By Marilyn Murphy
Thousand Oaks, CA, chapter leader
I was privileged to organize and lead the recent DFW Cultural Journey to Vietnam. Nineteen spirited, adventurous and flexible women made up the “Snow Whites” as our inimitable tour guide, Mr. Cong, called us. We originated in all corners of the US and several places in between.
Hanoi, the bustling 1,000-year-old capital city, filled us with history and the sights and sound of this ancient city.
We met 14 lovely young girls (age 4-16) who live in a foster home established by Humanitarian Services of Children of Vietnam. The girls have been rescued from abusive or unstable family situations. We treated them to a special night on the town that included dinner (the ubiquitous pho) and a water puppet show. It was the first restaurant experience for some, and none had ever seen the traditional Vietnamese water puppets. Despite their horrific backgrounds, love is a great healer. They giggled and squealed – like normal girls!
Our next visit was to magnificent Halong Bay, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The more than four-hour drive was interesting, as we stopped en route to observe farmers (mostly women) planting rice and doing other backbreaking labor in the fields. We spent the night aboard a boat designed like a traditional junk. Activities included kayaking, hiking to the summit of a hill for a breathtaking view, eating, lounging on the top deck, drinking, exploring a cave and – for two lucky ladies – a surprise “couples” massage. The hilarious retelling of that experience kept us laughing for the entire journey!
Next, we flew to Danang, to a surprise VIP welcome. Nancy Letteri and staff from Children of Vietnam, one of our featured programs, along with more than a dozen children, greeted us with flowers and hugs. The next two days were devoted to meetings with women who have benefitted from the DFW grant in May 2012. We were briefed about the specific initiative, Empowering Foundations for Women and their Children, which assists impoverished single mothers with training, microloans, healthcare and improved housing. Since there is so much need, caseworkers use a “Survey for Household Circumstance” to determine who is selected to receive aid. A sample question: Does your family have enough food? If no, how many months does your family starve (month to month)?
The organization assesses the needs, personal strengths and goals of each woman to create a customized empowerment plan to ensure that she can earn a stable income that will sustain her family for the long term.
We divided into three small groups and visited women at their homes or business. Their living conditions are primitive by our standards but we were told had vastly improved.. We often hear, “every dollar counts.” It’s so true. Simple, inexpensive basics like an electric fan, rice cooker or tea kettle significantly improved the daily lives of these strong, resourceful women.
We met women who had begun their own businesses growing mushrooms, making brooms or cutting hair. The average loan is under $200, which enables them to buy sewing machines, pigs, flocks of poultry or cows. Without exception, when we asked about their hopes for the future, every woman wanted their child to get an education and have a better life.
We purchased food for a delicious home-cooked lunch prepared and served to us by the single mothers. On another day we had lunch at a brand-new café run by orphans who are learning how to cook, serve and manage a restaurant. At the Thanh Tam Special School for children with disabilities, none of us could resist purchasing beautiful artwork created by the kids.
The success of the Children of Vietnam initiative is unmistakable. All members can be confident that their DFW dollars are having an impact. We are grateful to Nancy Letteri and her staff for assistance in coordinating our visits and for helping make our journey so meaningful.
The friendliness and graciousness of the Vietnamese people followed us throughout our journey. We shall never forget the smiles and warmth.
The 19 of us made friends for life and are more committed than ever to the mission of DFW.