February 2012 Newsletter


Hi friends and sponsors

Xin chào

What we’ve just done

Just back from Vietnam. Funding highlights were:

1. Students received their February 2012 tertiary scholarships, thanks to our Australian scholarship sponsors. Grants are arranged by written agreement with our project partners, the women’s monastic community of Huong Phuong. A typical example of a funding contract is in the Policies section of this web site.

2. Village medical clinic funding of medicines for the poor (12-month trial basis). Plus a motorbike for patient outreach.

3. Orphanage duck farm expansion to purchase 200 more ducklings. The farm is well-established and provides eggs, income and nutrition for the orphanage.

4. General fund items such as: supply of musical instruments at the orphanage; student library materials; help to a deaf/mute single mother, who came to the orphanage and gave birth to a lovely baby boy.

Thanks  to contributions of friends, these works could be carried out.  I also had three personal adventures:

1. Visiting the family home of Dr Yen, the clinic doctor.  The family are poor. This proved to me that if someone is exceptionally talented, with hard work they can overcome a poor childhood and graduate from medical school.

2. Riding a motorbike 500km through Vietnam (It’s easy-  it’s not as if there are any road rules).

3. Recovering from a foot injury. This provided insight into the needs of the village medical clinic, which combines western medicine with traditional healing.

Sometimes local priorities are a complete inversion of our funding priorities. An example was the medical clinic. Local priorities are: 1. Make it beautiful and impressive (“dep”). 2. Fill the building with high status hospital machines (to attract prestige customers). 3. Provide basic health care for the people. Our priorities start with basic health care, then “maybe” some machines, then beauty last.

Discussions with our project partners underline the absolute need to specify projects in detail and then check implementation on the ground. The playground is now installed (see under completed projects).  We had a 2-day negotiation with the sisters about providing a soft surface under play equipment. On arrival we found hundreds of square metres of  hard concrete paving blocks were laid under the play equipment.

“Why no soft landing surface underneath?” we asked at our funding consultation. “Oh, we don’t need it. Some children are very naughty. They play in the sand and get dirty. Some children have maybe something wrong with their brain. They put the dirt in their mouths. They will be alright. We have mats that we can put under equipment.” Every possible story, except the real reason, which was that sand was deemed “khong dep” (not beautiful).  Acres of concrete paving would be “dep” (beautiful, impressive).

After many gentle and unsuccessful negotiations, it was truth time.  Vietnamese women are very strong. They will not budge easily once they have taken a position. I sat down with Mother Superior: “You signed a contract. You took money for the playground. That included money for soft sand under play equipment. Our sponsors’ concern is preventing further brain injury of children, not things such as beauty (showcasing the orphanage). There is no compromise on this. If you don’t do this, then give the money back”. Once it was crystal clear that no story could sway us and that there might be withdrawal of funds, the whole thing was suddenly no problem. There was a 5-minute site inspection and a few mobile phone calls. Within an hour, sand was delivered and was being spread. By the end of the day, the whole playground had effortlessly moved.

Such discussions with our project partners underline the absolute need to:
2. Design and specify projects in detail.
3. Have signed finding contracts in place.
4. “Ground truth”: check implementation on the ground.


What’s coming up

What’s coming up now? We have a privately funded visit by Sisters Huong and Tuyen, on a cultural immersion trip to Australia. We need discussions with our project partners – the monastic community at Huong Phuong. They will consider what staged level of support they will need for things like:

1. Computer training.
2. Library room.
3. Water filtration plant – business enterprise for the orphanage that employs disabled people and provides better water (and better health) for the village.
4. Basic medical equipment selection, specification, procurement and supply.

We will then set up funding agreements and deliver support. All funding to be staged and conditional on targets being met.

See you soon

hẹn gặp lại

Peter Kabaila