Planning our annual PHF trips has always been something I look forward to. It not only gives me the opportunity to explore communities that need help, it also puts me in touch with inspiring people.
This year was no different as we got in touch with the people from the Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam (HSCV), Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation and KOTO (Know One Teach One). It was inspiring to learn of their stories – of how they had set up their organisations upon seeing the need in Vietnam to do something for the poor children and youths. It was by no means an easy task as they hit hurdle after hurdle, disappointments after disappointments. But hard work paid off, and once in a while, the little successes in life motivates them to do more than what they had initially planned for.
I was particularly inspired by Jimmy Pham, founder of KOTO. Having started the organisation some 10 years ago, his sharing of what motivates him to continue doing what he’s doing was food for thought as we think about the next steps for Project Happy Feet. “You’ve got to have the 3 Ps,” he tells us. “Passion, Patience and Perseverance.” The success of KOTO and its graduates wasn’t built in one day. But today, as we speak to the trainees, we see the difference that KOTO has brought them – hope, confidence and most importantly, a sense of dignity. If we begin to think that these same youths could have still been on the streets polishing shoes, we begin to realise what a difference KOTO has made in 2 years – and what a difference we are making in providing scholarships to 4 trainees in the 15th batch of students.
The experience of visiting poor families with HSCV and hearing their stories also reminded us of the things in life we have so often taken for granted – an education, proper sanitation and a roof over our heads.
As I return home, I remember the family of the first home we painted. She lived with her mentally disabled son and was kicked out of the house when her husband left her. Left homeless, she found a little shelter through the government’s help. But the shelter was no more than the size of some of the bathrooms we have at home. Despite that, it made her smile to know we were giving her home a fresh coat of paint for her little shelter. For her, it seem to mean that it was a new beginning – nevermind the holey walls or urine-stench floors. We felt bad for leaving drips of paint on the floor and had wanted to wash it off. But alas, water was scarce and she was just happy enough to know the walls were cleaner and brighter with the yellow coat.
I remember too the boy that came along to meet us in our meeting with the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. He was 22. He left his family in the remote villages in Vietnam when he was 16 and headed to Hanoi alone to polish shoes so that he could get out of the poverty his family was in. At that time, he hadn’t been to school at all. I wondered at that time how many kids in Singapore at that age were wasting away their chance in education. Today, after being given the chance to be educated, that boy wants to be a counsellor so he can help other children in need.
I remember the Principal of the school in the Sok Son province. She was extremely thankful for the second hand photocopier that we had donated. She had served the school and the village for some 30 years and was happy that we had contributed to improving the facilities in the school. When asked for her dream for her students, her one wish for that her students would have a chance to enjoy play in a playground – as simple as that.
Such are some of the many inspiring stories that we remember of our trip. For each of us, every experience in interacting with the local people there has given us food for thought, a chance to reflect, and an opportunity to do something different back home. We are thankful for the opportunity that these people have given to us. And despite the intention of the trip was to give as much as we can, we cannot deny that for each of us, we had received much more than we could ever give.