Monday, October 25, 2010

Viet Nam - First Installment

Dear Friends of Bridging Hope: 

Greetings from Viet Nam! 

Sr. Sen and I (John Kane, President of the Board of Bridging Hope) are traveling in Viet Nam for almost three weeks and we want to send some e-mail news about our trip -- along with some pictures. She has asked me to begin this "trip blog" and then she will review and edit and add photos before we send it out. 

We flew from San Francisco on Monday morning (Oct. 11) at 1:30 am and arrived in Saigon on Tuesday around noon. The flight went from San Francisco to Taipei, Taiwan, and then from Taipei to Saigon (now officially called Ho Chi Minh City). Our flights were with EVA airlines, based in Taiwan. Really a very good and relatively new Asian air company. 


I'm writing on Saturday, Oct. 16, because this is really the first time we've had to pause for such writing. We were met in Saigon by Fr. Joseph Tan, a Vietnamese-American Franciscan priest who is teaching at the Franciscan Seminary in Saigon. A wonderful man. Then after resting a bit at our hotel in the center of the city -- a great place called, honestly, Number One Hotel, right near the Unification Building (the old Presidential Palace), 

and near the Catholic Cathedral of Regina Pacis (Queen of Peace) –  

We had our first of many meals at Vietnamese restaurants. The experience of food here is a long and very good story itself, but we'll leave that for another telling.
Wednesday we visited both the Mai Tam home for the children of women with HIV/AIDS, many of whom also have AIDS,

and one of the homes of the women crippled by Polio that Sen has been helping for quite a few years. 

Both places that we visited were just houses or small apartment buildings on narrow and cluttered streets -- almost like back alleys -- in some of the many neighborhoods of Saigon. They were, in other words, not big institutions, but little places, each part of a network of such little places -- thus, a series of homes for the crippled women and a series of homes and shelters and workplaces for the mothers and their children. I put it this way since we Americans, I suspect, tend to think of social service locations in terms of bigger buildings and greater structures and organizations. There are such in Viet Nam, I believe, run mostly by the government. But the groups that Bridging Hope is helping are a different type of response to human needs -- much more a network of small responses (many sponsored by church groups) to needs otherwise unmet. We'll talk more about this later.

On Thursday we took a long bus trip (5 hours each way) North and West to Bao Loc from Saigon to visit a shelter for elderly women that is being run by a group of Catholic sisters. This is one of a number of locations that have been recommended to Sr. Sen as possible places Bridging Hope could help as a way to move ahead with our project of sponsoring a shelter for elderly women. It is way too early at this point to make any particular comments about this or that place.

We will be visiting a number of different efforts to help elderly women and will be learning much at each place as we talk with folks about their needs. It is as yet unclear whether BH will in the end affiliate with one such ongoing shelter and try to help them, just as we have done with the Mai Tam network that is helping Moms and kids with AIDS -- or whether we will try to start something new.
On Friday, for instance, we visited the Franciscan Seminary in Saigon where Fr. Joe Tan teaches, and met its president. He's a remarkable man named Paul Vinh. He'd trained and worked as an architect before becoming a Franciscan priest and was put in charge of this seminary (a 3-4 square block set of inter-connected buildings) shortly after it had been returned to the Franciscans by the government (who'd commandeered it after 1975 and turned it into a factory for processing mushrooms!). He's done a remarkable job of rebuilding the place -- structurally renovated and artistically beautiful (with gardens and little ponds with fish, etc.). And he has hopes of setting up a vocational training center (for some of the many people migrating to Saigon in search of better lives) on some adjacent land which was also returned by the government -- and perhaps also some facility for the elderly. So this presents another possible connection for Bridging Hope.

So much from me for now.JK

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