Sunday, July 14, 2013

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it"

If I wanted something done or to happen, I have found that I just have to spread the word first in a subtle way through the kids and the carers before talking to the director.
I had already asked about taking them to the beach and I got a flat no. She was really worried about them drowning and dare I say it, the paperwork that would go with that...

So I concocted a plan: it would take something special, something big for her to refuse me: so after feeling abit like Tom Cruise in a mission impossible film, I worked my web.
I told her that it was my birthday on the 8th although its on the 18th. ( I figured I could blame the missing '1' on translation issue) and I really wanted them to see a town outside of Tam Ky... I asked if I could take them to Hội An for a day, see the town and eat seafood on the beach. I didn't dare mention anything about the water and swimming.
She was a little hesitant but after I said 'please? ! It's my birthday!' She agreed as long as no swimming! Yes! Stage one of plan achieved!
I was agreeable of course and left her office with a huge grin on my face. Little did she know I had ulterior motives....
The children were waiting outside her office to see if it was a yay or nay and when they saw my smile they all ran up to me asking 'di Hội An?' And I said yes! We go to Hội An!
Cheers echoed throughout the foyer and then they were all really sweet and went in and thanked the director for allowing them. Was nice and respectful. She made a joke that when I was around she didn't exist and the children didn't pay her any attention. She said that the children don't love her as much as they love me! Whilst we were all having a chuckle over it, I made a mental note of the new Samsung Galaxy 5 in her hand and wondered how much of that was paid for by money meant for the children.... That phone could pay for them all to go to hoi an and then some!

So the day came for the excursion. The carers were just as excited as the children. It was nice to see them out, every one wearing their Sunday best.
5 buses transported 79 bodies to hoi an.
We went to visit the orphanage in hoi an which was... Interesting.
BO kids kept together and hoi an kids kept together. Almost felt like two gangs sizing each other up....
Hoi an orphanage has just over 100 kids and BO is catching up to them with 80.....
Hoi an orphanage is just not a nice place. I can vomit a whole heap of atrocities at this place but I shall control myself. Save their disgusting, corrupt stories for another blog....
Anyway, the carers wanted to see it more than anyone so after I saw they all had a look, the kids were just hanging around the front, I yelled and made them all leave. Time to take control! As much as I wanted the carers to have fun, this day wasn't for them. I told them they could stay if they wanted and not come eat seafood at the beach and we can pick them up on way home.... Well.... missing out on seafood by the beach? They were the first back in the buses!
Some of the older children have seen the beach before.... When I snuck them there last year...... But the rest.... Watching them pull up at the beach.... Priceless. They kept asking me about swimming and I had to say no and tell them the carers didn't let them, not me.......
They gorged on the initial food not realising it was a four course meal! They got carried away and ended up being so full after the second course that I got them up for a play with some parachute men to try digest a little to be able to fit more in.
It was about now I thought about next phase of Operation: Splish Splash.
I got some of the kids to ask the carers about swimming knowing full well the answer would be no. Yes, I admit, I used the children to my advantage.. But really! It was ultimately for their benefit :)
So after the kids whinged abit about swimming, I took over and asked if I could take them down... Carers had a full belly by now, were happy, it was my time to shoot. At first they said no... So I asked if I could take them down into the sand. I got a yes. Ok, that's a start.

They ran like a herd under attack down to the sand. They played for a bit running enthusiastically despite the fact that it was 40 degrees and about 12pm!
So I went in for the kill again, using the heat as an excuse to go into the water and swim. They argued they didn't have spare clothes. I argued it was so hot they would dry by the time they finished lunch and desert.
I could see a few caving so I kept talking, pleading with them and promising that I will go into the water with Larry and Nhung and we won't let them go beyond their hip depth and can take ten at a time if that eased them.....
A few seconds of silence, carers looking at each other and talking animatedly before I got the head nods! YES!!! I did it!

I knew the ten kids in at a time wouldn't work.... It's putting temptation right in front of them.... Like leaving a cake in front of a child and telling them not to eat it... They start with the edge and icing and......
First the toes went in, then the ankles.... I couldn't hold them back but it was all so fine.
Thy listened and stayed waist deep all in one area.
The ruckus they made! Half the beach was watching us, tourists were taking photos. I guess it was quite a sight...60 children, splashing about, making noise and just having fun.
The boys jumped straight in, no fear. The girls were scared and by the end of it, had only gone in up to their ankles.... A few of the younger ones were surprised when I told them to lick their palms. Moui? Salt? Yes I told them.... They couldn't quite understand why the water had salt in it.... Yet another example of something so small taken for granted: the knowledge that the ocean is salty.
The carers ended up relaxing and were laughing and playing along too. I think me in a bikini caused a stir but I figured I was in hoi an where everyone was wearing a bikini so I would be ok.... Just watching a beach full of white people half naked was enough of an experience for the carers I reckon!
After a splash, we went back up, ate third course and then 80 amazing people sang happy birthday to me.....
I was truly touched at all their gifts; the girls made me bead bracelets, 6 of the carers pulled money together and bought me a pair of sandals, orphanage made me a tshirt with their logo on it and a special message   printed on it for me too.... Mrs Hanh spoiled me, Nhung got me an anklet and a photo frame with a pic of us in it......
Amazing Amazing Amazing.
The tears began which set the girls off too. They said they wanted me to stay in Vietnam forever! Knowing that's not an option right now, I got many well wishes and hugs instead with final declarations of how much they love me and will miss me and a promise of my return.

