Letter of July 19, 2007.
I went to Vietnam for three weeks in June. The purpose of this trip was twofold. On the one hand, discovering the country and establishing contacts with the local Church. On the other hand, to evaluate the sponsorship of Vietnamese children in the name of the association “Help for the children of Vietnam”, an association set up by the Spiritans of Taiwan, which supports the schooling of more than 200 Vietnamese children. (About sponsorship, see our site; www.bythewell.org )
Accompanied by a North American Vietnamese colleague, I began my stay in Vietnam by going to the main city in the center of the country, Hue. There, we spent most of our days visiting the villages where the children sponsored by our association live. Two places caught my attention more, the village of the sampani trees and that of the children whose children are blind. The sampaniers are families who live on boats, the sampans. It is a population in very great precariousness. The parents are fishermen or work as cycle rickshaws. They earn one to two dollars a day, when it is possible to work. Indeed, in the rainy season, some days, it is impossible to go to work. Mortality due to accidents and disease is high. Our visit was organized by three young brothers of the Sacred Heart who support the sampaniers and the poor children of various villages. They encourage these children to study, find them volunteer teachers, and have built schools. The needs are immense, but the goodwill and the seriousness of the volunteers make it possible to move forward. The center for the blind was launched by a sister of the Visitation. This center has a blind person as president (stipulated by the statutes of the center); adults have the opportunity to work making brooms; the children go to school. All this little world is very poor but each is recognized in his dignity. During our stay, we took photos of each of the sponsored children and updated the data concerning them. We were welcomed with lots of smiles; my colleague being of Vietnamese origin, had no problem communicating. But I also took the opportunity to put into practice my still very basic knowledge of Vietnamese.
After this stay in Hûé, I left for Saigon, (Ho Chi Minh City), the city where my community (we will be three confreres) will settle in September. The economic lung of Vietnam, Saigon is a city in constant movement. The traffic there is terrible. To cross certain arteries of the city, you have to be very brave! The pollution is equal to the traffic; the motorbike is the means of transport par excellence. Coming from a city as charming as Hue, I had a little trouble getting used to Saigon. Yet it is here that I will spend my next few years. But there again, we had warm contact with Vietnamese priests and families. The city is a more anonymous universe than the countryside but the fact of being a foreigner arouses the sympathy of the Vietnamese, all the more so when one tries to speak their language.