Report of the visit of the children of Ca Mau
It was an eye opener for me to go the Ca Mau where the poor Vietnamese people of the south are living. It is a harsh contrast to the city life where everything is abundant. Fr. Rossignol and I took the bus from Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City to Ca Mau; it took nine and a half hours to get there. Ca Mau City is at the tip of the southern region of Vietnam and it is a part of the Mekong Delta. Since the fresh water of the Mekong Delta is not flowing as much as before, the sea water is contaminating the rivers and streams, saturating the land with salty water and destroying the rice paddys which once could grow well there. With the sea water present , the people there can grow only little herbs for consuming. With little or no income, they remain in a poor financially situation.
Sunset on the riverside, in front of the parish of Hoa Trung, Mekong Delta.
We took the night trip so that we could rest while the bus was moving and we would be there at our destination at day break. We managed to take a taxi to the host site at Hoa Trung Parish where we met Fr. Hung, the pastor. He was the person who coordinated our transportation so that we could visited individual studenst and houses. We were so blessed that two of our seminarians are natives of there. They gave us rides and assisted us with interviewing the children and some students’ parents. We were delighted to have two people willing help us with the process of monitoring and distributing the scholarship funds.
Housing of poor families in the Mekong Delta.
The first day plan was to make the visitation to poor student homes and check the progress of the students who live by Hoa Trung Parish. We had no problem to get to the students’ home that morning because they have paved roads accessable to their homes though we had to walk a few meters into murky sea water to get to some of the houses. Most houses are compact about 3M by 5M, the first living space about 3M by 3M and it is used as a multi-purpose room. The back room is about 3M by 2M used as sleeping quarters.
The multipurpose bed: a place to sit, to sleep, to eat...
The cooking area is often located outside with the extension of the roof and the siding is covered with whatever they can afford, ranging from rice bags, palm leaves or metal sheet. The houses are make of bricks and cement for those who can afford them; the poor just have to use young trunk trees and the roofs either are thin cement fiber roofs or the thin sheet metal ones, which is subject heavily to rust from the sea water. I was bit surprised to find that they can fit into a compact houses like those. I was bewildered and asking myself, “Where can the children live and where can they find a private place to study?”
The "equipped kitchen"...
Stepping into the house, we cound not miss to note the floor. Most the floors were made of a black dry-clay dirt. The first house had a dirt floor, but at least the floor ground was leveled out and made a nice level ground to walk on. The parents and children were standing to greet us. They seated us but they themselves did not have a place to sit on. We managed to do our best to be with the people and interviewed the students and parents. The more we asked the more we understand why they are poor. Some have no land to work on; others have but their land does not yield enough for yearly spending. The men often work on their land in their spare time and are free to be hired as labor workers in anything that they were asked to do. The women stay home and take care of the house. Some follow their husbands and work beside their husbands. Thus, their income is low and unstable.
Not too far from the host parish, there was no road access to the houses of the students. It was a most dangerous road to walk to the students houses. We walked to the side of one house and passed to dirt road leading to the students houses. We walked into the low area where sea water was up to our ankles. Other part the dirt road was still wet. We walked into black clay dirt. It was sticky and slippery. Several times, I almost slipped out of control. My feet sunk up to the ankle of clay mud and I literally could not move even though I was walking on bare feet. It was a one kilometer road and it took me 20 minutes to get there. Once I got to the house, I needed another 10 minutes to wash my feet and sandals. Here we met the poorest of the poor. They have to walk the terrible road daily. In one particular house we visited, the house was almost collapsed because the wood poles and beams were rotten by termites. The sidings of palm leaves were blow away, leaving an opening that light and rain water get into the house. In this house resides a poor family of four. The 35 year old husband was too ill to work nor well enough to repair the house. The wife was working in the city far away and she only come back once a month. The two boys, eight and eleven year old, are too young to help their parents. I was thinking that this family could be a good candidate to receive the “Charity House” so that they may have a decent house to live in.
Beautiful young children and teenagers. Hopefully, their studies will give them a better future than their parents...
On the second day our work was more simple. We organized that the poor children come to us at a designated place, at Hoa Thanh Parish and we interviewed them there. In that way we reduced much of the time from traveling from place to place. Here we focused on interviewing the children and getting to know them. They came from poor families and some from divorced families, and have no child support from the fathers. It is a pityful case for some of these families. However, life continues to thrive with beautiful faces and hope from the young girls and boys. It was a comfort to know that the poor children are being cared for and that they will have to change to go to school. It was a joyful feeling to be with the poor children.
The trip ended with more visitations to charity houses some of which were finished and others are being built. It just takes time to travel to these houses. Fr. Rossignol brought the money for the other charitable house project at the Thoi Binh Parish. This place it still considered a mission site for the poor. Fr. Vinh, the parish pastor, let us know that the parish has ten poor students who are on the waiting list to receive the scholarship so that they may have a chance to go to school.
Attention, building in process !
Twenty new houses already built thanks to the generosity of our benefactors...
As a member of the team going to the mission site, I have seen the conditions that the poor are in. I could not close my eyes and wal
k away from my own brothers and sisters who are in need of me. The trip is meaningful and urging me to do more for the poor children of Vietnam.
Joseph Quoc Le, CSSp
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