Saturday, August 19, 2017

Twins for Hope - June 2017 Mission (Part 2)

Following the visit to the leper colony, Mai and I made our way to Pleiku airport to catch a plane to Da Nang, a flight of a duration of about 1 hour.
With a population of 1,4 million, Da Nang is a coastal city in central Vietnam known for its sandy beaches and history as a French colonial port. The local population is very proud of the infrastructure of the city. 

It is always a pleasure to go back to my favorite hotel, the Sofia Boutique Hotel. Clean and affordable, this establishment is renowned for the friendliness of its staff who is always making everything they can to make you feel at home. My friend Vivian, who is the manager, is a strong collaborator of mine and is my way in to go visit people in the community and in the local hospitals.

After securing a motorbike for the duration of our stay, we went to purchase notebooks, pencils and milk to bring over to 20 children in a local hospital cancer ward, along with toothpaste, toothbrushes and pain medication brought over from Canada.

It took a bit of effort and negotiation to have access to the cancer ward... and once we got there, we realized there were only 7 children left: some had been discharged, while others sadly did not make it. The children who are still there were happy to receive their little care package.

Mai and I left the hospital feeling somewhat defeated: having the best intentions in the world is not enough. It takes a lot of guts and persuasion to do what we do. You need to believe in what you do to find the strength to cross the roadblocks that constantly seem to be in your way.

The next day saw us making our way to the Red Cross Vocational centre where we purchased our incense sticks last December. We placed an order for 50 kg of rice to be delivered on site and got there at the same time as the delivery guy. We sat with the director of the centre and his assistant and went over what Twins for Hope does and how we have been operating. The director gave us a tour of the facilities and was interested by our plans of bringing over Canadian professionals from different fields. Véronique (chair of the Board) and myself also have the intention of providing information on fertility awareness to the various centres we support, and Red Cross Danang showed interest in our project. 

Sixty youth with disabilities stay at the centre where they learn to make embroidery, purses, incense, silk flowers and printing. Twins for Hope will import in Canada some of their beautiful purses to sell for fundraising purposes.
After an uplifting visit of the Red Cross Vocational Centre in Da Nang we made our way back to HCMC on June 30 by plane.

With only a few days left until my return back to Canada, Mai and I got very busy meeting with partners who share the same goals. It's always nice to share experience and benefit from each other. 

One of the centres we support employs youngsters with disabilities. They sew different kind of products including canvas bags of all shapes. A way for us to fundraise and generate money is to sell bags to suit the needs of business in Canada. A Kingston local bakery ordered from us reusable baguette bags and we have several more orders being processed as we speak. We take great pride in ensuring our clients are satisfied with a quality handmade product delivered by people who otherwise would have nowhere to go if it wasn't from this centre.

We purchased more pop up greeting cards as they have been very successful and we anticipate a big demand with the Holiday season approaching.

While in Saigon, we also paid a visit to our good old friend Papa at Ca May Man and brought over provisions of food and other necessities. For those of you who are new, Papa is a Japanese man who lives in Saigon. He has taken under his wings youngsters who suffer from various disabilities and he teaches them how to work, while providing them with 3 meals a day and a safe place to sleep. They make paper mâché Lucky Fish and used to mainly ship them out to Japan to be sold in pagodas. For technical reasons with exportation, it has been increasingly difficult for them to fulfill orders to be shipped abroad. Papa's mission truly touches me. There is something about this man that just makes you feel like helping them out is the right thing to do. We purchased 1000 Lucky Fish from them in December 2016 and we still have a few hundreds to sell. Of course, all profits go back to help our people in Vietnam.

Our last work day in Saigon saw us visit a new centre, the Gia Dinh School where 80 children with Down Syndrome and autism go every morning to learn the basics to function in daily life. Partly funded by the adjacent catholic parish, the school however functions at a deficit and needs support. We had a good conversation with the assistant director who asked if we could provide help in acquiring a PA system and craft supplies. The children learn how to make crafts the school can sell to fundraise. Twins for Hope is planning on purchasing various goods we will offer in the near future.


I came back on July 4th, via Seoul. This mission was very productive and both Mai and myself feel we made giant steps in securing our relationships with our centres and our partners in Vietnam.

We have launched a gofundme Back to School campaign until mid-September. Our goal is $3000 which we intend to split between 3 centres to provide school supplies and pay for tuition for children reaching higher levels.

