“Pray for the dead. And fight like hell for the living!” – Mother Jones
We’ve been back from Vietnam since the end of October and while we’re both settling into our normal lives at home, I’ve held off updating the blog a bit. Why? Well, we did so much over the course of the visit that it’s sometimes hard to actually sit yourself down and try to organise it all in your head.
I’ve decided to go with this piece first from our adventure just because we had a theme of “charity” surrounding our trip this time around and it did indeed play a big part of our experience. Here are six organisations we supported this year:
HANOI & HO CHI MINH CITY: KOTO
KOTO or Know One Teach One, is a hospitality training centre and social enterprise for disadvantaged young people in Vietnam. Founded by a Vietnamese-Australian man called Jimmy Pham, their goal is to end the cycle of poverty and empower youth to forge a better future for themselves and their families.
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Learning about the various types of #rice from KOTO's teacher Cong. He had a rather interesting story. He came from a poor family in the countryside, his father lived with mental health issues and his mother while once out collecting fruit, fell from the tree and severely hurt her back – she had to stop working. And so, Cong eventually got into the KOTO program and trained as a chef. He doesn't drink tea, coffee or alcohol. He just works hard. But he said he would love to work in IT. To visit his family, it takes 4 hours to get there on his scooter.
To date, KOTO has trained over 700 students in their centres in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, with 200 of them currently enrolled. Each time we’ve visited Vietnam we’ve headed to their restaurant and this year we decided to do a cookery course with them where we got to grips with some of the best Vietnamese street food!
HANOI: Omamori Spa
Run by BlindLink, an NGO that gives opportunities to the visually impaired, Omamori Spa is based in Hanoi. Professionally run and incredibly clean, it’s a brilliant experience. The masseuses are visually impaired but have an amazing sense of touch and you can feel the care that goes into the work that they do.
It was honestly the best massage I’ve ever had and was exceptional value. Our 90-minute massage called Zen in the Heart, which included a hot stone session was 450,000 dong (just €16.80).
Staff at this shop basically generate their funds from rubbish and the profits go towards heart surgery for children in need. All the souvenirs are made by people with disabilities (mostly hearing impaired) and feature things like baskets made from newspaper and bags made from beer cans.
While prices in the shop are more expensive than usual, what the funding is going towards makes it worth it, plus you’re getting a piece that’s individual and handmade. I bought a necklace that was made from repurposed telephone wire and I adore it!
HOI AN: Reaching Out
This Fairtrade shop run by Reaching Out was founded in 2000 and empowers people with disabilities in Hoi An to learn skills and gain meaningful employment so that they can lead independent lives. Here you can buy stunning items made by artisan employees like silver jewellery, embroidered bedspreads, and traditional tea sets.
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So wonderful to experience Reaching Out's Teahouse. Reaching Out (Hòa Nhập) was established in 2000 with the vision of providing opportunities for people with disabilities (PWD’s) to learn skills and gain meaningful employment so that they are able to integrate fully with their communities and lead independent and fulfilling lives. A fairtrade business, their Teahouse which is a spin off the main artisan shop, is run by people who are mute and therefore you must communicate in a different way. Silence is golden and gestures, writing and smiling is key. Their name in Vietnamese, Hòa Nhập, means integration.
They also have an amazing tea house where staff is mute and so you must find other means of communicating. It’s a wonderful experience and also gives you time to reflect in silence.
HO CHI MINH CITY & MONGOLIA: Christina Noble Foundation
It’s hard to sum up in just a few paragraphs how much Irishwoman Christina Noble has given back to Vietnam. Her foundation is dedicated to serving children in need of emergency and long-term medical care, those who need education opportunities and training as well as children who are at risk of sexual exploitation. Christina came to Vietnam in 1989 and established the foundation in 1991 (incidentally the year I was born!). During those 26 years, CNCF has provided vital support to those in need.
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Today a child grasped my fingers and sat in my lap as I hummed a song to him. Every so often he would nuzzle into me and turn to face me even though he couldn't see what I looked like. He swayed a bit in what seemed to be in rhythm to my voice. He didn't say a word. *** Nearby Mom was playing with a girl who had cerebral palsy and had the most incredible smile that shone across her face. She too didn't talk but her face was so wonderfully expressive. *** This morning we had the honour of visiting the Christina Noble Children's Foundation here in HCMC which cares for and looks after the most vulnerable children in society. The foundation is an international partnership of people dedicated to serving children in need of emergency and long-term medical care, nutritional rehabilitation, educational opportunities, vocational training and job placement, as well as children at risk of sexual and economic exploitation. *** Christina, an Irish woman, is incredible resilient, compassionate and full of life. What she and her Foundation has done for Vietnamese children is phenomenal. *** I want to write more about this when I'm home but we left CNCF happy knowing that the children we saw were safe and loved.
Mom and I visited the centre and very taken by how hard the staff work, how impeccably clean the facility was and how loved the children were. Just six visitors are allowed in for their tours, so you need to contact them in advance if you plan on heading in.
IRELAND & HO CHI MINH CITY: DUC Bags
32 children die from drowning in Vietnam every day. In Ho Chi Minh City we met with Anne-Marie Greene and her partner Ian Kelly, the founders of DUC, who through a one-for-one model business aims to combat this tragedy, as well as providing much-needed education for children.
For every schoolbag sold a school kit is purchased for a vulnerable child in Vietnam. For every sports bag sold, swimming lessons are provided for a child and the DUC Jr range focuses in on vaccines. The bags also provide employment as they are made in Vietnam.
Mom and I felt that Anne-Marie and Ian were passionate, warm and hardworking individuals who clearly had a lot of compassion. You can buy the bags online or from Arnotts.
All of the charities we visited impacted our experience, and honestly you do feel good when you’re supporting worthwhile causes. We’d ask you to consider giving back to Vietnam when you go visit.