By Cynthia Sawtell
San Anselmo (CA)
Feb. 22 — Our day started off rainy and cool. We spent most of the morning in the wonderful Ethnographic museum learning about the 53 ethnic minorities which together make up 14 percent of the population. Later, we visited an ancient Confucian university with its lovely gardens and shrine. The rest of the day was deeply meaningful.
Lunch was taken at a training restaurant where we got to meet with Dr. Ha, a lovely woman, who is vice director of the Center for Education Promotion and Empowerment of Women. Her organization takes young people with no family or opportunities off the streets and places them in an intensive education and training program in the hospitality industry. The young peoples’ room and board is covered for the two years they are in training where they learn English, as well as both the kitchen and service sides of the restaurant business. Our adorable waitress shared her story with us, as Dr Ha told us about her own work as liaison to the government in advocating for policies and safety nets for the less fortunate in Vietnam society.
Finally, the height of our day (and maybe the whole trip so far) was our visit to the foster home of Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam. The home currently houses 13 girls from five to 17 years of age. We first met with director Annetta De Vet and the staff and then did several crafts with the girls. They each made a handled purse and decorated it, then made bracelets and decorated compact mirrors to put in them. Everyone got in on the act, including Huang, our tour guide. By the end of this activity, the girls were hugging us and climbing into laps — it was incredibly sweet!
After a major photo session, we took the girls and staff to a neighborhood Pho restaurant for dinner. My face hurt from four hours of smiling, and it was really hard to say goodbye. We all agreed that THIS was the kind of experience we had hoped for when signing up for this DFW trip. We are off to Halong Bay tomorrow morning early.