I'm on my annual visit to Hoi An and this year the timing is right before the Tet (New Year) holiday, which is a major deal in Vietnam and unlike any holiday in the U.S. The celebration lasts a week, with planning, shopping and preparation taking twice that long. It's a party that includes visiting friends and relatives and lots of eating and drinking. For many, it's also a week-long work holiday.
CEF helps our sponsored children and their families join in the celebration by distributing food parcels, which include a big sack of rice, cooking oil, crystalized ginger, watermelon seeds, peanuts and other goodies so that they can eat well and enjoy this special time of year.
On 22 January, a gray and drizzly day, Linda and I and the four staff drove 3 hours to Hue to visit two teens in the CEF program to distribute Tet parcels and check on their school grades. (The staff then spent the afternoon in an anti-trafficking training session learning to teach effective methods to young girls so they can avoid predators.) One of the girls is doing very well in high school and has a good chance to have a much better life for herself in the future. The staff questioned her about her goals for the future, helping her refine her plans and match her talents with her eventual studies at university.
The other girl, 'M', is a different story. While all of the children helped by CEF are very poor, M's family's poverty really is abject. She lives with her father, who is mentally ill and rarely able to work, and her 56-year-old mother, a tiny woman who works at several low-paying jobs, including back-breaking farming work. She's healthy but looks almost worn out. They live in a small, unfinished brick and cement house that lacks windows and doors, with a tin roof containing numerous holes that leaks badly during heavy rains.
M, who is quiet with a shy, beautiful smile, was training as a nun in a pagoda before returning to her family last year. She so far hasn't been able to earn good grades in school and her ability to escape the desperate poverty, arduous physical labour and hopelessness of her mother's life remains in doubt. Sitting on plastic stools in their house on a dark grey day, listening to the staff inquire about her life, tugs at the heart. On the ride back, we discussed the best way to support M to have a life with a better future. No definite solutions at this time, but one idea that may work is to get her into a restaurant / hospitality training program with an NGO in Hoi An. In the meantime, we know that M and her family at least will have a better Tet celebration due to the generosity of our CEF donors.