Friendship Foundation of American Vietnamese

Joseph Meissner

The Happiness and Challenges of a Family

"We are like a family."

We are sitting in the restaurant on the ninth and top floor of the Hang Long Hotel in District 3, Cho Lon, Ho Chi Minh City. The date is December 20th on a warm evening filled with gentle breezes and the rustling of the leaves from the vines that cover the overhanging trellises.

Joe Meissner

Joe delivers relief goods to a home for the disabled.

We are enjoying our first gathering for Children's and Education Project V. It is a time for making new friends and previewing the days of hard work and adventure that lie ahead on the project. While we talk, the evening already grows dark and the city's street lights come to life.

Director Ryan has asked me to say some words of welcome. Thirty eight people will participate in this year's charitable project. At one point when the number of applicants had reached thirty, the foundation board had discussed limiting the number.

But Gia Hoa had strenuously opposed such a patrician restriction. "Let them all come," she urged, "we cannot predict who will most benefit. Further, from their resumes they all sound so enthusiastic and willing to help."

So here was the largest group we had ever sponsored to Vietnam in five years of missions and projects. Like any family we would have our adventures, discussions, and varying viewpoints, but that only increased our insights and deepened our shared experiences of a wonderful country and her gracious people.

It is impossible to highlight all the lessons we learned, but the following three deserve to be mentioned. First, different people will perceive the same situation differently.

For some, a blown tire on a huge bus spells failure for our long journey to Nha Trang because we are forced to stop by the side of the road and wait while the tire is repaired. For others, this becomes a heaven- sent opportunity to meet people living beside the road, enjoy an unhurried view of people's daily lives, and marvel at the work skills of the Vietnamese youth who can repair a huge tire of a mammoth bus with a few small jacks and wrenches. Somewhere in this tire episode is one of the reasons why the overpowering U.S. military machine could not win in this land.

This lesson of differing viewpoints made this one of our most interesting projects. Certainly, this characteristic of conflicting views and contrary reactions emerges in the articles written by the participants. Some saw the dirt and the insects in the corners of the buildings they visited while others caught the gleam in the eyes and smiles on the people's faces.

This is a lesson no amount of tuition can buy.

Second, this Project was memorable because of the five participants who were returning to their Motherland. Their families all had ties of kinship to Vietnam and two of them had even been born in Vietnam although they remembered little from their youth. "It has always been one of my dreams," stated Gia Hoa, "to bring Vietnamese-American young people back to see their homeland and learn about their culture and history."

One of our long-term fears burdening those of us who have worked on resettlement in America for the last quarter of a century is that the families—especially the young—will lose their sense of being "Vietnamese." They will lose their culture, trading a valuable inheritance for an America of McDonald's, pop TV, and tidy suburban housing tracts.

Not only did these participants with Vietnamese backgrounds learn so much about their heritage, but also they helped the other participants with translations, explanations, and insights. Their journal entries reveal their special insights and experiences.

The third lesson that shines through all the journal entries is best exemplified in John Seebach's recollections. He writes about a mother at the Leprosy Village and her baby who suffers from a severe handicap. What struck John was not the woman's loving care for her child nor the harsh burden that she obviously must bear in taking care of this child, but her fierce sense of pride and joy in this gift that she had been granted.

She is the mother of this child and she will let the world see the evidence in the photograph she insists that John take. I commend John and all the other participants who came to understand that the Vietnamese people may be poor by our standards, but they do not wallow in misery and tears. In fact, they are able to smile and take pride in their lives and accomplishments. This is a lesson that no amount of tuition can buy and it again shows how each of us participants on Children's and Education Project V gain far more than we can ever give.

If God is willing, we shall have a project VI, again beginning at the rooftop garden and restaurant of the Hanh Long Hotel next December. We invite everyone to join our family for an experience that will enrich and reward you beyond measure.

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