Sunday, February 27, 2011

A meeting with the Hoa Van leper community children that CEF - Vietnam is assisting to receive an education

It was time to make payments for term 2 of the academic year and to discuss term 1 results with the children from Hoa Van leper community that CEF - Vietnam is helping.

Every time I see the children I notice their beauty and feel how blessed they are to have good health and not be affected by leprosy like their parents or grandparents whose bodies and health have been destroyed.

Even though we first met the children one and half years ago most of them are extremely shy still. For the first time one of the girls practiced her English on me; which impressed me.

Thirteen of the fourteen children were there with their parents for this meeting. The fourteenth girl lives with an uncle about two hours from where we met, so we agreed she could meet me and Duyen (my right hand)at the home-office later that day.

This was the first time we had a more formal meeting in a People's Party Office. Ms Nga the head of the Vietnam Woman's Union had organized a large conference room for us to use with fans and bottles of water to keep us cool; which we needed with all the people in the room generating heat.

Besides the children and parents there was the headman, the assistant headman of the Hoa Van community, Ms Nga, Duyen, myself, Brenda an English supporter and Bruce and Elaine from Canada (well they live in Canada but I should say Bruce is an American). Bruce and Elaine have been amazingly supportive of this project since we started it. They came along to see the children they and their friends have been helping to receive an education. Unbeknown to them I wanted to honor not just three of the students, but them as well, for their commitment to this program.

To their surprise they were presented with a certificate by the headman and very coyly presented with some flowers by Kim Anh who Bruce and Elaine sponsor. I wanted them to meet all the children they and their friends have been educating too.

Bruce and Elaine helped to honor three students with certificates and a little money. Hong Thuy had the best results and its the first time for her to have been first although her results are always good. Thanh Tung and My Duyen have both had consistently good results for three terms now. It's a real achievement as school gets harder term by term.

Before Bruce and Elaine and Brenda left Bruce and Elaine presented friendship pins of the Canadian and Vietnamese flags crossing over each other to the headman, assistant headman and Ms Nga. Ms Nga attached hers to her blouse immediately and was very touched by this gesture. We took photos of all of this and some are attached.

After our guests left we met with each child and discussed their results and encouraged them to work harder as it's needed as they are all nearing the end of their high school years when its hard to maintain a high standard. Many of them need good results to carry out their career choices. One boy who wanted to be a doctor last year now wants to be a train driver as he struggled with his science subjects this term and didn't do well in them. Several want to be doctors and many wish to be teachers, one wants to be a banker, one a journalist, one an engineer and one a business woman.

We hope they will be able to achieve good results for their remaining education and have their desired careers become a reality.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thanking all CEF Sponsors, Donors, Supporters and Volunteers

It's now the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 here in Vietnam. Children's Education Foundation has had another year of growth with many achievements and is moving forward in its development and stability. This growth is not possible without the help of many others. We have been blessed with more help this year; from donors, sponsors, advisors and new board members and volunteers. All this support has meant we have been able to help more children to go to school to receive an education.

There have been so many who have given of their time and their hearts and I thank each and every one of you. Every single person is so valuable and essential to make CEF work. The photos in this blog are just a few of you who have been so helpful this year and here I mention only a few of the many who have helped us so graciously.

No matter how hard I, Duyen, our coordinators and volunteers work, we can't help anyone without money; without funds from you the sponsors and donors. So thank you from the children, the parents and from CEF for the much needed monetary support that is crucial to each and every child, for them to have a future with choices.

Without Duyen, my assistant, I would not be able to carry out a lot of CEF's work. Some of what she does is translate, transcribe and work with the government authorities we are required to work with here in Vietnam (in Vietnamese). She works with our coordinators to keep an eye on each project and to request letters from the children and school reports. Parents and guardians are contacted directly as well to check on how the children are doing. On top of that she drives me to the local families so we can meet with them personally.

Without our country coordinators and managers our work would not be possible too. Stephen in the USA, and Graeme in Australia, assist with supporting in many ways from phone calls, to thank you notes, receipts, as well as dealing with government authorities in the States and Australia.

Our board members have given wonderful support and wise counsel and have given time when all of them have a busy schedule. Also wonderful ideas have come from our board meetings. Our advisors have advised wisely, our volunteers have volunteered with all their heart.

