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LE: Students bring smiles to Vietnamese poor

Published: April 8, 2005
Section: Opinions


This past Christmas and New Year season, the lives of 280 poor Vietnamese children have been touched by endless efforts, love and financial support from Brandeis in many ways.

Bring yourself to Vietnam, the beautiful but poor country on the other side of the globe that youve heard of only through movies and stories. Imagine yourself surrounded by laughter of 200 children at Phu Nhuan Youth Center in Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday Jan 2nd of the New Year 2005. Welcome to the Mua xuan cua em (My new year) drawing contest for children age five to 15 from poor families in Vietnam. This project was made possible by the grant I received from the Maurice J. and Fay B. Karpf Peace Awards, a special annual prize given to people working towards coexistence and peace, with special emphasize on arts related projects.

When the award application was announced last October, I thought I had to do something for Vietnam, and this was too good an opportunity to miss. So I wrote a proposal, contacted my friend To Hoang Thuy Tram to ask for help putting the project together in Ho Chi Minh City. We got all the $915 that we asked for and within one month she had managed to find a location, get support and approval from local authorities and youth groups and brought together over 20 enthusiastic young volunteers to help with the event.

The $915 covered everything from art supplies, prizes, decoration, games and lunch for a day that made a difference to the lives of 200 kids whose parents could not have afforded such fun events for them otherwise. The winners with the best drawings were awarded with full set of school supplies and books. Each child was given a drawing kit with crayons and drawing pads that they could take away with them after the event. The intention was to convey the idea that every child is a winner, so no child would have to go home empty-handed. The children were also provided snacks and candies as they busily worked their way in their drawings. The topic of the drawings was My new year. The drawings produced were all unique, expressing the different kids own images of a new year. Some drew their family celebrating a simple Vietnamese traditional new year called Tet, some drew beautiful spring sceneries in Vietnam;

others expressed their dream for peace, happiness and a better future. Besides the main drawing event, children also got to watch cartoons, play Vietnamese cultural games, and participate in group competition to create a mosaic out of colored paper. The day left beautiful memories of innocent children playing happily, laughing and having a good time. I would never forget that day.

The aim of the project was not only to bring smiles to poor Vietnamese children but also bring back those smiles to Brandeis by having an exhibition of the drawings here. Through the beautiful drawings, Brandeis students could learn about Vietnam and the ordinary lives and dreams of children from a poor country heavily affected by the American war.

For more information on the Karpf Peace Awards, contact Professor Gordon Fellman.
Another wonderful project initiated by Nam Phan, president of the Vietnamese Student Association, was the Scholarship Program For Poor Pupils. Through various poker nights to raise funds over one year, Nam, with the help of other VSA members and the Poker club, has managed to raise $830 to provide scholarships for poor pupils in the rural area of Vietnam.

We decided on the Long An province in the South of Vietnam and allocated $10 for each pupil. Each scholarship basically covers the school supplies a pupil need for an entire academic year. Using the $10, we bought gift packages containing a backpack, notebooks, pens, pencils, rulers, scissors, an alarm clock and even an English dictionary. With the help of Mr Tran Duy Hoa from the Department of Education who has done assorted charity work before, we selected 80 pupils of poor families across the province. During my visit home this winter break, I had the fortune of accompanying him to distribute the gifts to some pupils. We either visited the homes of the kids or came to their school. The kids didnt know they were getting a gift at all;

imagine their surprise when visited by some complete strangers and given a gift package bigger than themselves!

The drawings and pictures of the event were on display at the Vietnamese Culture Night from 6pm to 8pm on April 7th in the ICC Swig Lounge. Students came to taste Vietnamese food, make their own Vietnamese appetizers, play traditional Vietnamese games and learn about Vietnamese culture.

The drawings and pictures will be in the ICC until April 13th and will then be exhibited in the Shapiro Art Gallery from April 14th-17th. They can also be viewed at http://people.brandeis.edu/~suongmai/Drawing_contest/ .

Just imagine… $10 for school supplies for one child per year. Less than $5 for a full day fun event with drawing supplies to take home that could brighten the life of a child. Miracles still exists as long as we still love, care and take action to help.