Without enough time to gather our thoughts and emotions of the morning's visit to the "devil's playground", our group swiftly navigates to the small parish of Father Tuan in Can Tho, Vietnam. I mentioned this place in last year's post"Say a Little Prayer for Me". The people of this village have very little next to their love, faith, and family that keeps them connected as a strong community. They may make less than $5 USD a day, but they are far wealthier in kinship and compassion than most people I have encountered in my daily life.
Many people who belong to Father Tuan's parish (especially older ladies beyond their 60s) walk more than an hour to get to church, and only with half a mangled and torn slipper to accompany the journey! We had the thought of donating shoes or bicycles, but Fr. Tuan quickly reminded us that a) they like their slippers and shoes would be too strange and b) most don't know how to ride bicycles! I remember my dad telling me that when he wore his first pair of sneakers in Canada, he found them so uncomfortable that he opted for sandals - even in the winter time! Even with good intention,do the parishioners really need our help? Do they know any better?
We each hopped on the back of a motorcycle to take a 20 minute journey across jagged dirt roads andprecarious narrow bridges to visit the parishioners in their homes. Rural vietnam offers the most beautiful scenic route to a city girl like myself. The festering heat is forgotten as the smog-free wind blows through my hair while I cruise on the motorcycle. I take in the view of luscious green trees and picturesque shacks of houses lined against the still (albeit muddy) river. This is the calm Vietnam that I love. Some of the parishioners' homes are so tucked away that we must venture by foot across death-defying "cầu tre" (bamboo bridges) and maneuver through sodden footpaths in order to reach our destination.
Nonetheless, each family welcomed us with open arms. Their houses were made with thin stalks of wood, held together by nails and straw. Common between the houses were family photos along the walls, a photo of Jesus, a dining table, and a roll-out mattress on the floor to sleep. They had minimal materialistic goods. Grandparents, parents, sons, daughters, and grandchildren live together under one roof. The older generations stay at home, while the strong and healthy ones go to work fixing cars and tires, selling produce at the market, collecting cans, and the like.
Though they didn't have much, each family invited us in for coffee or tea and offered us all the ripe fruit in their backyard. I asked one lady why she didn't keep the fruit to sell, and she said, "Well, we don't make much off the fruits anyway, so I want to give them to you". Their hospitality, generosity, kindness, and humbleness blew me away. Sodifferent from the main city where there's a dog-eat-dog mentality with greed, manipulation, and corruption clouding the minds of equally poor people, the families here live a simple life with simple values and a big heart.
Last year, Fr. Tuan suggested that donating ducks to the villagers would be a fruitful way to support their income. 10 chicks would cost the families $150, 000 VND (approx $7.50 USD), which the church would lend them. Once fully grown, the families could sell each duck for up to $750,000 VND. What a profit! The families would then pay back the church the initial investment and purchase their next batch of ducks. This trip was especially heartfelt for a fellow missioner named Sang, because he raised $2000 USD to buy ducks for all the parishioners. When we visited the families, we could hear the incessant "quack" of the grown ducks in their backyards. Some families were raising their second or third round of ducks! Even though some die, and some are eaten by the families themselves, the ducks were seen as a very successful investment by the parishioners and they were ever-so grateful. This goes to show that you cannot help a community by assuming what works best for them. Community development is truly about working together with the locals to find a solution to what they see is a problem.