Monday, October 12, 2009

Dishonesty or is it?

What is dishonesty? In the west it’s fairly clear cut what is honest and what is dishonest, but in Vietnam that is not the case. If people are very poor they might be blatantly dishonest to get what they want, while others may twist the truth slightly or greatly. Some are honest according to western standards but the thing is you just never know who is lying, who is twisting the truth to some degree and who is honest. When poor, that basic survival instinct is so strong.

I recently had many people we were trying to help blatantly lying to me. They did it in an unabashed way when asked if anyone else was helping them in any way; financially or practically. 15 families lied. My western standards or perhaps religious based judgments did not respond well. I felt personally hurt, personally assaulted, and felt how dare people be so unashamedly dishonest.

I am still coming to terms with this fact here; the fact that so many are in such dire poverty. I can respond in a high and mighty way and have to continually remind myself that my western values are not appropriate here and to forget them. I have to keep on putting myself in their boots. What would I do if I was really poor and had many children to feed, clothe and hopefully educate? I really do not know the answer as I have been blessed never to be in that situation. But I have had a very slight taste of financial struggle. When I had my first child my husband was a student and we were living off very little money. Toys for her were pots and pans and cooking spoons. Clothes for her I made from large dresses and jumpers I bought in jumble sales. We had food to eat and clothes to wear; we just had to watch the money carefully and had to creative about our survival. I had nothing to complain about we had all we needed. They have much less than I had; many have houses that blow away in a strong storm, houses that seriously flood several times each year, grandchildren to feed, clothe and school even though they have no money and are in their 70’s, and deserted mothers with a handful of children to try to bring up and feed on a few dollars a month.

The poor here struggle to have enough food. Crops fail frequently from strong winds, heavy rains and flooding. Education is a dream for many. Earning more than a pittance is hard for the grandparents who are left to parent, and for the single parents, as they can’t leave the children for long. They can’t afford childcare so that limits their ability to earn too. Schooling is seen as not only time available minus kids to earn, but also as a means to be cared for when old or older. The educated are often educated by a whole family or community and that child then owes the community or family for life and is responsible for caring for them financially in old age.

So what I call dishonesty as a westerner is really them telling me whatever they have to, just to get me to send their child to school. This is really important to their survival as it equals them being able to work and earn money or it can mean in the future they will be cared for by their educated child as maybe no one else will look after them in their dotage as there is no old age pension. So is this dishonesty or is this basic human survival?

I still have a pang every time I know someone has been forthrightly dishonest when they have been asked to be honest about their situation; asked if they are receiving any financial or practical help or assistance and then lie. This is a journey for me as well as for them , for me to understand poverty and true basic needs; those of human survival. For them I hope they will try being honest about their needs, to be able to meet me in honesty. But I still need to be realistic and remember most here are struggling to just survive and that I need to constantly put myself in their Vietnamese boots and not judge from an educated , moral, western perspective.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Just a few hours can change ones life dramatically

Last night I was blessed to spend a few hours in an exquisitely beautiful restaurant with lovely food and company. It was the final night of a tour I was facilitating. A few days prior to that I had to rearrange the trip so as to skip Hoi An due to typhoon Ketsana causing severe flooding and devastation there with unsafe, unsanitary conditions.

When typhoons hit other countries and communities we don't live in, and affect people we don't know, it's natural to feel for them, but there is usually no strong emotional connection. This time it was the town I live in, the communities I know, and some of the families and children Children’s Education Foundation – Vietnam works with that were affected. When a typhoon hits and when they no longer have their school, books or school uniforms they can't go to school or receive an education.

This was the worst typhoon to hit the area for several decades and no one was prepared for the degree of flooding there was. This town is used to flooding but only in a few streets of the town. This time the whole of the main town was under water as well as low lying areas around the town. Flooding took place rapidly with many lucky ones stranded on their second floor, while others had to abandon their homes and swim or wade through waist or shoulder high waters. Both basic Vietnamese and western style homes were buried under rapidly rising waters, resulting in possessions floating away or being saturated with muddy water.

What is the appropriate response in this situation when we are committed to helping very poor people? It's challenging as this is not the work C.E.F. does, so what is the appropriate response then. Because I live here I know this type of event will occur again and again; damage to homes and loss of possessions will continue. One response I had is that they are used to it and they are survivors. That response leaves me free to not respond, which is not appropriate.

