Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Field diaries: Hong Kong young envoys visit Viet Nam

A team of 10 Young Envoys visited the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum
UNICEF/Viet Nam/2012/Ly Phat Linh
A team of 25 Young Envoys from UNICEF Hong Kong visited Ha Noi and Dien Bien and Kon Tum provinces in Viet Nam from July 22-27 to better understand the challenges to children's well-being, and UNICEF’s response to these. The two provinces are among Viet Nam’s poorest, with a poverty rate of nearly 40 per cent in Dien Bien and 27 per cent in Kon Tum. A majority of Dien Bien’s 490,000 residents are ethnic minority people, as are more than half of Kon Tum’s 430,000 population. The UNICEF Hong Kong Young Envoy programme, launched in 1996, is a leadership training programme especially designed for secondary school students to become future pillars of society and advocates for child rights. Below are 17-year-old Julia Zschiesche and 14-year-old Felix Tam Chun-Yan’s “field diaries” from their time in Kon Tum Province.

23 July: Ha Noi
Felix Tam Chun-Yan: “The Buddhist Leadership Initiative: More than technology, we need humanity”

Felix Tam Chun-Yan enjoyed an inspirational visit to Kon Tum Province’s social protection centre. UNICEF/Viet Nam/2012/Ly Phat Linh
Buddhism is said to be a mystery in many foreigner’s eyes. Yet, when I stepped into one of the seven pagodas in Viet Nam where UNICEF supports Buddhist monks and nuns to provide support and care to children and their families affected by HIV and AIDS, I could only see the core principle of Buddhism – “love and care”. We [the UNICEF Young Envoys from Hong Kong] were invited to sit in the main hall as a highly respected monk, sitting next to a family impacted on by HIV/AIDS, delivered a speech. The speech was related to the Buddhist Leadership Initiative, a project introduced by UNICEF in 2003, to reduce stigma and discrimination towards people infected by HIV and AIDS. In my mind, the project is undoubtedly meaningful and inspirational. To emphasise this point, as the monks and nuns talked to the children, I saw numerous smiles and heard laughter. These confident faces spoke volumes for UNICEF’s success in giving them full and comprehensive psychological support. The closeness of their relationship was obvious and it was interesting to see few of them using electronic devices like smart phones. Instead, their bonding was built on real-time interaction. It reminded me of a motto: “More than machinery we need humanity, more than technology we need sincerity. Sometimes we think too much, but feel too little.” It’s time for me to change my lifestyle and reconnect with the real world. 

24 July: Kon Tum

Julia Zschiesche helps out during her visit to the Kon Tum social protection centre. UNICEF/Viet Nam/2012/Ly Phat Linh
Kon Tum’s social protection centre

Following a morning’s briefing session by UNICEF Viet Nam staff, we were excited to visit Kon Tum’s social protection centre, especially as we were told they had prepared a special performance for us. With UNICEF support, the centre provides accommodation, nutrition, rehabilitation services, informal education and vocational training to more than 160 children and elderly people. It also provides shelter for 65 orphans and 85 children with disabilities. Some of the disabled children were affected by Agent Orange, a defoliant used during the Viet Nam war that has affected the whole province. Its population still suffers as birth deformities that can still be passed onto other generations, while the US$800 test is often too expensive for people to take.

Ms. Nga
As we were invited to visit the social protection centre, we were introduced to Ms. Nga, who suffered from severe disabilities. The 42-year-old woman had the physical development of a 12-year-old. As we entered the room, we noticed she was nimbly working on a fish mesh net. As we interviewed her, we found that it took her, on average, one month to complete a net, which she could sell for around US$10. It was very inspiring to watch her go about her work, showing so many skills and passion, despite her disabilities.

Vocational training
We also visited vocational training activities in one of the centre’s rooms. There, children were sorting stalks of hay to produce broomsticks and, with the leftovers, making toothpicks. Most of the children in that room suffered from light types of disabilities. We found them friendly and I decided to sit down and help them out. I picked up a piece of hay and tried to do exactly what the girl sitting next to me was doing - pulling the feathers off the stalks. The girl, after a while, stopped me and indicated I was pulling the feathers incorrectly. She gave me a crash course and soon I was pulling feathers as fast and efficiently as she was. I was rewarded with a smile of approval, which filled me with a sense of happiness and accomplishment.

A little boy
Towards the end of our visit, we entered a room dedicated to providing rehabilitation and physical therapy to children with disabilities.  The room was filled with young children and I decided to team up with a young boy with a damaged foot, who was walking up and down the room with support from a walking device. I was soon told by one of the social workers that the young boy could walk for hours. His determination impressed me. As I was about to leave the room, another boy popped up and I waved to greet him. To my surprise, he started to smile at me, grabbed my finger, then suddenly jumped and hugged me. I felt a warm glow of happiness and I could not bring myself to let go of him. We did a little dance and I could feel how happy he was to show his dancing skills. As the group was calling me to get on the bus, the boy wrapped his little arm around me. The temptation to stay was strong, but I sadly waved goodbye and left. I will always remember that day and the love and attention the children shared with us.

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