"It's a world of laughter,
A world of tears,
It's a world of hopes
And a world of fears.
There's so much that we share
That it's time we're aware
It's a small world after all"

The million dollar answer...

I asked Mr Sinh, Vice President of UFO ( Local Government NGO) what he thinks Vietnam needs to help break this poverty cycle...
His answer: "televisions"
When he looks at the statistics, he sees the poor people out in rural areas are the ones who have the most children....
Why? He says that if they had a television to kill the boredom, they wouldn't be having 'sexy time' so often to keep themselves entertained ! Thus, a television was essential in every poor persons house to help solve this social problem!
He presented me with a "heart of gold" certificate and a 'crystal' trophy for all my hard work and donations to the poor communities.
This certificate and award definitely goes out to all who helped and donated funds to help these amazing people.
Looks like I should be buying televisions next trip huh?

  “Do all the good you can,
    By all the means you can,
    In all the ways you can,
    In all the places you can,
   At all the times you can,
   To all the people you can,
   As long as ever you can.”
― Debbie Macomber, One Simple Act: Discovering the Power of Generosity

"Everyone can do simple things to make a difference, and every little bit really does count"

Meet Mr Loc: 45 years old. Local farmer in Tien Phuoc District about 25km away from Tam Ky.

Population: 110,000 yet so dense with fields and forestry, feels like I am travelling from Sydney to Wollongong to see the neighbour!

Literally, the road we traveled on...

He has four children, one passed away at the age of 9 from haemophilia.
He has a twin who is still alive, who also suffers from haemophilia. He is 22 years old now. After his twin died, they got scared they would lose him too so they pulled him out of school, then in grade 4, and has been confined to bed ever since.

A daughter, aged 15, is well and attends school. She has a dual issue: the fathers gall stones are causing him to much pain and so since he cannot work, its up to her to support the other 4 sick members of her family. On the other hand, Year 10 means she has to go to upper high school and this high school is 2 hours away from her house one way. She will have to cease attending school anyway,  although she enjoys it and is a good student due to the family having insufficient funds to pay for her board, food, school supplies and uniform. Total cost to support her for one year is $150.

Mr Loc youngest son, aged 10, also suffers from heamophilia. He, together with the older brother are confined to a bed all day, everyday, for fear of bumping into something, tripping and bleeding to death.
Mr Loc's wife has been diagnosed with breast cancer. They are to poor to be able to provide her with any medicines.
She stays at home to care for her two sick and frail children.
Mr Loc has gall stones and has had them since 2010. He does not earn enough money to warrant a hospital trip and has been putting up with the pain for the last three years.
If he doesn't work, the family does not eat and at times when the pain has been unbearable and he could not continue his extremely strenuous and physical labour of farming, the family had to go without. The nearby neighbours and their generosity who shared rice with them got them through.

Enter me: With the donations I received, I opted to help Mr Loc receive his surgery so then he can be fit and able to work again. This will then relieve the daughter of pressure to support her family and with more funds, support her to complete high school.
Mr Loc has been in the hospital for one week already.

They are doing extensive tests on Me Loc as from what I understand they want to make sure he is not, does not have heamophilia, or carry the gene (?) before they open him up.
I saw him in the hospital last night. Apart from me being the tourist attraction and having literally a hundred people follow me, I was taken aback at this hospital which is meant to be the best one in this entire province.
As I walked through the stuffy corridors and threw side way glances into the rooms, I had to send a silent prayer up above for our health care system back at home. There were entire glass windows so everyone could see everything. No curtains to draw between patients. No fans unless you brought your own. No pillows, no mattresses, more bamboo to lie on. And sometimes, two sickly adults in one bed.
Mr Loc tried to sit up when he saw me, but he went from a deathly pale yellow to a white with the effort that I insisted he stay put on his mat.
A pleasant man with very kind eyes. His skin, very dark due to years of working in the fields. Something looked down upon, a man who has no status in the eyes of the community.
"I wonder how a foreigner has come to help him?" I could see this question lingering on their lips as they watched on and listened to me ask him questions.

After visiting him, we drove to his home.
It was a very emotional sight before me, one which as I walked up the dirt path, I was reciting mantras in my head to remind me that I had to remain strong; this was not about me. They are the ones living it. Day in, day out.
The house, nothing more than old panels of woods slapped together, with so many holes, it allowed for much rain and mice to enter; a roof with so many cracks, the sunlight was streaming in. One bed with one frail boy in it. One hammock with another sickly boy in it. A tiny table, a shrine to the 9 yr old son who passed away and a dirty floor.
I met them, spoke to them for a little via a translator. It was really hard choking back my tears. I had a constant lump in my throat that threatened to over-spill.
The 22 yr old boy was very skinny. His legs were in so much pain, his mother tried to alleviate his pain the only way she knew how: by making a paste out of a traditional green plant.
I think the 22 yr old has been in bed for 20 yrs and so his legs have atrophy. Watching him try roll over on his wooden plank of a bed literally made my heart wince.

