Low overhead, high impact project brings support to Vietnamese orphans

October 17, 2020 - 08:00
It rained non-stop the night Phùng Thị Hoan couldn’t sleep. She was worried about the makeshift kitchen, which was about to collapse anytime. And the rainy season was coming.


Alfred Meza (second from left) works with his friend and volunteers to build the pig house for Phùng Thị Hoan. — Photo Project LoHi 

HÀ NỘI — It rained non-stop the night Phùng Thị Hoan couldn’t sleep. She was worried about the makeshift kitchen, which was about to collapse anytime. And the rainy season was coming.

She was also worried that the people she was expecting might not be able to come.

They promised to come and help her repair the kitchen and build a pig house for her pig herd. The plan was put off once, also because of the rain.

But this time they came, despite the weather.

Alfred Meza, one of the two founders of the Project LoHi (Low Overhead-High Impact), which works to promote support for sustainable economic development for families and orphans in remote and impoverished locations, decided to come and work in the rain.

Hoan, 60, still has to work hard to raise her two grandchildren, who were abandoned by their parents.

She doesn’t refuse any kind of job and works from dawn to dusk to feed the two kids, but they still face hunger for half of the year.

“Sometimes I’m too tired to be tender to the kids, I feel angry at their parents for leaving them to me,” Hoan said.

Coming to see the kids and their grandmother, Meza could not help but think to himself: "Oh my god, they need a lot of love!"

Meza wanted to help Hoan and the kids not only by providing them with something they can earn a living from but also with the warm love they have been missing for years.

With money mobilised from the community and friends and Meza's remuneration which he receives from evening English classes, Meza and the co-founder of the Project LoHi Nguyễn Bảo Trâm decided to repair the makeshift kitchen, the roof and home, and build a pig house for Hoan.

When they and other volunteers came to Trung Tâm Village in Ngòi A Commune of Yên Bái Province, many young people from the commune were waiting to help. Together, they carried bricks, sand and cement from the village road to the small house on the hill.

“It was a rare thing for foreigners to come to the village and help do such things,” said Triệu Ngọc Tham, a resident of the village.

When the construction was done, the project members stayed to hold a warm Mid-Autumn party for the kids in the village. They sang together and played games, and even though the kids didn’t know much English, they joyfully joined the kind-hearted guests.

It was the fifth family that Meza and Trâm have supported since the LoHi project was founded in 2019. Their project's aim is to support families and children in difficulties in mountainous areas of Việt Nam. The project provides a sustainable economic model for those in need so they can feed themselves in the long run, and support others who might be in the same circumstances.

Members of the project find those in need with the support of local authorities, then they meet with the potential beneficiaries themselves. The project spends all the money received from donors in both the US and Việt Nam to support their activities, and those directly involved in the project are all unpaid volunteers.


Alfred Meza served in the US Army as a medic for eight years, which changed the way he saw the world.

"After leaving the army, I wanted to bring my international military experience and history of humanitarian service to the less fortunate,” said Meza.

Meza, who grew up in an immigrant Mexican family in the town of Elgin, Illinois, the US, moved to Hawaii, where he worked at the Hyperbaric Medicine Center.

"Sometimes I still wonder about the purpose of my life, and once I came to ask the Budha at a pagoda in Oahu, Hawaii. I promised myself if the Budha would answer that question for me I would spend my whole life following that path," Meza said.

In early 2019, Meza met and made friend with Trâm, who was then a journalist attending a course in Oahu. They shared the story of volunteering to help others, and Meza thought of coming to Việt Nam to help out one day.

Alfred Meza helped build a new breeding facility for a resident of Yên Bái Province in 2019. — Photo Project LoHi

Meza's father fell sick when he was admitted to the Honolulu Police Department. He flew back to Chicago to accompany his father on a three-month treatment. During this time, Meza told him about his wish to come help orphans in Việt Nam, and his father totally supported him.

Waiting for his father's health become stable, Alfred returned to Hawaii, sold or donated all his belongings and then wore a single backpack to Việt Nam to start spreading love and hope to others.

"It was like a magic that when I asked the Budha about the meaning of my life, he answered and told me that I should spend my life helping others," Meza said. — VNS