A Lismore Sister, Margaret Walsh, recently had the opportunity to be part of a project sponsored by the Vietnam Cultural Schools Association in Sydney. Margaret’s journey was in the company of a group led by Br Liem Vo dls who, for many years, has guided a project of support for families in Vietnam who living with extreme hardship.
Before leaving for Vietnam, Margaret reflected, “There are some memories which seem to remain with us for life. I realised this when I was preparing to visit Vietnam during December 2013 and January 2014. Back in December 1975, as I flew over Vietnam towards Thailand, I recall looking down at that country and feeling an overwhelming sadness for the Vietnamese people. They had endured untold suffering during the Vietnamese war and no doubt at this time those in the South were then dealing with the difficult circumstances of a new regime.”
“Now 38 years later, having taught English to many Vietnamese students in colleges in Sydney, and lately to the mothers of those children who were born in Australia, I was about to walk on their land.”
From Ho Chi Min City (Saigon) seven of us from Australia – Liem, Lou dls, a family of four, and Margaret – travelled to Hue, in Central Vietnam. There, joined by Br Victor dls and some students, they set out each day to the distant villages and parishes where food parcels were distributed to families (the toys for the children were received with great delight).
After the Christmas Eve liturgy in Hue, the group joined with the people for the, a concert given by the young ‘Sisters’ then treated to a grand supper, Vietnamese style!
Later the group flew south west to Pleiku in the central highlands of Vietnam to a base in a small town on the outskirts of the city. Here a Religious Community support the leper communities and many of the ethnic groups. One of the Sisters (also a Medical Doctor) in the clinic provides medical advice and assistance to those family members with leprosy and other illnesses.
“This is marvellous work,” said Sr Margaret, “so many of the older generation are very disfigured by leprosy. These were brought down in ‘trucks of a sort’ or walked long distances to the parish grounds from their leper communities.”
The Sisters conduct a simple boarding house for the ethnic young people to study and attend schools nearby. They also run the Kindergarten but are not permitted to teach higher classes.
“On two occasions we were shown the particular water systems, dams and tanks, that the Sisters have funded and set up to service the local population with clean drinking water. Surely this is an example of their concerned efforts to support the needy and live in harmony with Planet Earth. It seems the religious women are very proactive in their enterprises for their communities in their local areas. Each evening we enjoyed our dinner and conversation with the Sisters’ Community, as well as delightful ethnic dancing by the young students.”
From Pleiku the group travelled east to their next destination, Kon Tum, another ethnic area with picturesque countryside and farming areas removed from the ‘tourist’ spots. Here too, long queues from the village communities, young women with babies, as well as the elderly, gathered each day at various places for the distribution of rice, noodles, blankets, clothing and toys. “Once again we noted the work of the Women Religious among the people.”
“I really appreciated the whole experience,” said Margaret. “‘Gifts of an entirely different nature were returned to me personally through the people I met. Though challenging, often confronting, and quite tiring, the ‘adventure’ was always worthwhile. It will join the memories I treasure. Xin chao ban! ”
Sr Margaret Walsh, Lismore