Most of CEF's work is done by our volunteers. They are helping in a myriad of ways, for example our board members and advisors, our coordinators and in-country managers, including myself are all volunteers. Without our volunteers we would be greatly limited. Most of them are working from their computers and phones at home in Australia and America, with six here in Vietnam.

Chu is the busiest of our volunteer coordinators; he helps with organizing school payments, children’s letters and photos. He helps organize our trips to Phuc Le to check up on all the children. Also he coordinates a lot of the work with the local Catholic priest of the community who checks on the children regularly as well as referring children; Catholic, Buddhist and children with no religion.

Other volunteer coordinators are Buddhist nuns and the local headman from Hoa Van leper community. Their help is valuable and smoothes the path for us to be able to actually meet the children officially, help the children get into school and make the payments.

Bruce and Elaine have been invaluable volunteers in helping to keep many children from the leper community in school this year as well as last year. They also are wise and have been wonderful advisors.

Miriam has helped find educational funds and sponsors. As she is a social worker and family therapist her opinions and ideas have been very helpful. Over the last few months she also has taken on unusual duties. She took care of me when I became very ill with dengue fever, then again after I had an accident and broke my leg! Her help has been invaluable!

Without the funds raised at fundraising events we wouldn't be able to help so many children. Help with these events is always appreciated. I thank those who helped me raise funds over the last year. Lynette helped with masses of chopping and making a You Tube presentation of that event and Lori helped at another event. Both these events enabled many children to continue their schooling. Lori also put on a lovely event at her and Andy's home, which enabled three more children to be sponsored. Stephen helped with shopping and also offered his spacious apartment for two of the three events making it possible to have many attend.

Our volunteers with graphic skills this year are Shanti and Emma. Emma has created a beautiful website that will be up very soon. Shanti took richly colored photos of our children in Phuc Le, their homes, gardens and even their pets. With some of these she created a beautiful CEF calendar. I have enjoyed using it and the sale of it has helped raise funds for some of these children to have desks, chairs and lamps so they can easily do their homework.

While Shanti was in Phuc Le she also assessed each family to see if their level of help needed to change. Poverty can change for the better if they inherit a business or change work to something more lucrative. Their situations can deteriorate quickly if the main bread winner is sick, injured or dies.

Our reliable yearly volunteer Mr. Brian, who lived and worked here in Vietnam for a few years, but now lives in Darwin comes over to check on our Phuc Le education project and carries out different research each time as well. On his last visit he visited all the children that had recently been referred to CEF to sponsor. We had some basic information but he did more thorough assessments and took photos of them.

Thao Co helped with two trips to Phuc Le in the last year, leaving behind her family and work to help with this project. She is a young, strong Vietnamese woman and is a good example for the girls from the farming community to see what is possible for a young Vietnamese woman; a wife, a mother, university educated, with a good job as well as good heart and love of doing charity work.

Morwenna and Mike kindly house sat for me for two months allowing me to go away for a board meeting and several fund raising events and cared for and played with my animals too.

Lien, who cleans and takes care of,the CEF office and grounds with her husband Son, has also introduced CEF to children she knows who really have needed help. One girl's mother is dying of brain cancer and the family couldn't afford to keep her in school. In another situation the mother died from a stroke when her second child was three months old, and the father could no longer afford to keep his daughter in school. In the most recent case the child's parents have both died and she is cared for now by a grandmother and aunt. Lien comes on home visits sometimes too. Once when we were doing a home visit a toy needed mending and Lien offered to mend it there and then. She house sits for me when I can't get a westerner to house sit and cares for not only the house and grounds but, the dog, cat and fish as well.

We are all interconnected; on our own we can achieve very little, but with caring support we can achieve a lot.

I am so touched that so much help has manifested over this year and I thank each of you so much for your good hearts from my heart,


Linda Burn
Founding Director
In Country Manager - Vietnam

'Helping Girls Grow to be Women with Choices'

'Tet' ~ Vietnamese New Year

The new year in many Asian countries, including Vietnam, starts with the first month of the lunar calendar. It usually falls around the end of January or at the beginning of February.

'Tet' is the Vietnamese name for new year. I was told it comes from the French for head; 'la tĂȘte'. The story goes that during the time it was a French colony it was given this name, referring to the beginning of the year, or head of the year.