The ten yr old in the hammock had no choice but to stay in that one position.

The mother was so emotional. When she began talking to me, the tears were falling rapidly down her face and splashing onto her hands which were clinging to mine.
The 15yr old daughter Phuong, stood as still a a rock, face down, not moving or looking at anyone.
The mother has one wish: to find a cure for her sons so they could be better. She didn't even care about herself. She worries that she may die and then no one will be left to look after her children. I suppose if that scenario played out, poor Phuong would have that cross to bear.

Phuong was literally about to go get a job to become the breadwinner for her family when I heard of them and offered to help.
Phuong had many certificates from school signifying her status as an excellent student. The mother was so proud showing me.

I also took 25kg of rice, two boxes of noodles and a big box of random food for them. She couldn't stop thanking me, the entire time, tears streaming down her face.
She told me that I was the answer to all her prayers and they couldn't believe when they were told that that the local community had found a foreigner to help them.
I guess my timing was impeccable. I think of this timing and how much it would have/ has affected Phuong mainly. I guess she is lucky I came during school holidays. If I came in September or later, the new school year would have already started and even if she had wanted to continue her schooling, she couldn't have. I guess someone did hear her prayers.
Phuong held it together the entire time..... Until they asked me to make a 'speech'.
As I began talking, that lump in my throat betrayed me and I began crying. I told them that they were the strongest, bravest people I had met. I spoke to Phuong and explained to her how important education is and how I want her to continue and not give up, that she has better chances of earning more money if she completes high school and hopefully university. And then the more she earns, the better position she will be in to help her family. She stood there, face still facing the floor or staring out into the distance, with an endless supply of tears streaming her face. I was in the middle hugging mother and daughter on either side of me wishing them well, telling them that I will also be praying to them to whatever and whoever will listen.

I felt helpless about the boys. What could I possibly do to help them? I had no idea. The little one needs blood transfusions in Hue, a city 6 hours away.
The older boy, can't even read to pass the time having being pulled out of school at the age of 9. He literally had been in that bed, staring at a wall for 20 years.
I had a handful of marbles at the bottom of my bag which I gave to the 10 yr old. His mum said, some days when he feels ok, he gets up an walks around. He was reluctant to take them at first but he did after some coaxing and thanked me ever so quietly. His little hand closed around them so tightly, like they were his most prized possessions.

After another million thank yous, an embarrassing amount of photos taken,  behind an even more mortifying poster with my name on it, we left.
Wow. No one said anything in the car until we reached the next house and the next family we were helping....

Ms Lan has three children under the age of five.
Her husband died last year at the age of 33. When I asked how they was a bit of a commotion as his death is put down to a 'mystery'.
Why a mystery?
He was burned alive.
Did someone burn him alive or did he set himself on fire? Was it an accident? Was he trying to light a fire which went horribly wrong?
It's unclear. His wife Ms Lan refuses to believe her husband killed himself. She told me this happened last year, a few months after baby number three was born.
She said that they were happy, he didn't have any real problems (I find astounding she doesn't classify hunger and poverty as their real problem).
Now, she was left alone with three girls, unable to work, trying with all her might not to place them in an orphanage.
The girls were a little wary of me, throwing me side way glances and turning away if I made eye contact.
They were filthy, no shoes, no toys, nothing for their stimulation.
The three year old had a huge lump on her neck.It looks like a huge pus infection that should be drained.
How to get to the hospital is first obstacle and second is how to pay for said hospital visit and medicines?
She had the same green plant mush herbal paste on it, just like the other mother trying to help her sons haemophilia pain with it. Apparently it cures big pus infections too.

She was very grateful for the boxes of food and especially the cow we bought her, which hopefully in 12 months we can impregnate.
We shall check on her next visit too....
So excited by cans of condensed milk!

The other family we donated a cow to, also has three children. Aged 7,8,9..... These had to be the filthiest children I have seen. Dirt was present in every crack and crease of their skin. The father was no better and it took all my strength to suppress my gag reflex as I interacted with him and stood next to him for photos. His shirt was stained with sweat and dirt.
My heart plummeted at their abysmal state.

His story? Mother ran out on him and the children without a backwards glance. She ran straight into the arms of another man and left the district.
He didn't see it coming at all. With a pained expression he said to me that if she wanted to leave him, he could cope with that, but she ran out and left her children too. 'How can a mother desert her children without a pang of guilt?'
A softly spoken man with gentle eyes and a pained smile, a farmer who is desperately trying to keep his children with him. A rare thing, really. Fathers usually place the children in the orphanages. It's not a man's job here to raise children.
I take my hat off to him and his efforts.
I brought a 25kg bag of rice, two boxes of noodles and a box of assorted goodies. He saw the 6kg washing detergent and his face lit up. He said he can wash their clothes now with soap and he was going to try make it last a year.

Let's hope this cow performs and gives him some good babies to sell!