Marc, Duy (our Travel Director), and I landed in Hue, the Royal City of Vietnam at night. Immediately, we felt the cool breeze and sensed a calmer rhythm of life in this city. Ten years ago, I was a solo backpacker visiting Hue as an overseas Vietnamese American. Although I spoke the language, I had no connection to the culture, people, and local organizations of Hue.
Even before arriving in Hue I was excited to hear the description of the three nonprofit organizations we would visit. It was like a dream to be able to meet the leaders who have dedicated their lives to serve others.
Our first stop was to visit Tue Tinh Duong, a health clinic that was founded by the Venerable Hai An to serve the poor people in and around Hue. As soon as we walked through the door, forty patients were waiting in the light and airy hallway for their turn to see a doctor. The Venerable, a tall man in his sixties, began his career as a monk and a doctor forty years ago. He had started a small clinic in a temple and gradually expanded to serving 450 patients a month by providing both eastern and western methods of healing. He has now expanded to ten small clinics in surrounding temples to meet the needs of elderly seniors who cannot travel more than a mile. Furthermore, once a month the Venerable and his staff travel to remote areas to provide medical care for the poor.
Sitting in the presence of the Venerable, I felt a sense of peace, humanity and purpose. I realized how much he has accomplished for people in his community and for people like me who have come to see his work and be inspired by his presence.
On our next stop, we went to Friends of Hue Foundation (FHF) to visit their orphanage. We were invited to have lunch with twenty-four children aged seven to eighteen. Sharing a simple yet delicious meal with eight smiling but shy children at my table, I forgot that they are orphans who have lost their parents. One of the FHF staff confided that she was a former orphan who lived at this shelter for six years. After graduating from college, she returned to work at the shelter. Watching her caring for the children, I want to be part of this big family.
In the afternoon, we met Quynh – the Hue representative of Thriive, a nonprofit organization that provides loans to successful small businesses so they can grow and hire more people. Quynh introduced us to the Hope Vocational Center that serves as a training site for people with disabilities. Ngoc, one of the founders, told us that her program has 700 graduates since 1999. With a loan from Thriive, the Center received new high quality sewing machines to help train and increase productivity for its disabled trainees and employees. I met some of the employees who have one leg and one arm, but they were smiling and talking with friends as they sewed.
After Hope Center, we visited Bao La Handicraft Cooperative where I met twenty-five men and women sitting on the cement floor weaving an array of bamboo products. The director shared that with a Thriive loan, the Cooperative was able to purchase a power generator that has increased their productivity by 300% and tripled their workforce. In the past, whenever they lost power, which is frequent in rural areas, they had no means of resuming work and meeting the increasing demand.
After a day interacting with the children, garment makers and elderly bamboo artisans, I felt a sense of collective purpose. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” my inner voice whispered repeatedly in my head. As we wound down the day with our new friends over dinner at a delicious vegetarian restaurant, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of gratitude to the people of Vietnam.