Starting back in October of 2016, we did some light research while getting to know Vietnam and its people during business travel throughout Vietnam. I took time to talk to local people about the post war era, to professionals in our business, and to tour guides and hotel administrators about the societal and economic concerns of this current generation.
I was impressed by the uniform desire of this Vietnamese generation to rebuild their country. The passion to industrialize with high tech, to modernize roads and telecom infrastructure (yes WiFi is everywhere), to educate, and to elevate the standard of living by learning new skills and inviting foreign companies in to manufacture was impressive. Vietnam is positioned these days as one of the five Tigers for the future of manufacturing in south-east Asia.
In my spare time, when not working, I took the opportunity to travel to various parts of the country (north and south). In these places I had the opportunity to meet many Vietnamese people - even up into the northern highlands near the Chinese border. I also had the opportunity to learn more about the history of the country dating back to 2800 B.C. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Vietnam), its various tribes and indigenous people, and what life is like today, now 40 years after the War (most people call it the "American War").
One aspect of society, which is not displayed on tourist brochures or websites, or on professional tours, are the orphanages where unwanted children are dropped off to be cared for -- sometimes just because parents cannot support the child anymore, or an unwanted new born is brought into the world, or parents have just abandoned a child to the streets.
According to web research I have done, there are many orphanages throughout the country, most of which barely provide adequate care for the children. While many of these institutions solicit money, and some get a few bucks from western tourists, unfortunately many times the donation does not make its way down to the children. Instead, it is used by the administrators or house moms, for their own subsistence.
Vietnam is a developing country of roughly 90 million people, of which 24% are under the age of 14, and 40% are under the age of 24. Economic pressures in this developing country influence the priorities of this generation with a median age is 30 years old. Finding gainful employment, and raising their standard of living is generally priority 1. According to published statistics by website Trading Economics, the average family income in Vietnam is $255/mo. The average income per month for working person is $165/mo, or $1.03 per hour. Needless to say, using discretionary income for charity is not one of the highest priorities among this generation.
In many western and eastern cultures I have visited and observed over the past 30+ years, caring for the elderly, sick, or homeless is often left to family, or in many cases to religious institutions. In the last few years I have gained first hand knowledge from visiting many orphanages, from reading, and from talking with Vietnamese people.
I have discovered that there are only a handful of orphanages funded by non-profits from France, the UK, or from Australia. And there are a few other orphanages that are funded by local remnants of religious institutions such as the Catholic Church (6-7% of Vietnam has Catholic identification), or by the Buddhist Pagodas (8-12% of Vietnam identifies as Buddhist).
Where are the American foundations, the American charities, the Red Cross, the Mission groups, the rich philanthropists? Really nowhere. Why? My theory is, that even after 40+ years since the War, there is no western heart for the people of Vietnam. Additionally, western foundations and charities feel that it is too difficult to raise funds to help a former enemy country. Thirdly, the American press has not made much penetration in the post-War era to examine the condition of daily life.
Perhaps the most significant recent exposure in the last 20+ years was the an episode on CNN of a show called "Parts Unknown", (https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6n6gmz) hosted by the late Anthony Boudain (may he RIP), a world traveler and culinary expert. This episode, which aired in 2016, featured his trip to Hanoi, where he met up with US President Barak Obama at a side walk eatery. Aside from this media exposure, all one can really see on American TV these days are re-runs of Vietnam War historical accounts and documentaries.
Unfortunately, most of the Vietnamese population (82-85%) list themselves as having no religious affiliation/atheist, or follow a variety of forms of folk religion. Officially, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an atheist state as declared by the communist government.
Conclusions leading to Action
All of the Orphanages I have visited to date are severely under funded and basic child needs are resource constrained - its obvious and plain as day. I have been in kitchens, sleeping quarters, education rooms, and have seen hundreds of children with my own eyes. Yes, there are a handful of tourist-centric institutions that are well funded, but 99% percent of orphanages are not.
Only a few religious organizations are socially active in orphanages in Vietnam. Normally religious organizations send missionaries to third world countries to set up orphanages and such. I have met no foreign missionaries, save a few mission volunteers from Spain and France that were on short terms trips to a couple of Catholic orphanages. Without a strong western presence, the effort is quite minimal from what I have seen from North to South. It is possible the government itself is responsible for this by denying visas to foreign missionaries.
Wages in Vietnam leave little discretionary spending for philanthropy, or charity. In fact, it is rare that this is even in their stream of consciousness of the working adult.
The top priority of needs for Vietnamese orphanages are a) shelter for the children, b) clothing for the children, c) food for the children, d) education for the children ...... and maybe way down in the list medical care. Even further down the list is sport or music education. Not even on the list of needs are shoes for the children.
I began to form an impression from countless opportunities of seeing children in the back alleys and streets, and from talking (through interpreters) with administrators at a number of orphanages. Most of the children do not have basic foot wear. Most of them run around barefooted. They are subjected to cuts and bruises on the dirty streets. This, in turn produces infections and ultimately restrict the physical activity of afflicted children.
Of the meager funding that does comes into the orphanages, shoes are not even a consideration, priority, or something to spend money on.
From 2012 to 2017 I attended a place of worship where it was stated every week, "we can't do everything to help the needy, but we sure can do something." In the fall of 2017, due to a number of personal circumstances a vision began to form -- and the synapses fired. It was then I decided to do something, even if just a little thing.
It was then I consulted with some local people and decided to start a personal charity which in Vietnamese is called Chân Rồng Vui, or translated: Happy Dragon Feet. The Dragon is a historical and cultural icon and revered symbol over many centuries of Vietnamese history.
The mission of Chân Rồng Vui is very simple:
To care for the feet of children with no means.
Translated in Vietnamese:
Sứ mệnh của chúng tôi là bảo vệ bàn chân cho những trẻ em có hoàn cảnh khó khăn, không có gia đình chăm sóc.
And so it began...
With the mission in mind, and with contacts and people I met on various trips to Vietnam, we organized the first two Orphanage events which were held on November 4, 2017 in Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh City, post-War).
For the rest of what happened check out our blog found elsewhere on this web site.