It’s a time of beginning and renewal and each person makes every effort they can to start the new year with a clean slate. Homes are cleaned and painted, old things are thrown away and new replacements bought and all debts paid off, old grievances dealt with and forgiveness is given.

They also have haircuts and make or buy a complete set of new clothes to start Tet with. They celebrate the new year with family and friends; gifts and lucky money are given and there is much feasting.

In towns the streets are lined with plants waiting to be purchased to take to ones business and home to add some of the auspicious colors; the reds, oranges and yellow-golds. Everyone should have a few different snacks available for guests; watermelon seeds, preserved cumquats, candied coconut, sweets or cookies. No matter how poor, everyone tries to have a plant and a few sweets and drinks.

Alcoholic drinks are overly plentiful pre-Tet, over Tet and post-Tet. Many men drink heavily and the accident and death rate climbs over this period. In principle this annual time of celebration, of giving gratitude and starting anew is a wonderful idea.

What does this mean in reality for the poor Vietnamese; the poor become poorer and more stressed. Stress abounds; arguments and physical abuse are more common and theft greater around Tet. This year theft of dogs has been greater too as dog meat sells for a high price to those with money; it's an old traditional dish to create warmth in the body in the very cold weather, which there has been a lot of recently. Exhaustion I see in the faces of many this Tet; not happy and relaxed ones, as they have been working more to earn extra to pay for all the expenses of Tet.

I enjoy the bounty of the brightly colored flowering shrubs and the flowers, but don't look forward to Tet, as I see increased suffering and not much joy amongst the poor. Tet is wonderful for those with, but not for those without. Each year it reminds me more and more of the western Christmas holiday season; how the Christmas trees, the decorations and lights are so beautiful and how it was an honored birthday celebration of Jesus, but how it is mainly a time of year for eating, drinking and materialism now. Suicide is greater here pre and post Tet as it is in the west pre and post Christmas which indicates something is out of kilter with how they are celebrated now.

As with anywhere there are still many here and in the west who truly express the spirit of Tet and Christmas without materialism and with true inner joy and love for their family and friends and are left with wonderful heartfelt feelings each year.

Chuc Mung Nam Moi (Happy New Year in Vietnamese)! I hope it will be a good one for you all; one full of contentment and love, compassion and care for others.
Yours, Linda

News from Miriam our Volunteer Social Worker and Family Therapist

I have been volunteering with Children’s Education Foundation for a little over three months, and in that time I have been lucky enough to see a number of children attain the dream of receiving an education with the invaluable help of CEF.

I have been coming to Hoi An over the last six years and I have helped a number of different charities in that time. CEF was attractive to me because it’s a small charity with very limited funding. I have been impressed with the careful interventions applied and the huge differences that have been made.

I have visited the far reaches of Quang Nam Province to visit children in their homes as well as those more local to us here in Hoi An. Some are living in graveyards; only the most poverty stricken will live there as they have no other choice. Many of them are very afraid of the ghosts of the ancestors who are buried in the graveyard; so our advice has been sought about the ghost's on two occasions. This is quite culturally acceptable here, as everybody believes in ghosts, especially malevolent ones.

Recently a letter was received from a little girl, aged 8. She wrote a heartfelt letter about needing help. Both her parents died when she was still an infant and she now lives with her elderly grandmother and an Auntie; or rather they live in the hallway outside another family member’s small apartment. They had insufficient bedding for our cold weather and the child had no warm clothing. The environment in which they lived we did not know about until we visited. Home assessments are so important not only to verify the situation but also to give a picture of what might be needed for a child to attend school. Most of the time paying the school fees and school related costs is what is needed, but at other times we need to consider other family members needs; ones that are important to be take into account for the child to attend school.

Another little girl’s mother has a brain tumor. How can you send a child to school when the mother needs money for medication, the child will only feel guilty, as though she is contributing to her mother's poor health because they are using money to sent her to school instead of paying for her mother's medication. There are other expenses; shoes, uniform, insurance, books, perhaps a raincoat or bike (to be able to get to school as sometimes it is too far to walk to school), and then there is tuition which is not an optional extra, but a way for the teachers to earn some extra money as they are on very low wages. Some schools provide lunch, but it is not an optional extra, and must be paid for. If the families are very poor they may not even have a birth certificate so the first thing that CEF has to do is get a birth certificate. To go to school here in Vietnam is a complex business.

