Last year, Ming Heng (husband) and I together with Dr Marcia Ng (dentist), visited two centres run by the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco ) from 1 to 3 November 2013. It was a trip to explore and understand the needs of the schools and to explore how feasibility for future medical relief and mission for ACTS.
On the first day, when we arrived in the city we made a trip to a school at Tam Ha(near Ho Chi Minh City) and promptly met and had lunch with Sr Teresa, the Provincial; Sr Anne, the Provincial Secretary; Sr Maria Phuong, the Provincial Bursar as well as a few other Vietnamese nuns who worked in the elementary & secondary school & lived in the convent. They have another 2 elementary schools which are located about an hour from Tam Ha. The elementary school in Nam Hoa caters to 60-70 students while the school in Xuan Hoa helps 50 students whose parents suffer from leprosy.
We did not visit these schools as Sr Teresa would like us to focus on the school in Tam Ha which caters to about 424 elementary & secondary students. Since 2005, the government recognised the school as an 'attached' school. There are more boys than girls as the latter have to help out at home. Most of the students come from broken families either single parent, parent/sibling are in jail or their mother ae working as prostitutes. The school in Tam Ha also provide religious formation classes on Sundays for about 1300 children & teenagers
In Tam Ha, Dr Hop Trinh (a Vietnamese dentist who has a private practice & is very involved in mission work in her country) joined us. She was a student from the school in the past & has been treating the sisters on her own. We hope to work with her and other Vietnamese doctors in helping the sisters.
Sr Maria Hoang, the principal of the school briefed us on the school's mission, their achievements & their funding requirements. About 140 elementary students put up a beautiful performance for Marcia & I [Ming Heng was unable to visit Tam Ha school] as a gesture of their welcome and thanks. On this trip, we donated US$800 to provide a 2-year scholarship to one of the teachers.
The next day, we made our way to meet Sr Maddalena. All Vietnamese Salesian Sisters know Sr Maddalena who is in her 70's but is still brimming with passion to bring God's love to her people especially the poor & needy. She was the Superior of Vietnam for more than 20 years which is exceptional. After the Revolution in 1975, all missionaries were expelled from Vietnam. By then, the Salesian Sisters in Vietnam had just completed 14 years of service, so the native sisters were considered young. Sr Maddalena was only 33 years old but she worked very closely with her sisters to grow the mission despite the many challenges & hardship.
The Lason mission was given a house in Labang (Pleiku City) by the Saint John Bosco fathers during the FMA 50th Jubilee year in Vietnam. This establishment enabled the sisters to reach out and help many needy families. However, there is a constant need for funds to improve the physical environment of about 100 ethnic (JRAI) students from 2 villages. They go to the sisters' school from Mondays to Saturdays & have lunch there. Every Sunday, the villagers have a routine and will queue outside the school to ask for clothes, food and medicine.
In early Oct 2012, Father Gregory van Giang and Deacon Clement from Chuch of Our Lady of Perpectual Succour (OLPS) visited Sr Maddalena's mission. Through the OLPS parishioners, Fr Greg donated S$15,000 to Sr Maddalena's mission. Another S$17,500 was donated by a Vietnamese working in Singapore & an ACTS member. With the funds, the sisters were able to create a better environment with a new kitchen, storeroom, classroom, toilet facilities as well as provision of furniture for the JRAI people.
The team is made up of Sr M, and 3 other young sisters. They work tirelessly but presented with the remote area & the physical hardship, it is a challenge to keep their energy and presence here for long. Given the political uncertainty and situation in this isolated area, Sr M had advised Dr Hop not to join us for the trip. Dr Hop had originally wanted to visit Lason to help to conduct dental screening with Marcia. So, one can appreciate the constant unpredictability of the country and the mettle that is required in an individual to survive here.
In the tradition of ACTS, we donated US$2000 to purchase love gifts for 250 village households. They received a basin containing cooking oil, soap, biscuits & instant noodles. We packed small gifts for about 150 children - a ACTs tshirt, chocolates & pencils. Separtely we funded another US$600 for Sr M to fly to HCMC for medical treatment and blankets for the female boarders. Sr M has also requested for more funds to build more toilets and bigger water filters etc.
This country has so much to offer, her land and people are gifts from God but Sr Anne and Sr Maddalena have indicated that it is presently not possible to visit the schools or convent in a small group and for a few days. Meantime, I am attaching a copy of a powerpoint presentation done by the Sisters to show us the kids who goes to The Thái Văn Lung Modified School for Elementary and Secondary. Click here to view the presentation >
Let us continue to keep the Sisters and the children in our prayers for peace and progress for the country and that God will always smile upon them with grace each new day.
Elizabeth Ho – ACTS Vietnam 2013
The Salesian Sisters saw the need for education, human promotion and development of youth, especially of children and young women, particularly in the area of women and youth education, primary education and skills training. Read more at their website >