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AV Coordinator's visit to Vietnam

Assumption Volunteers have gone to many countries in the world over the last 20 years but we had never sent to Vietnam. In 2018 we had the perfect candidate – Tra-my, a Londoner who had volunteered already with AMA in the Philippines and who wanted to learn more about her Vietnamese roots. In October 2018 I was privileged to go and visit her, along with Gamay Solis, the Philippines AMA co-ordinator. 

The first startling thing about Vietnam was the money – I changed $100 to 2 million plus dong. Each 200,000 dong note was worth about £7 and trying to get the number of noughts right was difficult. Everything looked hugely expensive but was quite cheap. The next was the number of motorbikes – there were hundreds, weaving round cars and buses to the traffic lights and then setting off in a crowd. The third was the number of churches and temples in the country – the people are very religious though the government is communist.

We stayed for one week with the Assumption Sisters in Ho Chi Minh city. It was a lively house – besides Sr Marie Emmanuel from the Philippines there were several Vietnamese sisters and seven postulants and candidates, young women interested in the religious life. Their day began early when the church bell rang and they all got up for 5am Mass then morning prayer.

Tra-my was living in a tall house about half a mile from the sisters through narrow streets, along with eight female university students. She was the “big sister” to the students – living and eating together and all sleeping in one big room on mats.  The sisters valued this apostolate to young women, many of whom had arrived in the big city from rural areas and had never lived away from home. 

During the mornings Tra-my helped the teachers in the pre-school housed on the floors below, and taught English with songs and actions to children aged 2 – 5. In the afternoons she worked in a nearby orphanage where many disabled children lived. We visited and were impressed by the musical ability of a blind girl and another small boy. I enjoyed visiting Tra-my and her projects and watching her in action, and the evident appreciation of the principal and orphanage director as well as Tra-my’s happiness.

We also had a few trips – one to the Mekong river where we had a wonderful lunch followed by a paddle-boat ride up one of the narrow inlets of the delta, watching out for pythons! Another was to the city where we saw some of the famous buildings and had a short time to go round the War Museum which was a horrendous reminder of the loss of life in that country. A happier trip was with Tra-my to the Water Puppet Theatre, a traditional art form. Various puppets appeared in a large pool, worked by people behind a screen in wetsuits, and depicted 17 folk stories, with 6 musicians playing traditional instruments and singing and voicing the puppets. One of my favourites was a leopard trying to catch ducks, watched over by a farmer. The front row of the audience got rather splashed!

Other memories are of the wonderful food, the variety of new fruits especially dragon fruit, and the kindness of the sisters. We would love to send another volunteer there.

Watch Tra-my's 45-second video