Please consider supporting us in one of the following ways!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Twins for Hope - June 2017 Mission (Part 1)

Twins for Hope went on its second official mission since its creation: Executive Director Johanne Wagner and Mai Nguyen, our Vietnamese representative, had a productive time from June 26 to July 4, 2017. They did what they love doing the most: helping children in Vietnam, while meeting new partners who share the very same passion.
Our adventures started in the province of BaRia: we secured a room in a hotel sitting on the beautiful coastline, in Vung Tau, by the East Sea. Twins for Hope supports two centres in Ba Ria province: a vocational centre in Long Hai where 160 children attend training, and a centre run by a congregation of sisters where they care for 60 youngsters, most of them suffering from disabilities. Twins for Hope offered 3 bicycles to 3 children in Long Hai: 

Thao (2001): Thao’s mom passed away and her father left. She lives with her uncle’s family and they are very poor. Thao has only completed a grade 5. She studies sewing.

Thuy (2005): Her father passed away and her mother left. Thuy lives with her 80-year-old grandma. She is in grade 1.

Tuan (2000): His father passed away. He lives with his mother who fishes. He is studying in grade 3 and is learning to fix motorbikes.

In Ba Ria, Mai and Johanne offered the sisters cooking seasonings, toothpaste, toothbrushes, Advil, dental floss, soap, cleaning products and diapers. We marveled at the great interactions between the children and their caregivers. Those sisters are totally dedicated to the well being of the residents and we were pleased to see how friendly everyone is.



Following those 2 visits in Ba Ria province, Mai and Johanne made their way back to Ho Chi Minh City to catch a flight to Pleiku, in Gia Lai province (700 m above sea level) where we met with two valuable partners who helped us access our destinations by way of motorbike. Over hills, then dodging livestock (chickens, water buffalos, cows, dogs, pigs, goats) on a dirt road filled with potholes, we made our way to Chư Sê (32 km) where we met a 56 year old man who takes care of 72 children who otherwise would have nowhere else to go.

A note on the Father:
About 10 years ago, he was in a village and saw a group of villagers trying to bury the corpse of a mother who had just died in labor. They believed it was the baby’s fault. They were going to bury both of them, the baby alive, stuffed in the mother’s tummy. Dad saw this, grabbed the baby and started running. The villagers caught up with him, but the man promised to raise the child, following her ancestors’ traditions.
As time went on he ended up with more and more kids under his care.

Over half of the children are homeschooled by the father while the other ones are able to attend some sort of education outside of the home. The oldest is even attending University, thanks to the help of benefactors who pay for her tuition! Number 72 of the children had arrived the day before our visit: abandoned and found in the woods nearby, he was brought over to the house. Newborn baby boy, maybe one week old at most, barely 2 kg, he had not been examined by anyone. Johanne, mom of 9, took a look at him, checking for the obvious, but her and Mai felt he should be seen by a health care professional. Twins for Hope paid for transportation of the man and the child to the nearest hospital and also paid for the medical consultation. The baby boy was found to be healthy, to everyone’s relief. Twins for Hope provided blankets for the household, as well as baby formula, diapers and baby wipes to help out with the new addition.


Running out of time on that day with several mechanical issues with a motorbike, the crew opted to postpone our scheduled visit to Kon Tum to the following day. Also, the weather seemed a bit too uncertain and we were concerned darkness would catch us.

 The next morning, we took a bus to Kon Tum (48 km) to go visit a colony for lepers and assess how we can help. The Sisters of Providence from France initially created the village when they decided to gather the lepers of the area and care for them. The village has 1000 people living in home settings where the 70 active lepers live with their families. The sisters cook meals for the lepers daily and they come to the central kitchen to get them. There are 150 children in the village, and add to that number several minority children from the surrounding areas who come to the village daily for schooling or childcare. Some of them come from families unable to care for them and they stay in dormitories in the camp where the sisters care for them. The conditions are extremely basic. We have offered the Sisters to help them with school supplies, over the counter medication for the children, tuition for older children who need to attend school outside the camp, and other necessities as the needs arise.

Yes, we did see lepers. No, we were not scared. Leprosy does not jump on you. We saw people with beautiful smiles, who were obviously happy to see people who care enough to go visit them. I can’t wait to bring over a group of people interested in volunteering for a set period of time. This day was a memorable one!

Part 2 coming very soon... Stay tuned!

You are enjoying our adventures and what we do? Please visit our ''It's Also Back to School in Vietnam'' fundraising campaign and help us reach our goal!