Thursday, February 3, 2011

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.

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