Thursday, August 27, 2020

Student stories ~ Guest blog by CEF's Kim Chi

 Doing termly home visits provides us with the current information on the children and families in CEF’s sponsorship program. By doing this, we then can look at the ways to support them better.  But, collecting all the information of the children to write their stories helps us to understand their backgrounds, how they came to CEF's family, what challenges they have overcome and how CEF education sponsorship has changed their lives. 

I’ve done seven stories of CEF’s students and each story brought me different emotions. I admired their extraordinary will to overcome every difficulty and attain many achievements in their lives and studies. On top of these, they showed they could make their futures different and break the cycle of family poverty through education.

(Photos of some of the students written about recently from when they were young, all by Brian Kuhl) 

Lan's letter to CEF telling her story of challenge and hope ~ Translated by CEF's Kim Chi

                          Lan and her mother ~ 20103 (Photo by Brian Kuhl)

Dear CEF,

I hope this letter finds you in good health. 

I am very lucky to receive your care and your support. I am the youngest child in a family with three children. When I was born, my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. My father had to take out a bank loan to cover her treatment and pay for all our education expenses. Being aware of our difficult situation, three of us always tried hard to be good students. Unfortunately soon after sailing through the university entrance exams with a score of 29/30 and being accepted into the Hanoi University of Science and Technology, my brother developed mental illness. We were very shocked. My parents’ hope of breaking the poverty cycle of the family was dashed at the time as my brother was then not capable doing his university course. My mother was very upset, but she always encouraged my elder sister and me to study harder and take good care of our health. Although she was very ill, she still worked really hard on farms, putting aside her earnings each day to pay for our school expenses in the hope that we would have a good education. 

She finally left us forever on the day when my sister had her university entrance exams. I was in grade 7 at that time, so I understood that now on I had lost my mother, her love and her care. My father became the sole breadwinner as well as being responsible for the children and the house. He had an accident a few years ago when working on a building site, so he now suffers with a lot of pain due to that accident and spinal degeneration and can’t do any physically demanding work. But, he had to work far from the family as a construction laborer and send money home. My father was worried a lot when he worked far away because my brother has still on medications. He borrowed a lot of money to take my brother everywhere for assessments and treatment in the hope that his health would be more stable and he would stop annoying our neighbors. My father is getting old so his health is not good at all. Also, he has ulcerative colitis and often lacks sleep. Sometimes, he has to stop working for a while due to his poor health. My father has taken on a lot of responsibilities while he is also getting older. I am well aware of my family’s situation, so I wish I could help my father more. Although I have to deal with many challenges, I will never stop my schooling. I always try hard to be a good student. I’m now going to start a new important journey in my life which is the final exam to get into university. I want to go to university to have a good job in the future, and then I can help my family.

CEF has been helping me since I was in grade 7. This support has greatly helped to reduce the financial burden for my family. I highly appreciate and am very grateful for my sponsorship and your support so that I can go on with my education. I am now confident enough to make my dream come true.

I wish you good health, happiness and success.

Once again, thank you so much for your support.

Best regards,

Bui Thi Huong Lan

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Van Anh's story ~ Translated by CEF's Kim Chi

 My name is Van Anh and I grew up in Thai Binh province in the North of Vietnam. There are five people in my family and I am the youngest child. My father used to be an experienced builder, working on building sites. My mother has been working on farms, growing rice and vegetables. When I was 10 years old, my brother had to go to Ho Chi Minh city, to work to totally support himself. My parents had to take care of me and my sister as well as trying to keep us in school. My sister went to college and studied to become a teacher. She wanted to live near my family, so she had to work with yearly contracts. She is teaching locally on too low an income. My parents are worried about her life a lot because she also needs to take care of her own family. Although my parents were not so well, they wanted me to go to university to have a better life and break the poverty cycle of our family. 

My father has suffered from a herniated disc and spinal degeneration which has affected his ability to do construction work a lot. He had to stop working whenever he felt a lot of pain. Due to his poor health, my mother became the main person who took care of the whole family. Although we struggle with our financial burden, my family is very happy because we care for each other.

