Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Back to Bac Ninh

So close to Tet now... It's strange to think that back home in Australia, the new year is old news while here the Biggest Day of the Year is yet to happen. There's a sense of anticipation in the air so strong now that the only comparison I can make is to the final weeks of school in Grade 9. Except that the whole of Vietnam is on edge!

On Sunday a group of us from Blue Dragon, including some of the kids, piled into a truck and rumbled out to Bac Ninh, about 30kms from Hanoi where we sponsor disadvantaged children.

We had a very simple ceremony to give out Tet gifts to 230 children in a hall owned by the local People's Committee. Over the last month here in Hanoi, we've been spending so much of our energy dealing with crises such as muggings, runaways, and violence - it was a welcome change to spend the day in a quiet village.

Our sponsored kids loved the gifts - everyone scored some Lucky Money ("Li Xi"), and we gave out personal items for the kids (crayons and umbrellas!) as well as tea, sweets and biscuits that the families would need for the New Year. Our usual mix of practical and playful. And of course some spontaneous singing by the kids...

After the distribution we headed around to see Hieu and Thao - the boys whose mother died after Christmas (see the posts "A Tribute to Mrs Tat" and "Walls Come Tumbling Down").

The older of the two, Thao, is simply extraordinary. He quit school in Grade 4 to earn money for his mother's health care, and now he is in charge of building the home for himself and his little bro. He's making decisions about using the land that they have, where to build the kitchen, which order all the work must be done in, what materials to use - the sort of thing that an experienced builder would do without second thoughts. Not a 17 year old kid.

Hieu is well, too - very happy to see us and smiling all the time, but also saddened to be facing his first Tet as an orphan. According to Vietnamese custom, he and Thao will not go visiting the relatives this New Year (which is what EVERYBODY does), but must wait for the relatives and friends to come to them. Sounds a bit rough to me, but apparently people fear that they would bring bad luck with them.

Their house won't be finished before Tet, and when work recommences the Blue Dragon staff plan to go back to Bac Ninh with some friends, and maybe some of the street kids too, so that we can help with more of the labour. Thao and Hieu still have work to do carting dirt to raise the land, and then paint the house, put a roof on the kitchen, and build some fences. It's a bit outside our regular jobs, but why not!?

One last thing for today's post about the kids. While we were at the boys' house, a small team of helpers was working with them on some pretty dirty jobs: shovelling sand and carting it in baskets on their heads. Nothing astonishing about this, except that all of the helpers were Hieu's school friends. Boys and girls. One of them is on the photo here - the boy in the hat is a friend, and Hieu is beside him.

It was actually a little saddening that no adults were there to lend a hand, but quite inspirational to see kids helping kids like that. There is hope in the world!

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