About a month ago, I volunteered at Boston’s biggest annual Vietnamese event: the Tet Festival! For those who are unfamiliar with Tet, VTP has featured a wide array of articles including what to do (and what not to do) on Tet.
Tet in Boston brought together the community for cultural entertainment and performances from local talents. There were numerous booths and local vendors. Those who were feeling lucky that day can place bets at tens of game tables. For a California boy (such as myself), the welcomed custom of appreciating spring and Tet usually meant enjoying the festivities in the outdoors. Southern Californians know what I mean – the Tet festival extravaganza next to Bolsa Grande High.
Where do Bostonians go for a taste of culture in zero-degree weather…? Harbor Middle School. Yes, boys and girls, we had our Tet festival in the gym of a middle school. My day volunteering at the event was predictable like all the other years – except 2008 when I unexpectedly met Nhu Loan (jealous?). 2010 was different. I was very fortunate to run into Van from VietHope, a nonprofit organization hoping to “provide access to education to financially disadvantaged students in Vietnam”.
Unlike the other years where I would come home from the event tired but satisfied, I came home that night in deep contemplation. The stories and personal accounts of VietHope volunteers made me think about the hundreds of children who had crossed my path within the past 5 years. VietHope volunteers have graciously shared their stories with our readers, please listen to their heartwarming accounts:
~Tim Bui ~
“Last summer, we joined four other families to Vietnam to do charity work and to introduce our children to our country. We visited several cities and villages from way south to almost the 17th parallel, building houses for the poor, giving bicycles to students, wheelchairs and prosthetic legs to the handicapped, and distributing food to orphanages. The food made quite an impression on our children. They saw how beautiful Vietnam is and also saw first-hand the meaning of poverity – “homes” with mud floor that could not keep occupants dry in normal rain, people drinking and washing their clothes from the same ponds where water buffalo soak, children without shoes, laborers toil for one or two dollars a day, orphanages without running water, handicapped people using bamboo sticks as artificial legs. There is still so much suffering… One event that made the most impact on me was a walk in downtown Saigon. One late night, as I was snapping pictures of Saigon night life with my camera, a young girl at the age of about 16 to 18 approached me and asked if I wanted to go on a date, in broken English, assuming that I am a foreigner, for my being too fat for a typical Vietnamese. I turned her down, but then watched her as she walked away. Two hundred yards further, she accosted another man, probably offering the same thing. A sad feeling overwhelmed me. If I were her father, I would be heart broken. Denying education is the most effective way to eliminate or reduce one’s future. The contrary is also true. Giving education is the best way to live one’s life out of darkness.“
What would that girl’s life have been like today if she were given a college education. Tim’s account caused my heart to ache; I wanted to hear more, to know more.
I then heard…
“Walking 20 kms and staying for 2 weeks near the market, these Sapa girls were selling bracelets and wallets to tourists for less than 1 penny which took them at least 1-2 days to make. Be Thu asked me “Chi ten la vi? Chi o dau?” (What is your name? Where do you live?) She proceeded to give me a bracelet as a sign of friendships. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by at least half a dozen girls age 6-12 offering to give me these knick knacks that they had spent days laboriously making. I only spent 1.5 days in Sapa, but was struck by the poverty of the locals, mortality rate, and lack of modernity. When I finished my breakfast to return to the tour bus on our way back down the mountains, one girl asked me if she could have my address to write to me. None of these girls knew how to read, they spoke their native dialect and not completely fluent in vietnamese. How would they have money for ink, paper and stamp to send me the letter? My heart ached and I didn’t want to go. I also felt a profound sadness for these girls who might be married off when I come back for another visit in a few years to a man perhaps twice their age, with no opportunities for pursuit of their own happiness which may include education.
My return from Vietnam that year hit a nerve within me that still lingers to this day. On those tough days when life and work is just frustratingly difficult, my vivid memories of those faces and sad eyes of Be Thu and other Sapa girls remind me of how fortunate and blessed I am. It also fortified my commitment to VietHope, to help children in all regions of Vietnam who are poor and most deserving of the hope and possibility of something better than the status quo of their existing life. It made me realize that education was their access to these doors of opportunities.”
Education can save lives. It is during those late night cram sessions where my body is so fatigued that it barely functions on IV caffeine drips that I become revitalized to study more because of the images of the girl on the Saigon street or the Sapa girls. I am alive and doing well because education has been fueling my mind and body.
Please support VietHope in their noble efforts to bring education opportunities for the children of Vietnam.
VietHope was started in 2002 by Boston-area college students and young professionals.
A reading club of youths met on a monthly basis to discuss vietnamese literature of famous novels and poems. The group started discussing what they can do in addition to discussing their love for vietnamese literature to make Vietnam, their beloved homeland, a more prosperous country. As they were students attending elite universities in Boston, they understood that their educational opportunities and the promise of the successful career and comfortable life it will afford them upon graduation was unattainable to their counterparts in Vietnam. Highly ambitious with hearts of gold, the members of the reading club formed VietHope with the mission: “VietHope shares the dream that Vietnam shall become a prosperous country where every child will grow up with the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.VietHope’s mission is to provide access to education to financially disadvantaged students in Vietnam.
VietHope is dedicated to Vietnam’s socioeconomic development, which we believe must be based on long-term perspectives and sustainable results. It is our conviction that good education is a requisite to attaining this goal.”
How to Help
– Cocktails night, House parties, BBQs, and any other events with donations going towards VietHope
– Cultural shows, sports tournaments, walk-a-thons, bike-a-thons with a mini-presentation about VietHope to guests
– Start your own chapter of VietHope to recruit volunteers, raise awareness, support VietHope.
– Contact local magazine and/or radio to promote VietHope to your community. Add VietHope as your friend on facebook, twitter and other social networking sites. Post events related to VietHope and invite your friends to attend those events.
– For questions or suggestions, contact VietHope at email@example.com