In the case of the little girl who had lost her parents and wrote to CEF asking for help, we were very fortunate that the sponsor considered her situation, and sent an extra $50. With this money we were able to purchase a very warm blanket for them and also some good quality secondhand winter clothes. The aunt earns very little and has about 30,000 Vietnam dong a day for food and that is about $1.50. She feeds the three of them on that; even here in Vietnam that is not enough so their diet is very poor consisting mainly of rice and vegetables. The price of rice has more than doubled in the last few years and the poor can’t even afford much rice, which is their staple food.

Thanks to the help of the sponsor the family are now able to send the child to school, the child does not need to feel guilty about it and therefore will be able to concentrate on her studies. She now has warm clothes to wear; this is not only good for her health but also helps her self esteem. Being a child without a mother and father in Vietnam is hard as family is considered very important. Children in this situation suffer with low self-esteem due to being teased about their situation and being poor. So even if you have an Auntie who is doing her best for you it is hard without a Mother and a Father.

In CEF there are many hard decisions to make. Sometimes there are more children to help than sponsors, and a decision has to be made who to help first although they all need equal help. Sometimes medications are needed for a mother to relieve her suffering and that of her child, but as funds are only provided for education there is no one to pay for the medications. Trying to help those in need sometimes can be painful for all concerned.

However, I would like to thank all of the sponsors of the children of CEF on behalf of the children. I hope that this short addition from me will help you to understand just how invaluable you all are and what a huge difference you are making to the lives of these children.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Making CEF Sustainable

When people think of sustainability they don't have the same thoughts; some will think of ethical consumerism, permaculture, renewable energy or green building. Most don't put sustainability and charities together in their minds. Charities can apply some element of sustainability to most of their work and it's important to consider how we can do this.

Children's Education Foundation is working towards being more sustainable. The contracts for the educational support of our children so far have included a request for the parents or guardians and children to consider how the CEF student could share their educational knowledge with others. Shortly the contracts will be changed to include a list of ways they can very specifically give back. Two examples of this are that they could help a younger sibling with homework, or they could teach literacy or numeracy to a parent who hasn't this knowledge.

We want to see our families move out of poverty of course. We already have seen some of their lives change considerably simply because they don't have to struggle to find the funds for their child or children to go to school. For others it is more challenging to move out of dire poverty even when they have some help.

Internationally microfinance has been considered as one of the ways to help with poverty reduction. Some criticize it and don't feel it's the answer. I personally decided to do an experiment to see if micro loans can work. I chose to help two families and it has been a successful experiment. We gave one loan to a family about five months ago and to the other around three months ago. Both families have been paying their loans back at the required rate and on time. The most exciting aspect of the experiment is that already they are not struggling to survive to the same degree. Also each have expressed gratitude for the opportunity to take action in reducing their poverty. I felt it was an empowering experience for them, instead of the overwhelming one of survival. They now knew they had a means to change their lives.

To give this experiment the best chance of success, my assistant Duyen, and I, discussed every aspect of the loan-giving, until we felt we had some simple solutions. The families are in my local community, making it easy to keep in contact with them, as well as it being convenient and quick to collect repayments. We decided that the loans and the repayments had to be small enough so it didn't feel overwhelming for them. Also we had known the families some time and knew each of their situations well and their personalities. Already we were helping one child in one family and two in the other with educational support. We knew that they would consider that fact, and that if they didn't pay the loans back, and on time, that they risked losing that support. Everything was made as official as possible even though we didn't know if this experiment would work; we drew up a contract and had it notarized at a local government office.

Another aspect we are working with is to make sure CEF continues whether I am dead or alive. Decisions made for CEF's future included simplicity, keeping CEF small and manageable, making sure we have all our procedures and contacts recorded and that there is always someone else who can replace me or my assistant.

Considering that in the last four months I have had both dengue fever and a motorbike accident it's a very sensible course of action! And just to make it clear I don't plan on dying for several decades; but life is unpredictable and I am just making sure we can continue to give each child CEF helps a future with choices!