After I finished high school, my parents decided to send me to university although they were old and couldn’t make much money. They wanted me to have a better life because my brother and my sister didn’t go to university and that has made their lives hard. I also wanted to have a higher education because I wanted to broaden my knowledge, develop in a good study environment and have a variety of relationships, to be a more versatile person and be able to have a good job. After the final high school exams, I sent my application to Thai Binh Medical University, to study to become a GP. But, my scores were not enough for me to be accepted into this university. It took me a lot of time to consider my second choice and I applied to study at Hanoi Medical University and pursue studies in nutrition. I researched a lot of information about this career because it was a new one in Vietnam at the time and at this university. Luckily, I was still keen about this subject after having all the information on it and decided to pursue these studies. During my four years of university, I have never regretted my decision. I love this career as I can help many patients by giving them nutritional advice and recipes. Although my parents struggled to support my living costs while I was at university in Hanoi, they respected my decision and encouraged me to take this course. 

Last year, my father had a serious health problem because he hadn’t been checking up on his health regularly. He did nothing about it until he couldn’t put up with the pain any longer, then he went to the hospital and was diagnosed with stage three rectal cancer. My family was shocked. This was a huge financial burden for my family because the treatment takes a long time and costs a lot. He had surgery but also has had to have chemotherapy treatment. My mother is the main person who farms now, growing rice and ‘au’ to sell and covers the daily expenses of the family. My father stopped working a year ago, so the finances of my family is difficult currently.

CEF started helping me when I was in grade 6. I received sponsorship each term to pay my school fees and my education expenses. I was so happy because sponsorship helped to reduce a lot of the financial burden of my parents, and that helped my parents have fewer worries. I still remember the gift, which was a box of color pencils, I got from Ms Linda. It was an expensive gift for me at that time. The sponsorship and cares I received from Ms Linda and CEF during my secondary schooling, my three years of high school, and four-year university course were all a huge motivation for me to overcome any difficulties I had and attain achievements in my life. 

Presently, I have graduated from university, majoring in nutrition and have enough elementary skills that are needed to get a job quickly. I applied for a job straight after graduation and recently got a reply from a private nutrition clinic to work for them. I am thrilled because they highly appreciated my experience from my part-time work and that I do voluntary work.  I am delighted as I can work in my field of studies. My plan at the moment is in having a job I can afford to look after myself and help my parents too. I will work and save for travelling and helping disadvantaged people to make my life happy and meaningful. I believe that if I am optimistic and try my best, I can overcome many challenges.  

Sweet letter from CEF student Trinh to her sponsor Felicity ~ Translated by CEF's Thuy Dinh

Firstly, I would like to send you a huge thank you for your sponsorship. Although I have never met you, I am sure you are a good person with a warm heart. Linda and you are my angels who give me and my family hope, help me have a chance to continue my education like other children. You always care and support my family when we need help most.

My sister and I lost our dear father when I was seven years old. My mother became the sole breadwinner to bring us up. She is not only a mother but also a father. Every day, she has to work from dawn to dusk to take care of the whole family but never complains. Now, she is over 60 years old but still works hard to give the best she can for her daughters. She only wishes my sister and I could pursue our education and be successful in the future. Thanks to understanding our situation, we always try our best to study to make our mother happy. I still remember the moment my mom burst into tears and hug me tight when I informed her that I achieved a good performance at school in the last grade.

Next year, I will be in grade 12 and know it is the most important year to make my own decision for my future. I am into chemistry and considering applying to the Da Nang University of Technology but will think and make plans carefully. 

Presently, Da Nang has a new COVID 19 outbreak in Viet Nam so we are doing the city lockdown and social distancing but luckily my mom is still allowed to go to work. Although she can only work a half-day, we are very happy because we can pay for our meals at this difficult time. I love my mother very much!

In closing, my family and I are so grateful for your help. I promise to study well to make you and my mother proud. Once again, thank you very much, and I hope you and your family take care and stay safe!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Nun Vy's story ~ Guest bog by CEF's Kim Chi

Vy is the last nun we have been helping with an education. Sometimes pagodas have no funds for the school education of the nuns and ask for help from CEF. Sweet Vy has been sponsored for ten years and her help has now completed with her graduating from high school. Now she is moving on to study in a Buddhist College. CEF's Kim Chi shares her story.

Vy came from a very poor farming family with parents who worked so hard to bring up their three daughters. Her mother used to work in a garment factory and her father on building sites besides growing rice as well as raising ducks and chickens, but they still struggled to make ends meet. 

They followed Buddhism and Vy always accompanied them every time they went to the pagoda. The idea of living in the pagoda away from her family came up to Vy as an appealing idea, as she always felt comfortable whenever she was at the pagoda with her parents.  Therefore, Vy decided to leave her family and become a nun.  

