Ca Mau mapLast week, on 20 August 2015, Loreto Vietnam invited AusCham’s Executive Director, Phil Johns, to travel to Ca Mau Province on a field trip.

Loreto’s Ms Tam, Mr Kha and Ms Vi were his splendid hosts. Below is Phil’s report.

[For more photos, click here.]

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Background on Ca Mau Province*

  • Is located on the southern most point of Vietnam
  • Externally, three of the four sides of the province are bordered by water
  • Internally, a myriad of canals and waterways splice and dice the province
  • Is Vietnam’s largest exporter of shrimp and prawns
  • Is the site of the Ca Mau Gas Power Fertiliser Complex opened in 2008 and valued at USD1.4 billion
  • Was struck by Typhoon Linda in November 1997 resulting in the loss of “thousands of lives” and 200,000 homes
  • Is the birthplace of Vietnam’s current Prime Minister, Nguyen Tan Dung

* Source: Wikipedia

Starting from Ca Mau

Speedboat

The wake of the speedboat.

In Ca Mau, we boarded a speed boat which had an emphasis on speed. Our driver understood very well the physics behind a power-to-weight ratio which used an outboard engine seemingly half the size of our boat.

Face mask already in place, our driver strapped on his motorbike helmet, lowered the visor and… Vrooooom!

We were now roaring up the meandering river, throwing our weight from one side to the other as we negotiated bends, little fishing boats, water taxis and barges. It was Vietnam’s version of Queenstown’s Shotover Jet Boat ride. Great fun!

90 minutes later, we arrived at the first school.

The first school

One of the performances by the students.

One of the performances by the students.

The kids were lined up under the baking sun, each sitting on a plastic stool.

The adults, which included the principal, teachers, visitors and Loreto sat at the front. A sea of big smiles on 250 little faces greeted us.

Speeches included one from the principal and another from Loreto’s Ms Tam. Ms Tam was so beautiful and natural in front of the kids. She then picked five students to present with their own Loreto Gift Packs comprising exercise books, pencils, pens, uniforms etc. When school starts next week, they will be ready to go!

Then we watched various performances that included singing, dancing and even a pantomime.

Meanwhile, Ms Vi was taking photos from various vantage points. Like with Ms Tam, she had a natural and amazingly easy rapport with the kids.

It quickly became obvious that Loreto’s staff are doing what they love and the chief beneficiaries are the kids.

Next on the agenda was to hand out Loreto Gift Packs to the other 245 children. Again, there were broad smiles as their arms tightly wrapped around their new packs.

I kept thinking of Loreto Vietnam’s founder, Trish Franklin, who would continually say, “It’s all about the kids”.

The new kinder

The new kinder.

The new kinder.

All aboard the speed boat again for a spin up a smaller estuary to a new kinder which has been built and funded by Loreto. The kinder will open next month, in September.

One building has four classrooms, each with its own internal bathroom. The other building has a kitchen and a lunch room.

The overwhelming impression of the classrooms was that, even though it was a hot day, they were refreshingly cool and breezy. The ceiling fans didn’t need to be used that day. The rooms were flooded with natural light which meant the fluorescent lights also didn’t need to be used (electric wiring and switches looked particularly good). Hard, glossy surfaces should be easy to keep clean.

Mr Kha, the construction manager was busily running around taking notes and speaking to different people with urgency to make sure the buildings would be ready to open on time.

The brightly coloured playground equipment was still to be positioned in the yard but will be lots of fun for the pairs of little hands and little feet that will be climbing and clambering over them in a couple of short weeks.

In the “waterland” of Ca Mau Province, it was no surprise that the kinder is surrounded by water: canals and fish ponds. No problem though because this gated kinder will offer physical protection for all its inhabitants.

Gasp! There was an unprotected gap of 3 metres between the two buildings – and a pond lurking dangerously. But no need to fear; fencing the gap was already in Mr Kha’s plan.

From the safety of the kinder, I looked around, admiring the (very nearly) four walls of protection. And then the realisation dawned: outside of kinder, just how do you protect the children from all that water which lurks everywhere?

The long answer is complicated and in the short term, headlines like, Four children die in a stream in southern Vietnam will continue to appear too often. At least the kids will be safe, secure and well taught at Loreto’s kinder.

Returning to HCMC

Just two days before the field trip, as AusCham’s Representative, I attended the Vietnam Veterans’ Day Service at the Long Tan Cross. The occasion marked the 49th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. Healing words were spoken and healing thoughts were felt. Where sets of eyes had previously faced each other, now they shared a common vision. It felt like we were moving forward.

Later, one Veteran remarked that this was his first trip back to Vietnam. It had taken him 44 years and three trips to the travel agency for him to feel confident enough to purchase an air ticket. Just days after arriving in Vietnam, he had felt a huge weight lifted from his shoulders and he said he wished he had returned 15-20 years earlier. This gentleman can now, truly, move forward again.

20 years and three weeks ago, a Sister from Australia arrived in Vietnam. Two years later, she established the Loreto Vietnam Australia Program. For the next 18 years, she has been moving forward: listening, feeling, speaking and building with Loreto. In the process, she has also helped to bridge multiple gaps.

During her time, Sister Trish Franklin also trained up a local team, headed by Ms Ha My, to replace her when the time came to return to Australia – which happened three weeks ago.

And then, last week I found myself in Ca Mau Province with Loreto’s Ms Tam, Mr Kha and Ms Vi.

Without doubt, Trish’s successors are maintaining the momentum.

As our plane took off from Ca Mau bound for HCMC, I looked out the window at the “waterland” below. Until this trip, I didn’t really know where Ca Mau Province was – and was I sleeping in 1997 when Typhoon Linda struck??

But, thankfully, the Loreto Team is different.

For the last 18 years and three weeks, Loreto has been making shiny white grins on little faces in places that many of us haven’t even noticed.

Notes

  • Phil Johns thanks Loreto for making this field trip possible.
  • Applications for AusCham’s 2015 Charity Program closed on Friday 21 August 2015. 20 applications were received (including one application from Loreto, a previous beneficiary of AusCham’s Charity program). In terms of transparency, AusCham’s Board has appointed a Special Panel of four directors to consider the applications received. Phil Johns’ trip with Loreto last week will have no impact, positive or negative, on the decision making processes of the Special Panel.
  • For more photos, click onto a dedicated album on AusCham’s Facebook page.
  • Loreto’s next Monthly SpamCham fundraiser in HCMC will be held at JASPAS (corner Dong Khoi and Ngo Duc Ke Streets, District 1) from 6.30pm on Wednesday, 10 August 2015. (SpamCham is held on the last Wednesday of every month.)
  • For Loreto’s website, click onto www.loretovietnam.org

 

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