Dear friends of Bridging Hope
It’s now Tuesday, Oct 26, back in Saigon. This will be a quick report and brief reflection as we wrap up our trip here.
At Con En we were satisfied that the work we’re helping with is needed and well managed. In virtually all families, especially among the poor, both parents have to work for salaries, often one suspects at more than one job. So the day care shelter provides safety and food and some very preliminary education – safety especially during the long flooding season that inundates the delta, and food that helps the parents. The staff of women (one trained a bit in early childhood education, the others simply women with energy for child care) seemed very diligent. We were happy to find that the facility is undergoing good improvement – a thatched roof has been replaced with corrugated sheet-metal and they were in the process of putting an insulating layer about 6-inches under the metal for cooling purposes.
We were even happier to learn that the funding for the facility comes from Vietnamese sources – both local folks and benefactors in cities like Saigon. Thus, as in virtually everything Bridging Hope does here in Viet Nam, we are working in partnership with generous Vietnamese benefactors and workers.
As to the role of the Catholic Church – it provides management and networking and fund-raising, but the services are for everyone who need them.
All of this was again evident this morning in our meeting with the “management team” for Mai Tam – the network of shelters and facilities for women and children with HIV/Aids. The program was started by a local priest who bought a house for some women with Aids and their children – and in 2006 was brought under the umbrella of Aids work by Catholic Social Services here in Saigon. But while the “management team” is headed by a Catholic sister (Sr. Anna) on the staff of Catholic Social Services (which pays her salary), the on-sight managers and workers are a mix of Catholic sisters and priests (all paid by their congregations for this work) and lay helpers. Much of the work is also done through their foster-care program where the vast majority of the kids are living – and the foster parents (sometimes actual family of the child) are not paid for this work. Rather they pay a good part of the school fees for the school age children, even though they receive the needed medicine from Caritas International and help with food from Bridging Hope.
There are also significant Vietnamese benefactors. Thus, a Vietnamese doctor gave the land where the new orphanage and shelter for the babies and little kids (which we had visited earlier) was constructed, and the family that owns one of Saigon’s best restaurants gives a very significant monthly donation. Just a few examples. So Bridging Hope is partnering with both with international charities and with many Vietnamese benefactors.
The meeting this morning with Sr. Anna, Sr. Agnes, and Fr. Joseph – the latter two the key managers at the baby/toddler shelter – was typical of many we’ve had here, but for me perhaps the most impressive. They are such unbelievably generous people, each with a personal story that has led them to this difficult and often painful work. (Fr. Joeseph Phu, probably a guy about 30 or 35, told me that it was a serious accident in the streets here on his motor-scooter that led him to become a priest with a group of priests dedicated to helping the seriously ill and dying!) And they carry on with great joy, though I’m sure they have their down times.
I told them as we left that “bridging hope” really is a two way street. I often get pretty depressed when I think about all the problems of poverty, disease, and war in our world. But meeting them (and others here) gave me a renewed sense of hope. We are not doing “world changing” work, but we’re doing what we can – and real hope is build not of great dreams and visions, but of the little steps of people helping each other, whether across rooms or streets, or across oceans.
Hope to see you all at some Bridging Hope event in the coming months.
(PS, I did the writing, which is why this is so long-winded! Sen edited, and added the photos which tell the story better than I ever could