By Lynn O’Connell
Alexandria, VA chapter member
Living in Washington, DC, I tend to think of a nation or a destination in terms of its monuments and memorials. So, during this week in Vietnam, as I have seen 200-foot tall Buddhas, statues, etc., I immediately assume “National Monument” and try to find out what it is in my guidebook or from my Vietnamese contacts at home. Finally, one Vietnamese friend texted, “Remember, very few national treasures remain in Vietnam today.”
Spending two delightful days with Children of Vietnam, I have discovered at least one national treasure of Vietnam that does remain – “resilience.” Our group has seen and heard amazing stories from more than 30 beneficiaries that have benefited from the compassionate and comprehensive services that COV offers. Women like –
- Ms. Mai, who after receiving funds to purchase hairdressing supplies saw her income triple in less than one month
- Ms. Trang, who used COV funds to buy a sewing machine and who now has her own tailoring shop
- Ms. Chi, who receives $5 a month in scholarship funds so she can send both her daughter and son to school
- Ms. Dao, a widow who received funds to buy supplies so she could launch a woodcarving business to support herself and her child
- Ms. Han, who received funds to open a breakfast shop and is now about to earn enough support for herself and her two children
When we arrived at the COV office on Friday morning, we were divided into three groups so that we could personally go out to visit the single mother beneficiaries at their businesses. My group’s first stop was with Ms. Hai.
“September 2011 was life-changing for me,” she told us. That was when she got her loan of $200. With that money, she expanded the offerings in her grocery store to offer unique items that competitors did not have. She also was able to pay her son’s school tuition. Meanwhile, COV provided Ms. Hai’s son with a bike so that he could get to and from school. Ms. Hai works hard, rising at 3 am each morning to prepare fresh breakfast foods for her customers, but she says it’s worth it to know that she is able to provide for her son. She has successfully repaid her loan received from COV, and she is planning to request a new loan to purchase a sugar cane juicing , machine. Again, something none of her competitors have!
Another group of us went to visit with Ms. Lien. Ms. Lien’s husband had left her and her two children years ago. For years, she worked in the rice paddies to support her family. One day, she attended a class in her community on how to grow mushrooms. COV provided her with a loan of $240 to launch her mushroom business. Today, her mushroom business is thriving and she has diversified to add two cows, two pigs and a flock of geese. And, she continues to be the only local business owner selling mushrooms.
At noon, all of us reconvened for lunch at Thanh Tam Special School. French nuns run this school for Vietnamese orphans and children with special needs. What a beautiful location, filled with vegetable and herb gardens outside and beautiful artwork on display inside (for sale, of course, to help support the school. I bought 3 paintings myself.) Then, on to lunch prepared by older children in training to be bakers, chefs, and cake decorators. Needless to say, lunch was outstanding – fruit salad in champagne flutes, homemade pizzas, fresh baguettes, and petits fours for dessert. I couldn’t resist making one suggestion, as we left – “Could you open a bed & breakfast business for my next visit …”
So, yes, I see the resilience of these many women as a Vietnamese national treasure. And, thanks to COV for being there to leverage this spirit with a mere $46,550 which has provided life-changing experiences for 95 single Vietnamese mothers and their children since 2009.