Friendship Foundation of American Vietnamese

Luong Thi Gia Hoa Ryan

Thoughts on Project V

For all of us, holidays are a very special time when families come together and celebrate. Christmas and New Year's are the most special of all our Western holidays, a wonderful season of rejoicing and traditions.

Gia Hoa Ryan

Gia Hoa greets an old friend at the home for the handicapped near Saigon.

That explains why it has been difficult for the Friendship Foundation staff these past five years, who have sacrificed family holiday times in order to journey to Vietnam for the Education and Children's projects. There are many reasons why we volunteer to share our holiday season. First, the foundation is committed to its mission of "building bridges of friendship" between the people of Vietnam and the people of other countries.

Second, we want all of our project participants (who are volunteers like us and whose hearts are filled with generosity) to learn about Vietnam and Vietnamese people.

Thirdly, for myself and my family there is a special reason for giving up our restful holiday season. For many years, our family had a tradition at Thanksgiving of contributing to and preparing a holiday dinner for the homeless. We would work with others in our community to cook the huge turkeys, prepare the stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and all the other trimmings, and then serve the meal to our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

For the first time we would bring five participants who had family ties with Vietnam.

My children and I were very proud to give up that time so that we could celebrate with those in need. When we began the foundation, we continued that tradition of dedicating our holidays to help others. This year's Education Project again was a time for realizing our dream of bringing people together and building bridges of friendship.

This Project was even more special because for the first time we would bring back to Vietnam five participants who had family ties with Vietnam.

Their parents were from Vietnam and now their sons and daughters would journey back to their homeland to learn about their heritage and get acquainted with family members. This has always been part of my dream to return our youth so they can know their background.

My son was one of these five. He had originally come to Vietnam when our family visited there several years ago for a huge family reunion. But this time was different as he would join me at the holiday season, actively volunteer in the project, and contribute to our charitable work. As a mother, this made me very happy. On such a Project as this with a large group of people, there are always last minute changes. We must remember that Vietnam is a developing country.

When you visit there once, you may not see the changes. But even a return visit a year later will show many developments. For example, at the leprosy village, when we first came five years ago, there was no electricity and no community building. A year later, upon our return, there stood a new community building. Another year went by and the villagers proudly showed us their new electric generators. Today, we find not only electric lines running into the village, but new and better houses built for half the families. So you can see progress is taking place.

All of us want progress, yet we always must remember our first rule for our foundation work, "Be flexible." We have worked on many projects from building a school, to aiding hospitals and clinics, to providing scholarships, to assisting various villages and charitable agencies. Sometimes a project does not go exactly the way we planned, yet we always must understand that it is the people in Vietnam who must make the decisions on any project. It is we who must fit in to what they are trying to do.

Even if Vietnam is not as economically developed as elsewhere in the world, we must never forget that this is a sophisticated and mature culture that is four thousand years old. It is not necessarily they who should learn from us, but we also could benefit from their experience and wisdom. How children learn to respect their elders and treasure their families, how people share with each other, how the youth love their country and people, how the villagers smile even through their hardships—these are all valuable lessons that we can learn. You are all invited to join us in Vietnam in December for our holiday tradition.



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