At the time Vy moved to live in the pagoda, her parents still had to work really hard to keep her sisters in school. One of Vy’s sisters finished grade 10, and soon afterwards married and worked as a factory worker. The other sister completed high school and took a two-year nursing course. She couldn’t find a job after graduation, so married and has two children. She is now living with Vy’s parents, working in a garment factory, earning enough to take responsibility for her two children because her husband lives separately in the North. 

Vy with the head nun of her pagoda

Her father is now 54 years old and her mother 50. Her mother stopped working in the garment factory four years ago to take care of the house and look after the grandchildren so that her sister could work. 

Their finances have been better since Vy lived in the pagoda and her sisters went to work. Vy has been living in a pagoda with the head nun, who is very kind and supportive. She allowed Vy to do less chanting than is usually required of just once a day, and learn Buddhism just in the summer holidays. Therefore, Vy had more time to concentrate on her studies, have extra tuition classes and consequently was able to attain quite stable results through the years. 

Before CEF helped, the pagoda made incense to sell to cover all costs at the pagoda and Vy’s school fees, but as she got older it was hard to cover those costs and donations at the pagoda were not for education, so they asked if CEF could help to cover her education costs.

Since then CEF helped Vy so that she could continue going to school and reduce the financial burden of the head nun. We helped her from when she was in grade 3 and shortly she is going to complete high school and then she plans to take on further Buddhism studies lasting three years. After that, she wishes to learn about traditional herbal medicine to help the poor and ill.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Wood dowry ~ Guest blog by CEF's Ms Thuy Dinh

Some of the students CEF's Thuy Dinh is responsible for are from an ethnic community in a mountainous region of Phuoc Son not far from the Laos border. They have customs that we know nothing of unless they share them with us and as they do we are constantly learning from them which we love. Thuy shares this interesting story.

I am really into exploring new cultural and historical stories of the areas I visit. This is my third year working for CEF and I am responsible for working with mainly Gie Trieng ethnic minority girls in our scholarship program in mountainous areas of Phuoc Son district. I used to notice the woodpiles stacked neatly along walls of the local people’s stilt houses but I was never curious about that. Other CEF staff and I thought simply these bundles of wood were for their daily cooking, but it turned they were not for that use.
We did a survey trip in Phuoc Son district two weeks ago and I accidentally learned about the role of firewood and it’s connection to Gie Trieng marriage customs. It is really interesting to hear that on their wedding day, they may lack money or gold, but wood is a must for the brides. A local person shared that wood was the dowry, and a treasured symbol of love. In addition, he said: “It’s very cold living in the forest. We need the heat from a fire to survive. Therefore, wood is very important to us.”
Local women used to cut down the beech trees before there was the regulation of protecting the forest was established. While the wood is tough, it has a straight grain so it is not only easy to chop, but the wood also burns for a long time. When Gie Trieng women enter the age of marriage, it is time for them to take the wood from the forest. It takes them a long time and much effort. Gie Trieng women start to chop down the trees at the age of 15. Each must have 400 to 500 bundles of firewood to show off their skill and determination. The more firewood she has, the healthier and more hardworking she is considered.
Collecting the wood can take months or years. Men can tell how strong, industrious, and skilful the women are by observing how big the stacks are and how even the wood is chopped. They will make their marital decisions based on that. The presented wood is also the symbol of piety as the brides don’t only present it to the groom but also to her family-in-law on their wedding day. It is considered a valuable dowry that the groom’s family only uses on special occasions.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

A CEF high school graduate and her plans ~ Guest blog by CEF's Ms Vy

Nga with her mother and siblings

CEF's Vy talks about one of our CEF high school graduates who has done well and her future plans:

Nga just completed high school with an average of 8.1/10 and is about to take the high school graduation exam at the beginning of August. Next her wish is to take a short course in hospitality taught by an NGO in Hoi An, where she’s provided with a comprehensive no-cost 18 month training program, extensive English language training and practical hands-on experience in hospitality service. Also, she’s provided with daily living costs, accommodation and other benefits during this course. She’s looking forward to attending the interviews to see whether she’s able to obtain a place on this course. She thinks that it’s a wise decision because it may help reduce the burden for her mother, who is the sole provider in her family to look after four children of school age, one of whom has cerebral palsy.