The life of an old French soldier in Việt Nam

November 17, 2016 - 09:00

An older Frenchman walking with the help of a cane has become a familiar figure to many residents of southern Việt Nam. He visits orphanages, gives school equipment to children, and helps build houses - and he never asks for anything in return.

Former soldier: Marc De Muynck plays with children at the Mái Ấm Thiên Thần (House of Anges) orphanage in HCM City. — Photo courtesy of Marc De Muynck

Viet Nam News

By Bạch Liên

An older Frenchman walking with the help of a cane has become a familiar figure to many residents of southern Việt Nam.

He visits orphanages, gives school equipment to children, and helps build houses - and he never asks for anything in return.

They call him Ông Tây (the familiar Vietnamese monicker for an older Western man), but his real name is Marc De Muynck, founder and vice president of the humanitairan non-profit organisation Les Enfants du Dragon (Children of the Dragon). The name is based on the legend that the Vietnamese people are descendants of a love union between a dragon and a fairy.

He founded the organisation in 2009 with a Vietnamese friend, a dental surgeon, after several trips to Việt Nam during which he witnessed the hard life of many of its inhabitants.  

”I visited other Asian countries…but with Việt Nam, the link is different. It is indefinable, made of a sheaf of sensations that makes me feel very good here,” he said.

Former soldier

De Muynck, 67, was in the French army for 32 years before coming to do charity work in Việt Nam.

Asked what motivated him to create the association and devote all his energy and time to charitable work, he smiles. 

“Obviously not the salary... No, the reward is far beyond any material consideration ... “I am paid simply by the smile of a child when you bring him school supplies, toys or a bike and by childrens’ laughter when they play, when they extend their arms to you for an instant of affection ... Paid by the glitter of joy that shines in the eyes of those to whom you brought medicines or food. 

“You are sometimes also paid by tears ... but tears of happiness, for example when you have  just given a roof to a poor family ... It is simply this that motivates me, that makes me advance and makes me want to continue the mission ...”

His weak legs have never prevented him from being active and enthusiastic.

“My health does not pose any problem, the will is in the head and it is necessary to know to adapt to everything and not to give up when faced with the slightest obstacle. To cry for oneself does not help to advance. There is one motto that I like a lot: ’The greatest glory is not standing, but getting up every time you fall’".

New orphanage 

His association aims to support humanitarian projects for children and deprived families in four provinces: Đồng Nai, Sóc Trăng, Long An, Đồng Tháp and in HCM City.

Over the last seven years, he and his colleagues have tried hard to find sponsors for their projects. Most of the funds come from France: from the Abbé Pierre Foundation, the ATRYA
group, enterprises and individuals.  

Luckily for him, the association has attracted a number of dedicated Francophone volunteers.

This Saturday, the association will inaugurate an orphanage it built in the Cần Giuộc District of Long An, the district’s first orphanage.

The centre, 30 kms from HCM City, will eventually be able to host 100 orphans and abandonned children.

“Our first objective is to help abandoned or orphaned children,” said De Muynck. 

”We want to provide them with a safe environment while allowing them access to care, minimum subsistence and education. It’s important to promote their socialization by helping
them access culture and become autonomous,” he said.

His charity also supports schools by financing health facilities, renovations, offering food parcels, scholarships and school supplies. 

Moreover, the association helps to combat malnutrition by building spirulina farms, distributing free of charge some of its crops to children, the elderly and the sick. Spirulina is a micro-alga considered by the WHO as the "super nutrient" of the 21st century because of mineral and vitamin richness.

Since its foundation in 2009, the association has built 107 charity houses, drilled 51 wells, installed seven drinking water treatment plants, built a bridge in Đồng Tháp, offered 40 rainwater tanks to families in Long An province.

The association members also regularly distribute scholarships and bicycles to the poorest students, and food parcels and clothing to the most deprived families.

“I have known Marc for five years. When he proposed to help the underprivileged, I did not think he could devote so much energy to people. Despite his traveling difficulties, he always attends all stages of projects such as: examining the construction site, participating in the inauguration ceremonies, and handing out charity houses to disadvantaged families. He was never absent,” said Đào Ngọc Ánh, Deputy Chairman of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front of Gia Canh Commune, Định Quán District, Đồng Nai Province. — VNS