In Vietnam the 'work' of each charity is registered and that is what they are obliged to do and that only. Our work is to support very poor females receive an education. But this time the only humane answer was to bend the rules and continue to bend them for as long as we need to.

Town electricity and water is on again and the clearing out of the thick mud that has settled everywhere is under way. There are putrid smells still and debris everywhere. The garbage collectors can't collect quickly enough resulting in rotting mountains of plant debris.

I will refer to two of the local families who we have been helping by paying the costs for their children to receive an education which includes school supplies, satchel, rain coats, uniforms, school fees and food. We are specifically helping these families right now as they lost many of their few possessions. The worst is over, but recovery takes time.

We have received some donations which are helping us get them back on their feet. Yesterday we provided more school books. Their school books were all at school but the school flooded badly and all books were lost. We have again provided school uniforms too. New pots and woks mean they can cook. Further donations would be appreciated to help them and others get back on their feet. See further down for banking information if you feel you can help.

* The first two photos are by Nadine Ziegeldorf

Linda Burn
Children’s Education Foundation – Vietnam
Founding Director

If you are in Australia or the US please deposit into the C.E.F. accounts. If in Hoi An call me and I can let you know what to purchase that will help bring some normality back to some of the families who were affected.

Please email me to let me know of any deposits:
Bank account:
Children's Education Foundation - Vietnam (Linda and Graeme Burn)
Commonwealth Bank
Account 10066894
BSB 062211

Bank Account
Children's Education Foundation - Vietnam
Citibank NA
Account 9953683821

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Danang Children Education Support Program

On Sunday I was really pleased we had hung in there to help some children from an isolated community. 13 children are now able to be in school; 12 in Danang and 1 in Dai Loc. It isn't just they are in school, they are in school due to us being able to find ways to remove the blockages that stopped secondary and high school being a feasibility; a simpe but expensive solution of providing uniforms, school books and supplies, accommodation and food.

It hasn't been a straight forward process, due to the dishonesty that can come with severe poverty. After a total of 4 interviews, including a visit to their homes in the community and their new homes on the mainland, we were able to determine how much financial support was essential for each child to be in school and to check that they had met our requirements.

Many questions came up in the process of trying to help this community. Why do we want to help them, who do we believe, how do we assess their poverty, why do they insist on lying, have we assessed accurately? Working in this field I am constantly challenged and wonder often if I have made the right decision. This was a new situation for us, a community that had been in isolation for a long time due to leprosy. These children and their families suffer from prejudice from their government and their society resulting in the parents and grandparents having to live in isolation. Although where they live is beautiful, their lives are challenging as it's isolated, hot, they just have a primary school, community hall, no shops or services.

Our hardest requirements to meet were that their children had to be looked after by family and in a safe envoronment on the mainland. Sounds logical, but some parents had planned on their children staying in boarding houses without a parent or relative to care for them although some of them are only 12 years old. Now the parents have committed to amazing care and have had to, and continue to jump hoops to make it possible. They deserve help and support as far as I am concerned. A couple of the mothers just go home to the community home for a few hours a day to feed the remaining family back there that are under the care of their father. They do domestic chores, collect sticks for the cooking fire, then return to Danang to cook and care for their child there. They sleep the night with them, then leave in the early morning to get home in time to cook breakfast at the other family home.

Due to the dishonesty we had to create contracts which they all accepted. They expressed gratitude and one lady who received the least, cried in gratitude. I feel happy that these bright children have a chance of a full education, a chance to have a different life to those of their parents and grandparents, one free of leprosy and hopefully, eventually free of prejudice.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dai Loc Orphanage

Last month we visited Dai Loc Orphanage to discover the truth, as I had been told two completely different stories; one was they urgently needed help there and one was they didn't.

The buidlings were in good condition, having recently been renovated and decorated by another charity. The rooms were sweet; nice wooden furniture and chequered curtains. The 44 children were either doing homework, sleeping or watching TV; noone was playing games or talking. Play was missing.

