your ancestors resting in white tombs of rice fields
that connect you to your dreams…”

Thought to ponder: If Viet Nam is considered a basin of rice for Southeast Asia, why are so many children still suffering from malnutrition?

Viet Nam 2016 Site Visit – Day 12

We came back to Saigon from Cần Thơ in the early afternoon — checked in the hotel, had lunch, and rested for a few hours. We left the hotel around 5 pm, headed to the Miền Đông Bus Station for a night bus to Kontum. Our bus left around 6 pm, arrived to Kontum aound 5 am the next day.

Kontum is located in the Central Highlands region of Viet Nam with a distance about 557 km from Saigon. People have their own ethnic languages – most of them are bi-lingual; Vietnamese and their own tribal dialects. The economy is primarily agricultural.

The Kontum project, weaving project, is Bridging Hope’s new project. The intention is to provide job opportunities and reserved their weaving tradition. The request was sent to us by Sister Ann. This was our initial visit.

Sister Ann greeted us at the bus station, around 5:00 am, then took us to her convent. After having our morning “routines,” we were invited to have breakfast with the Sisters. Afterward, Sister Ann offered us a tour around Kontum. She had three volunteers (two young women and one man) who took us around the town on their motorbikes. We visited The Lady of Immaculate Conception Cathedral, (locally known as Nhà Thờ Gỗ or Cathedral of Wood. It was constructed between 1913-1918), the Museum, Bridge (Cầu Treo) Konh’lor…. We were amazed with the history and richness of the cultures.

We also stopped at the Rice Art Gallery. Here we met Thuý Kiều Đặng, an artist and also gallery owner, and three young women artists. Their works are outstanding! I bought a few pieces for the Oct. auction.

In the afternoon, we visited a place where a group of women, young and old, gathered for sewing and weaving. It was so soul-filled to see such an extended age-range of women friends working together. Later, we gathered for a little party… here we were invited to taste some traditional wine made by the women. It was pleasant. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

We went back to the convent, rested a little then headed to the bus station for a night bus back to Saigon. The trip was full but gratified. I am looking forward to continue working with these women!

Viet Nam 2016 Site Visit – Day 11

We arrived back safely to the US.  I am so grateful for a successful trip and for Joan to actually see those faces.  Now she can be a testimonial voice for what we are to the women and children in Viet Nam.  As for me a trip back to the US was a trip to “home from home.”  Though it was a grace-filled experience to walk on the soil of my Viet Nam homeland, it was a great contentment for me to be back here in the US.  It is so peace-filled to sit here on the recliner savoring the solitude brought by the early quiet morning with a cup of coffee and my cat, Snow, on my lap.

Thank you for walking with us!  I hope this will continue strengthen the bridge between us and the women and children in Viet Nam.

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