Reaching Out – A very special social enterprise
Fifteen years ago a paraplegic by the name of Le Nguyen Binh wanted to do something to help disabled persons in Vietnam become productive and independent. The result was a shop called Reaching Out in Hoi An.
He started by training three disabled persons, one with Down syndrome, one speech and hearing impaired and one with congenital dwarfism, to become artisans. Their first product was eight hand sewn dolls of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Today Reaching Out employs over 70 young persons with disabilities ranging from hearing impairment to mobility challenges resulting from Agent Orange exposure. They produce beautiful hand-made gifts of fabric, jewelry, china, and inlaid laquerware that are popular among the many Western tourists who visit Hoi An.
Disabled persons in Vietnam have traditionally been ignored by society. Through Binh’s efforts not only in the social enterprise, but through national advocacy, are gradually helping to change that cultural view. Binh’s enterprise adheres to Fair Trade practices and the employees are all well paid, earning more and enjoying greater self esteem than they otherwise would.
For the past five years, we have helped Reaching Out by raising funds to provide training bursaries for new employees and by serving as informal business advisors.
Books for remote village schools
Each year we are part of an international team of volunteers who deliver portable libraries to remote schools in very poor rural areas of central Vietnam. This project is spearheaded by a remarkable woman by the name of Le Ly Hayslip. Le Ly, a Vietnamese-American, the author of two books about her horrific childhood experiences as a victim of the Vietnam War, is the Founder of Global Village Foundation.
Traveling to, and arriving at, these isolated communities is often quite an adventure as most of them are well off the beaten path. We have endured hours of kidney-jarring motoring over muddy rutted roads, been forced to dismount and push the bus out of the mud, slept in hovels with chickens and pigs wandering in and out and shared our bed with lizards. But immense rewards and the satisfaction come with seeing children delightfully pawing through books.
We are involved with the Hoi An Chapter of the Vietnamese Association for the Assistance of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA). There are over 1,000 victims of Agent Orange living in and around the city of Hoi An. Although Hoi An itself was spared combat and direct Agent Orange spraying during the war, the hills to the west saw both heavy fighting and extensive use of the dioxin.
After meeting several victims and their families Bruce approached a number of his old Army buddies from his first tour of duty in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967, several of whom are suffering maladies related to Agent Orange themselves. They very generously agreed to help with cash donations.
With our partners at VAVA we have initiated a small micro-financing program. With loans of $200 to $500, victim families are successfully launching home-based businesses and becoming independent. The payback rate has been consistent and enables the funds to become available for further loans to others with business ideas.
Helping to Reduce Human Trafficking
In Southeast Asia the children of poor families are extremely vulnerable to exploitation, especially girls. Each year, thousands of children often as young as ten are duped or sold into virtual slavery in China, Japan, Thailand, the Phillipines, Korea and, yes, Western countries as well.
In Hoi An, Linda Hutchinson-Burn, an Australian ex-pat and grandmother, is trying in a small but significant way to do something to stem the tide. This quiet, determined crusader is firmly of the view that the answer to the problem lies in education.
The mission of her organization, Children’s Education Foundation, is “to help girls grow to be women with choices.” We first met Linda at Reaching Out, where she is a good friend to Binh and Quyen. She asked us if we would sponsor just one child by funding her tuition and room and board for a year.
We began by sponsoring one child from a leprosy village – funding her tuition and room and board for a year. CEF and its mission has captured the hearts of many of our donors who agree that educating girls will have a lasting impact on their development and expectations.