We met one of the mothers to hear her ideas about the childrens needs. She asked us to fund a girl to study vetinary science and then we discovered from the girl that she didn't even like animals: we then decided not to make our conclusions on what we heard, but on what we saw.

Conclusions: My lovely volunteer and her good friend wanted to have time with some children who needed play and companionship. These were the kids! The kids were keen to learn English. It was decided to start with English classes taught through activities and games.

Moving on - C & L's creative classes are going well. The kids enjoy themselves and are always thrilled to hear they will be returning the following week. C & L are very loving and sweet with the children; resulting in the kids coming out of their shells quickly.

More will be added as the weeks move on with a sandpit,break dancing and singing in the plans.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The forcast says rain for the next 10 days; that's fine for me as I have a dry home and dry clothes to return to

Tuesday 8th September

I looked this evening to see what the weather forecast was; they predict another 10 days rain.
After a week of rain it's feeling a little challenging to greet another 10 wet early mornings with enthusiasm. All my wet weather footwear is soggy and needs drying out. I have worn, and not had time to wash most of my black, grey and mud colored clothes and my waterproofs are as wet on the inside as the outside.

I have just decided to see this extended wet period positively; as after the following 10 days of rain we only have another 3 months more rain to go for this year. It could be worse.
I am very lucky really; I have a dry and welcoming home to go back to after a drenching. The large bouncy dog and meowing kitten greet me joyfully. I can have a hot shower, put some dry clothes on and slip on the slippers. These are simple luxuries for me, but may never be possible for many.

Right now P and her family are wet and have been for days under their pyrimid shaped home of corrugated metal panels. There is little reprieve for them. They can slip into a nearby relatives home for a few minutes here and there, but that's it, as there are already too many of them in there fighting and arguing. My assistant and I realized in our individual dry homes that they won't be dry for months.

CEF hasn't got funds to rehouse them. It's not work we do. We can find another organization to help, but that will take time and the thunder and lightening remind me there isn't time.

I have been torn about what to do due to it not being our area of work, but right now I have decided that we will find somewhere dry for them to live at least for the next 5 months of rain and winter weather. A mother with heart disease and two little children are at risk in such a vulnerable situation. With this decision I can got to sleep and start to find them a dry home tomorrow.

Any assistance would be greatly appreciated from them and from us at CEF. With thanks, Linda

Monday, September 7, 2009

Reflections on what to call the descendants of lepers?

Monday 7th September

Yesterday I was reflecting about a visit we did a week ago to do final assessments for educational support of children in an isolated leper colony. We agreed to support 13 excellent students there and yet we have no definite sponsors for them.

Why did we take them on? They are discriminated against and have tried many ways to get the support they need for their children's education and had not succeeded.

How can I talk about them without scaring or revolting people? I am asked if the children are contagious and whether it is responsible to school them with non-lepers.

What do I say? Where do I start? How do I refer to these beautiful children who are children or grandchildren of lepers? Leper grandchildren? Lepers' children? When asked whre do they live, the answer is in Leper Village. I am finding some people in this day and age are still discriminating, scared and concerned about the unknown aspects of lepers and leprosy. This is exactly what happens to the children in their own country; they are discriminated against and are considered untouchables by many.

I at least can name the program with a non-discriminating title; "The Da Nang Children's Education Support Program". That's true too; 12 of them that we have agreed to support are now living in Da Nang on the school days, with just one living far away in another area.

We sent a message to the community some weeks ago before school started to let them know there definitely would be support if all the children were well cared for, safe and not vulnerable in their school time accommodation on the mainland and that we would come to find out about it.

We were impressed with the care and determination the parents had to support their children have an education. Some mothers travel backwards and forwards daily to accomplish this. One mother arrives at the end of the school day, cooks for her daughter, they sleep together, then breakfast together before her daughter goes to school, then mum goes back to the rest of the family and cooks and looks after them, then works. The accommodation chosen for the children sounded good, but we felt a need to visit it all to make sure it was as appropriate as it sounded.

I believe 13 educated children will make a difference to their family and their community and I hope also to the Da Nang community, those they know at school and those they live with and interact with in the city.

I would also like to set up an enjoyable summer school program for them that will help them have greater confidence and self esteem, as well as fun.

Still needed:
a. Financial support for the program whether for an individual sponsorship or for the program itself.

