by Nguyen My Ha
Another holiday season has arrived, and with the current economic situation still looking unpromising, targets set for the start of the year are unlikely to be met. However, regardless of widespread belt-tightening, people everywhere are still trying to do what they can to share with those less fortunate than themselves.
Just last month, one of our young reporters based in the central province of Thua Thien - Hue set up a charity with his peers to help children in the former battlefield of A Luoi. A picture of a young smiling kid in a faded jacket touched all of us. The caption is even more meaningful.
"Dear all, this child comes from a poor ethnic Pa Co family. His father died of leukemia and his mother is waiting for surgery to remove a tumour. We are trying to raise money for her.
"You can see his radiant smile, and we have donated a warm jacket to him, but underneath, he doesn't have a proper pair of trousers.
"We take in anything: old clothes, books and shoes. Toys are a luxury." When I look around, everyone is doing his or her best to lend a helping hand.
One of my childhood friends has been active in setting up and running a fund called the Rice Scholarship, started by staff from the Canadian Embassy in Ha Noi. This year, they aim to raise money for 800 scholarships worth VND850,000 each to buy 10kg of rice, books and pens for the upcoming school years for poor children in the provinces of Dien Bien and Lao Cai. The group has raised a little more than half of what they need to reach their ambitious target, and they still have a long way to go.
Once you start looking, there are so many groups that have identified people in need.
Dong Cam, or Sharing Empathy, run by a group of my highschool friends who work for a law-firm, raises funds to help cancer patients at the Ha Noi K Hospital. Everyday they donate 200 meal coupons worth VND15,000 each, and collect socks, hats, scarves, bed sheets and blankets.
You'll find every group has a valid reason to help.
I believe that the reason we reach out to help people is because inside us urges us to do so. Maybe it's because many of us have experienced hardships too.
For a country going that has gone through so many wars and suffering from post-war economic difficulties, even the most privileged have experienced either hunger or cold, or both.
We used to go to a prestigious school that was built in the 1980s using funds from a foreign charity that supported Viet Nam during the war, and we were lucky.
The previous generation of children was forced to evacuate the city to escape from the bombing in Ha Noi. They grew up with countryside kids and shared their modest homes and village schools.
My generation was left with the hunger of food rationing, under which each child was only entitled to 13kg of rice and 300g of pork per month, which is a little more than a beef steak now available at the popular Chien Beo Steak House on Nghi Tam Street.
The hardships of that past are not far behind us, and we know if we don't work hard to share our wealth with other people, then our society as a whole has hardly developed at all.
There's a Vietnamese saying that goes: "What matters is how you give, not how much." And I can't agree more.
It really irks me when I see people receiving donations on TV with a placard bearing the amount of money they have received.
What was even more disturbing to me was a pop concert that was held last month during which the star invited some child patients onto the stage. They were going to have heart operations funded by money raised during the show. No matter how grateful they may have been, and more than anyone aware of their situation, the poor kids kept their eyes glued to the floor and clearly did not want to be there. What was the point of dragging them on stage in the first place to talk about their plight in front of hundreds of people?
This brings me back to another night before Christmas I spent a little more than 15 years ago in New York City. We came from all over the world and we lived in a dorm together where we celebrated Christmas.
A beautiful young blond girl was reading Andersen's Little Matchgirl in a warm carpeted hall. We had all the food and cakes and some wine, nothing lavish, but more than comfortable. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, and they were enjoying the story. I however, did not. The little girl died of the cold because she did not have any warm clothes, just a box of matches to try and fight the freezing temperatures.
"This story was so sad," I thought to myself, "And these people are so cruel to have read this."
Maybe this story belongs to a distant past and the people who brought it up had good intentions. But for me, coming from a country where that reality remains a tragic reality, it was far more than unpleasant.
These days, we celebrate Christmas at home with our family, but I still think about the little match girls out there who are in desperate need of shelter. Do we need to keep talking about others' misfortune to know how fortunate we are?
I believe that if you are happy and grateful, you send out positive waves. You don't need to keep reiterating the plight of others, you are just like everyone else. If you can lend a hand, then do it. No need to boast about it.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. — VNS