History is not so much what was, but what we can create. As we reach our 30 year milestone of delivering humanitarian aid and charity programs in Vietnam, it saddens me not being able to celebrate it with the people that made it all possible as we now live in the COVID-19 crisis. The memories and amazing stories of three decades are many and I recall each of them so vividly since my first visit to Vietnam 30 years ago.

I was part of a small Christian team visiting a closed and poor Vietnam back in 1990; what struck me about my visit, was the grace and beauty of the people. After my first visit to Vietnam, I returned some months later and on this trip my life was changed and I hope for many other people whom I came in contact with too as I started the first of two charity organizations with the first being Project Vietnam supported by many people of faith and those desperately wanting to improve their lives.

On one occasion I was visiting Dong Nai, north of HCMC, when I met a lady with two sick children who had contracted viral meningitis the following morning one of the children had passed away – this changed my life forever. I did not speak Vietnamese – all I could do was hold her hand and cry with her – there were no medicines, no equipment, poorly trained staff, no air conditioning and no money to pay for food. This was why I decided nothing was going to change unless it was made to change. Project Vietnam in the early years of the US Embargo still brought in 6 containers of donated medical equipment. I was given open doors by the Vice Minister for Health, and able to start so many programs of training, sponsorships, building in poor provinces and taking teams of medical and tradespeople to physically improve conditions.

In 2000, I formed Heart Reach Australia to focus on poverty, medical programs and training. Over the years, I look back and reflect on so many milestones as a registered charity, never having paid staff and only ever able to make do with what was donated or through fundraising. In the current COVID-19 situation, we have no government grants which makes life tough – I always thought charities were meant to give, not get rich? But I do reflect and see where the real value and real riches lie and these are the medical activities and programs where in many ways we have done more than so many big international groups. It is because of people who care and those who help us make a difference that gives so many children a chance to enjoy a quality of life and a future.

In the early years I received containers of medical equipment, including x-ray machines to rural areas, dialysis machines to three city hospitals with several machines free to the poorest people, Vietnam’s first Eye Bank in HCMC, along with training of staff in Australia for the corneal transplant program at two large HCMC hospitals, a scholarship program to train young, but poor, mostly rural eye doctors in Queensland and the Sunshine Coast.. Dr Peter Stewart, as Patron, assisted in both Vietnam and locally.. building a Clinic in Tan Thach primary school grounds.. free treatment for poor families. Then the very first Medical Ambulance Boat built in Narangba Qld, and now in the Mekong Delta, servicing a new purpose built clinic.

The New World Hotel, primarily through the GM David Wicker, enabled us to do many programs in their facility.. and these included activities with a Blind School, kids from poor families in Ben Tre Province, concerts and First Aid Training. David and the New World staff have been brilliant!

In the past few years, I was invited to attend High Schools to teach CPR and First Aid – this was a first for Vietnam – we often had doctors and health workers attending to learn what they were never shown in medical college! The high school students consumed the information and enjoy the courses often making the best advocates for health and safety especially on their return home to tech their parents and siblings! The children’s sponsorship program was started after people requested us to get involved – these people were tired of donating to big groups charities with administration budgets and huge marketing programs. Our program gives first hand contact with poorest and at risk children in the more isolated areas and provinces. In most cases, our intervention has improved the children’s schooling and living standards.

How do I reflect on 30 years of joy, agony, heartache, encouragement, lack of funding, blessing, hopes and disappointment, each mixed into the years. All intertwined with thousands of kids, families, people and experiences??

Thank you to all who have helped and to those who want to! Our 30 years has created history – so much has been achieved, but history is only there to point the way to what we can yet achieve. Together, we can make that difference.

30 years is a reason to celebrate and a great basis on which to build!

Chris O’Dempsey 


Heart Reach Australia

Buderim, Queensland, Australia +61 418 246 888