History is not so much what was.. but what we can create.I am disappointed that a 30 year milestone since commencing humanitarian aid charity programs in Vietnam cannot be celebrated there.. but I hope you can share the memories and amazing stories three decades have held.
Initially part of a small Christian team entering a closed and desperately poor Vietnam back in 1990, the grace and beauty of the people first caught me attention.. than made me return some months later. The second trip changed my life. It was also the beginning of change for thousands I hope.. as I started the first of two charity organizations. Project Vietnam was birthed from both amazing experiences with the emerging Christian Church.. in times they were persecuted and in hiding.. as well as being exposed to the awful poverty, and the suffering of so many children in ill equipped hospitals with few experienced doctors. In Dong Nai, north of HCMC, I met a lady with two sick children.. viral meningitis.. in the morning there was just one.. it changed my life forever. I did not speak Vietnamese.. I could but hold her hand and cry with her. No medicines, no equipment.. poorly trained staff.. no air conditioning and no money to pay for food. This was why I decided nothing was going to change unless it was made to change. Project Vietnam in the early years of the US Embargo still brought in 6 containers of donated medical equipment. I was given open doors by the Vice Minister for Health, and able to start so many programs of training, sponsorships, building in poor provinces and taking teams of medical and tradespeople to physically improve conditions.
Peter Brock, my old school mate and Patron, was helping with fundraising back in Australia, with post race auctions.
In 2000, I formed Heart Reach Australia.. better able to focus on poverty, medical programs and training. Brocky again was a key support till his tragic death in 2006.
Over the years, I look back and reflect on so many milestones. Incredible considering we operate and have always done so.. as a registered charity.. never having paid staff.. able to only do what is donated or by fundraising. In the current situation of the Covid 19 impact, we have no government grants.. not having a wage means no qualification for charity support. Makes one wonder.. I thought charities were meant to give, not get rich. But I con look back and see where real value, real riches lie. Not just with the underground church that exploded in numbers and is dynamic today.. but the medical activities and programs where in many ways we have done more than so many big international groups. It is because of people who care. People who help us make a difference, and give kids a chance of a quality of life.. a future.
The first years saw containers of medical equipment.. including X Ray machines in the rural areas, dialysis machines in three city hospitals (several machines free for poor people), Vietnam’s first Eye Bank in HCMC, with training of staff in Australia.. cornea transplant program with two big HCMC hospital;s..a scholarship program to train young, but poor (mostly rural) eye doctors in Queensland and the Sunshine Coast.. Dr Peter Stewart, as Patron, assisted in both Vietnam and locally.. building a Clinic in Tan Thach primary school grounds.. free treatment for poor families. Then the very first Medical Ambulance Boat.. built in Narangba Qld, and now in the Mekong Delta, servicing a new purpose built clinic.
The New World Hotel, primarily through the GM David Wicker, enabled us to do many programs in their facility.. and these included activities with a Blind School, kids from poor families in Ben Tre Province, concerts and First Aid Training. David and the NW staff have been brilliant!
In the past few years, I was invited to enter High Schools.. (previously we have been working in and with primary schools in many areas).. and the goal was to teach CPR and First Aid. It was a first for Vietnam. These, and public training usually have doctors and health workers attending to learn what they were never shown in medical college! The high school kids are a sponge.. soak up the info and have so much fun in the process. Our children’s sponsorship program began after people asked us to do this.. tired of their funds to big groups going in admin and glossy advertising.. so this area is another that gives first hand contact with poor kids in mainly outer areas and poor provinces. In nearly every case.. the children have improved greatly in both school and living standards. Some are outstanding.. but all have one thing in common.. they say ‘thank you’ to the people who help.
In 1998 I was looking for a cheaper hotel in HCMC.. and found the Le Le Hotel.. where I met a delightful and beautiful girl I later called ‘Angel’.. and in time we married, and for 21 years she has been both a strength and also a means of us eating!!
How do I reflect on 30 years of joy, agony, heartache, encouragement, lack of funding, blessing, hopes and disappointments.. all mixed into the years. All intertwined with thousands of kids, families, people.. and experiences??
I remember key people.. key moments.. a girl run over by a truck and when hooked, barely alive, to our donated dialysis machine.. walked out alive and healthy two weeks later. Still swollen and puffy faced, her two words in English.. ‘Thank You’.. are why we do what we do. Building a new home for a lady is shocking physical health because the shack she was given was appalling.. and the hospital refused help due to her poverty.. changed her life, and her daughter has now just graduated from university. There is Mai.. poorest of the poor in Ben Tre..managed to see her gain a full scholarship in RMIT, HCMC.. and she is graduated at the highest level.. some of many stories that all say.. ‘this is why Heart Reach Australia is committed, even without getting the financial support or publicity of better known organizations..to keeping on bringing help, hope and a future to the poor kids in Vietnam.
Thank you who have helped. Thank you who may yet do so.. 30 years is history, so much has been achieved, but as I stated initially, history is only there to point the way to what we can yet achieve. Together, we can make that difference.
30 years.. a reason to celebrate.. but a great basis on which to build! God bless you all.
Chris O’Dempsey Director Heart Reach Australia