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