Costs are high to run this program as to get to these families for visits we have to take transport by both land and sea. We don't just need to visit one site but two for each child, as we need to check on their Da Nang accommodation to make sure they are safe and are getting the support and help they need, and we require, on a daily basis.

b. Funds to develop an enjoyable summer school program aimed at developing confidence and self esteem.

c. Internet suggestions and support from those with experience in the above field (b.)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Photos related to CEF's first blog page

Dear CEF blog readers

Here are a couple of photos to share related to my first blog:

1.Solid walls are needed for the sweet family who just have matting and newspaper walls

2. Little P and her brother need dry housing for the wet season instead of their aluminium 'tent

See my first blog to know their stories.

With love and thanks to all those who help us to help others, Linda

Children's Education Foundation - Vietnam, First Blog

Children's Education Foundation - Vietnam
First Blog
September 5th, 2009

One morning in Vietnam

There is so much to write about and yet little time for such things, but my new Australian volunteer who I started to work with this week, is a modern non-technophobic woman and she tells me a blog is a good way to share the work Children's Education Foundation - Vietnam does. So after a lesson from her, here goes with the first attempt to share what we at CEF get up to!

I now have had a part-time assistant for 2 months. She is wonderful; conscientious and compassionate, as well as being fluent in English. What a blessing she is!

I now have had my new Australian volunteer for less than a week and wow it's hard to keep up with her! I am doubly blessed!

'Visits to the non-existent poor'
I say this as the area we visited has no listed poor according to those in higher places, so any requests from the poor in this area are ignored.

We went to visit a sweet, sweet family with two little girls that CEF is giving educational support to (due to the help from a recent CEF volunteer and his wife and extended family.Thank you to you all!). The mother in this family we visited had polio while quite young and can't use her legs, and is also terminally ill. Dad earns money taking people on his motorbike. He can't always work due to his wife's fluctuating health. We went to see if there were any more educational costs due soon, which there were: we were only too happy to help this humble family. The mum is taking natural herbs and her tumor is not growing; her health has stabilized.

Their home felt cold and damp in the early morning after 12 hours of torrential rains. They showed us where the rain had forced its way through the matting. They were cheerful about having caught most of the rain in buckets they had placed strategically on the wooden platform bed, where the 5 of them slept.

Still needed:
a.Funds for them to make some solid walls. Their walls at present are made from matting and layers of newspapers.

Next we went to visit a fishing family, who lived on a little fishing boat until recently but now it's not in good condition. We found them under their partial tent made of corrugated metal sheeting on some borrowed land. I had met beautiful little P once before at the school teachers' home where she went for private tuition. She had gone along and asked for private tuition for free as she wanted to learn, as her dream was to go to school. I wanted to meet the mum to discuss why they still weren't able to get land to live on after 2 years of making requests to those in higher places. Also I wanted to find out more about the mothers heart condition and health and what help she had received and what she needed.

As they live in this area of 'no poor', no one officially needs help, so no one receives help. She has had thyroid surgery, and is on drugs to see if it helps her heart condition. If it doesn't then she needs an operation she can't afford and if she doesn't have this operation she will die young. The 20 month old son and their daughter were sniffling the whole time we was there due to the chills they got in their 'tent' during the last 12 hour session of heavy rains. All their bedding and clothing, except what they were wearing, was hanging around the 'tent' drying out. We felt for them as this is just the beginning of the rainy season! After the visit we went off to pay the remainder of P's school fees.

Still needed:
a. A sponsor to support little P's educational needs until she finishes her education. We payed them anyway as how can one refuse to support a child who has the guts to ask for free private tuition!
b. A sponsor to pay for kindergarten for the little boy. I didn't say that they lost one son not long ago as he drowned in the nearby river and they are petrified of losing their other son and want him in kindergarten so he is safe.
c. A sponsor to pay for some accommodation for the family until they are granted some land to use.
d. Later maybe we will need contacts of organizations that will help with heart surgery for mum. She will be on drugs for some months still.

As this is a way to share our work, I would also love any questions, thoughts or replies at
For those in the USA please do get in touch with me through

For privacy and confidentiality: I have tried to be 'discreet' . I won't use the names of Vietnamese children and their parents or others. They are all real people though!