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VietNamNews

Australian returns to Viet Nam

Update: July, 13/2014 - 12:00

An elderly gentleman from Australia likes Viet Nam very much.

He first came to the country when he was in the Australian Army.

Now he is friends with old soldiers in Viet Nam.

He also helps out at a special home for children where he is teaching them rugby.

Growing close: Tickner and children at Dien Bien Social Protection Centre. In the past five years, they have become family.
Growing close: Tickner and children at Dien Bien Social Protection Centre. In the past five years, they have become family. - Photo courtesy of Neville WilliamTickner

by Le Huong

They call him "Ong Tay", which is a general term for all Westerners.

However, for the inmates of the SOS Children's Village and Social Protection Centre in Dien Bien Province, the tall, white-haired man with a perennial warm smile is a foster grandfather they enjoy spending time with, and whose visits they look forward to.

Australian Neville William Tickner can often be found at both places playing ball with the children or bringing them gifts of milk, food and fruit, not to mention clothes.

Tickner, 60, first came to the city in September 2009 to visit the famous battleground that he'd heard a lot about since the days (April 1967 -March 1968) he served in the Australian Army as a field gunner, stationed in what is Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province today.

"I immediately fell in love with the people and geography," he said. "I came back five days later intending to help for a month and return to Malaysia via Laos." He had been a young soldier in Malaysia (1964-1966) and was based in Penang when he visited Viet Nam in 2009.

Then, he visited the newly-set up SOS Children's Village that hosted 46 children aged 2 to 10. He went there every day and taught them to play rugby. He still remembers the effect the game had on the children.

"They'd never seen a rugby ball before. It has an unpredictable bounce… and children found it so funny. I'm sure it took their mind off the trauma they'd suffered. I could see their material as well as emotional needs… and so our long friendship began."

Tickner was so taken up with the children that he decided to live in the city and engage more with them. He also taught English for free at a local language centre.

He said he does not like to use the word "charity", because it implies some sanctimonious hierarchy where the giver is stationed above the recipient.

"I have simply done what I could, what every grandfather wishes he could do," he said.

"Most importantly, I have built bridges of friendship at every level here in Dien Bien Phu, and I must say...it is the warmth and friendship of the Vietnamese people in general and here in Dien Bien in particular that has allowed me to do so."

Nguyen Kim Thin, a former staff of the SOS village, said Tickner did not make much of an impression on him as a western backpacker visiting the children.

"But then, over the past four years, he has showed his enthusiasm and kind heart with frequent gifts that the children really need."

Tickner also helped equip each of the 14 houses in the village with a range of appliances including a TV and a refrigerator.

Vu Thi Hue, director of the Social Protection Centre, said Ticker has also brought bicycles, poultry, pigs and clothes.

"Whenever he comes, the children are happy," she said, "And so am I."

Tickner's new home is a 20sq.m room at the Muong Thanh Hotel in downtown Dien Bien City. It is minimally furnished with a bookshelf that has many books on General Vo Nguyen Giap and a photo of President Ho Chi Minh on the wall.

He has made friends with some local war veterans despite the fact he does not speak the local language.

"Old soldiers don't need to speak anyway. We have a common understanding about what each other has been through and a mutual respect."

Tickner said he did miss his three children and seven grandchildren at home, but really enjoyed life in Dien Bien.

"One of the great attractions of living in the valley for me is that I am a patriot myself and have a strong understanding of the battle and sense the spirituality of this special place, where so many young lives ended.

"Living among memories and monuments and being able to serve the community (especially the children), gives me a sense of honouring their sacrifice in some small way."

Untold story

Tickner is also using his time in Dien Bien to gather material for a book on a massacre in Noong Nhai Village, where more than 400 people, mostly women, children and elders, were killed by the French just a few weeks before the colonial army surrendered in May 1954.

He has spoken to elderly survivors of the Thai ethnic minority and other witnesses including Viet Minh soldiers who helped bury the victims after the massacre.

"Much of the material I need to fill in the spaces will not be released by the French or Americans...so I will be forced to offer my own explanations, based on my personal understanding and historical knowledge.

