|Helping hand: German businessman Juergen Eichhorn spends time with blind children at the Hai Duong Blind Association. Eichhorn has used donations he raised from local and international sponsors to provide assistance. — VNS Photo Khanh Chi
by Nguyen Khanh Chi
Jumping off his seven-seat car, Juergen Eichhorn unloaded a 50kg sack of rice, his back bending a bit as he carried the load inside the Hai Duong Blind Association's building.
"The donation comes from a local rice dealer every month. The rice is to feed the children here," the German said, sweating all over his forehead and chin.
Today as usual, Eichhorn comes to visit, brings some other logistic supplies to the Association which accommodates about 60 blind children, many of whom are disabled due to the effects of Agent Orange.
Whenever Eichhorn visits the centre, he not only checks this or that, to make sure the children are in an acceptable condition, but he plays with them, tries to crack jokes and sometimes give them a type of relaxing massage - a therapy which is said to particularly help the disabled.
"That is hard to say. In fact, I love children and I feel great giving them a helping hand. To talk and play with them makes me feel even better," said Eichhorn.
Ha, his Vietnamese wife, does the same and many of the sponsors too will be visiting Viet Nam soon to spend time there and take care of the children and help the teachers.
As a businessman who first arrived in Viet Nam in 1999 due to his posting for an international company, Eichhorn did not think the place would be his home forever.
Years later, the life and his work in the northern province of Hai Duong made him fall in love with the land and people here. This is also the place he realised where there are so many underprivileged people who need a helping hand. That is how he began his activities in 2008.
Through different channels and ways, Eichhorn and some of his friends have been able to collect almost US$400,000. They have also set up a web site http://www.starsofvietnam.net/ to reach out to more charities, and let them know about those who are in need. The charity project also gets a UNESCO seal.
"We had Lothar Baltrusch and his wife Kerstin here early this year. At the moment Mrs Petra Haage is here. She is a special teacher for handicapped children and those with down syndrome. She will help the teachers in the blind children's centre to learn about that and improve their work," said the father of a four-year-old girl.
"She is the sponsor of a girl named Hoa who could not speak, read or write a year ago. Since the teachers spent more time with the children Hoa learned talking, reading and writing. She can now understand a bit of English. For us this is a great success."
Not only blind children, Eichhorn and Stars of Viet Nam also take care for people who are victims of Agent Orange, both young and old.
Thanh is a victim of Agent Orange. When he was 12 years old he was a normal boy who played football and other sports. Then the defect struck, and today he can move his hands, but not his legs, back, or shoulders.
Luckily enough, his hands were particularly helpful for this young artist, who lives some 30km away from Hai Duong City.
"We sell his paintings in Europe [through postings on Stars of Viet Nam website and Facebook page] and we help him as much as possible. Today he is 30 years old. We have also been able to build a special three-wheeler for him."
"Thanh once said a sentence that represented all of us. ‘You show me that I'm worth something. I thought I was human waste'. That was tough to hear," Jeurgen said.
"Jeurgen particularly cares about the education, life and accommodations for the kids. If he notices a lack of facilities and equipment that may affect these activities, he tries to call for donations to add to them," said Pham Van Huong, an English teacher at the Association.
"There is no difference between benefactors and beneficiaries. Juergen always treats the children as if they are family members, equal without any differences," the young teacher added.
"Through Jeurgen and Stars of Viet Nam, many more people all over the world know about us. We couldn't have reached so many people out there, even if we had enough money," said Huong.
Huong said 27 out of the children here are currently sponsored by foreign donors. Each beneficiary receives a monthly stipend from VND600,000 to VND2 million ($28 to $95), some of which is spent on their daily needs, with the remainder going into savings.
"He tries to provide them physical and spiritual assistance. At this very moment, he is concerned most about the construction of a new house for the children to replace this old and weak building," added Huong.
In 2013, the old building almost collapsed. Eichhorn managed to stabilise it with steel beams. Understanding their urgent need, the provincial People's Committee agreed to give Stars of Viet Nam a piece of land to build a new children's home, which is expected to be ready next year.
"Until now, we collected 130,000 euro ($175,000). It's enough to start, but not enough to finish the job," noted Eichhorn.
With the new idea to sell bricks to sponsors through the Buy a Brick and Build the Future mini-project, they have successfully raised about 4,000 Euro in a few weeks.
"In the coming months, we will "design" the future for 100 blind children. I guess this goal is big and we will handle that," predicts Eichhorn. — VNS