"The Thai people's homes were turned into a huge war grave by the French and their side of the story has never been told, nor commented on in any depth by foreign writers and historians," he said, adding: "Remember, it is a work in progress." — VNS

GLOSSARY

They call him "Ong Tay", which is a general term for all Westerners.

Westerners are people who may come from any number of places known as Western countries, including Australia, New Zealand and the countries of Europe and North America.

However, for the inmates of the SOS Children's Village and Social Protection Centre in Dien Bien Province, the tall, white-haired man with a perennial warm smile is a foster grandfather they enjoy spending time with, and whose visits they look forward to.

Inmates are people who live inside special, safe places.

Perennial means long-lasting.              

Your foster grandfather is someone with whom you may have a relationship similar to that of a grandfather but he is not in fact your real grandfather.

Tickner, 60, first came to the city in September 2009 to visit the famous battleground that he'd heard a lot about since the days (April 1967 -March 1968) he served in the Australian Army as a field gunner, stationed in what is Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province today.

A field gunner is someone in army whose job is fire off big weapons.

"They'd never seen a rugby ball before. It has an unpredictable bounce… and children found it so funny.

If something is unpredictable, you cannot tell what next will happen to it. A rugby ball can bounce in different directions because it has an oval shape.

I'm sure it took their mind off the trauma they'd suffered.

A trauma is an awful experience.

I could see their material as well as emotional needs… and so our long friendship began."

Your material needs are things you need such as a bed to sleep in, a shelter to live in, food to eat, medicine to help you recover from illnesses, books to take to school, clothes to wear. Your emotional needs are made up of the love and companionship you get from family and friends.

He said he does not like to use the word "charity", because it implies some sanctimonious hierarchy where the giver is stationed above the recipient.

A sanctimonious hierarchy is an imaginary ladder in which some people have a position of being more important and more special than others.

A recipient is somebody who receives things.

"But then, over the past four years, he has showed his enthusiasm and kind heart with frequent gifts that the children really need."

Frequent gifts are gifts that are often given.

Vu Thi Hue, director of the Social Protection Centre, said Ticker has also brought bicycles, poultry, pigs and clothes.

Poultry means birds that are kept as domestic animals, including chickens, ducks, geese and so on.

It is minimally furnished with a bookshelf that has many books on General Vo Nguyen Giap and a photo of President Ho Chi Minh on the wall.

If a place is minimally furnished, it has the very least amount of furniture.

He has made friends with some local war veterans despite the fact he does not speak the local language.

A war veteran is a person who once fought in a war. Local war veterans are those who live in a certain area.

"We have a common understanding about what each other has been through and a mutual respect."

Mutual respect means respect for one another, in such a way that it does both people good.

"One of the great attractions of living in the valley for me is that I am a patriot myself and have a strong understanding of the battle and sense the spirituality of this special place, where so many young lives ended.

A patriot is someone who has strong feelings for their country.

"Living among memories and monuments and being able to serve the community (especially the children), gives me a sense of honouring their sacrifice in some small way."

A sacrifice is something you give up for the sake of something you believe in.

Tickner is also using his time in Dien Bien to gather material for a book on a massacre in Noong Nhai Village, where more than 400 people, mostly women, children and elders, were killed by the French just a few weeks before the colonial army surrendered in May 1954.

A massacre is an attack in which many people are killed.

Colonial means to do with a country that rules another and takes its wealth. In the case of Viet Nam, France was a colonial power.

When an army surrenders, it gives up.

He has spoken to elderly survivors of the Thai ethnic minority and other witnesses including Viet Minh soldiers who helped bury the victims after the massacre.

The Thai ethnic minority is a small group of Thai people who are different to the other people living near them in Viet Nam because they follow Thai ways rather than Vietnamese ways.

WORKSHEET

Find words that mean the following in the Word Search:

1.      Neville William Tickner's home country.

2.      Our father's father.

3.      The country in which Neville Tickner had been stationed as a soldier between 1964 and1966.

4.      A type of household appliance.

5.      A sport played with an oval-shaped ball.

 

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© Duncan Guy/Learn the News/ Viet Nam News 2014






























Australian; 2. Grandfather;3. Malaysia; 4. Refrigerator; 5. Rugby.

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