Thursday, 12 June 2014

Room to Read

I am reading the best book right now titled “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World”, by John Wood, founder of Room to Read.  Our host in Cairns recommended it, after she heard about the girls charity work in Kenya.  If you have not read this book yet, I strongly encourage you do so.  It was written over eight years ago, but as I lay on the beach in Vietnam immersed, I am inspired and overcome with emotion.  Without giving too much away, the story chronicles John’s decision to leave a lucrative job at Microsoft, to fund libraries, schools and educational scholarships for girls in Nepal and other countries around the world. Room to Read’s second country was Vietnam and it was interesting to be in the country that he was writing about.
This was what the beach looks like on a typical Sunday night, it is family day at the beach and EVERYONE
heads there with their picnics!  We decided to wait for a week day for some sun, and it was practically deserted!
A typical job on the streets of Hanoi.

Vietnam telecom!

I looked up from my book to the welcoming voice of a woman who refers to herself as Mango Number One.  There is another Mango on the beach requiring them to differentiate themselves with numbers.  She asked if I might ‘look for free’ at the basket of goods she was selling, “Please look before you say no.” she pleaded.  Mark and Ally were taking a quick dip in the salty ocean to cool down.  I knew in advance that I would not purchase anything.  I do not need anything, and nothing reinforces that more than reading about the plight of children and education in underdeveloped countries.  I try to gently let Mango know that her efforts to sell cheap goods will be lost on me, but she continues.  Mango Number One complimented my beautiful daughter Meg, and noted how smart she is, as she too was immersed in a book.  We are so lucky in Canada to have access to education, and it is so easy to take it for granted.  It is not the case here in Vietnam.  Thanks to John’s work, children in Vietnam are being provided with more schools and better access, but many are not enrolled in school and instead, are working to help provide for their families.

Mango asked where my husband was as she took a seat at the foot of my lounger.  Shortly after, a soaking wet Ally and Mark returned.  In their absence, I had heard about Mango’s many children and her husband who had passed away.  I wanted to help, but was a bit sceptical.  I considered buying a bookmark for my book, but to be honest I would be returning to my kobo in another 100 pages and wouldn’t need it.  Although I considered giving her a donation it was Meg that redirected me on this thought, noting that I would not be able to give a donation to everyone, and there would be more. I couldn’t help but wonder where she found the money to provide for her children, clearly the basket of goods was not generating the income a family would need. This seemed to be the norm in Vietnam and it was clear that although there was some wealth here, there was still many living in poverty.

During our time in Vietnam we quickly learned that the people want desperately to learn to speak English and they jump at any opportunity to practice ‘real’ English with anyone willing to engage in conversation. On the street, in the train station and at shops, many Vietnamese engaged us in conversation.  We even took part in a program called Hanoi Kids, where university students volunteered their time as tour guides to practice their English.  Anhnguyet (Whit) was our guide and we quite enjoyed learning about her schooling and visiting the Ho Chi Min Mausoleum.  We wanted to give her a monetary tip, but it was declined, so instead we offered to purchase some fruit for her to take back to her family.  Again our request was denied and she said that we had given her plenty, helping her with her English.  She wanted to learn more languages and Mark and I were in awe at her determination.  In John Wood’s book, he too had met a young and dedicated Vietnamese student named Vu, who wanted to learn English.  There was a determination to learn and better one’s skills here, particularly with those that had been provided with some basic form of education.
At Ho Chi Min Mausoleum
Enjoying a lovely lunch with Anhnguyet, she let us do that at least!
After Hanoi we made our way to Hue and Hoi An, all mentioned in the book, and I couldn’t help but recognize the same observations John Wood had made over eight years ago.  There were children working in the fields who should have been in school.  One young boy joined us on a bike trip, ready and willing to offer any assistance we needed.  We chatted to our guide about why he was not in school and he explained that it was expensive and the boy didn’t like it, so instead he followed the tour and asked for money at the end.  Our guide, a well educated young man, said that he tries everyday to convince the young boy to go back to school, emphasizing that is the best way for him to ‘get money’ and have a better future.  Thankfully, many young people realize this and have seized the opportunity to further their skills and learn however they can.  For those that have not reaped the benefits of education, the struggle for existence remains and the cycle of poverty continues.   
Hopefully one day he will realize that education will open up so many doors.
We tried to book a tour to see some of John’s work in Vietnam and Cambodia, but the school visits had been cancelled.  We were a little disappointed as so much of what the girls were doing, as part of their ‘Cousins for Kenya’ work, resembled the work of Room to Read.  They too had funded education, donated books for a library, and who knew what was next, maybe a school!   Vietnam has been absolutely beautiful and we have loved learning about the culture, meeting so many wonderful people and enjoying the delicious food.  Everyday is something new and exciting.  Just as we got used to the idea of seeing a refrigerator on a motorcycle, the next thing we saw was a full grown sow inside a basket heading down the road!  Nothing shocks us anymore, except for the fact that so many children are missing out on opportunities that could change their lives. 
Often children spend their days with their parents while they work, instead of being in school.

This little one has a mommy who is a pharmacist, and her educational future is bright.  I was
lucky enough to join her for a cup of tea!
I am going to head back to my book now, I need to finish it and pass it on to the girls.  It is a good one, but we warned, if you read it, you may be inclined to make a change in your life; reach into your pockets to help a student somewhere in the world or leave your job and live life on a different path.  Whatever you choose, make it count and live life to the fullest.  We are so lucky, and as John pointed out, that is what is so unfair about some of these developing countries.  We were simply lucky enough to be born in a country where education is valued, health care is provided and we can do whatever we set our minds to.  So many people have benefited by what John Woods set his mind to doing, and hopefully through his book many more will join in the efforts.  He certainly has inspired us to continue our work with the cousins, making a small difference in the world. 

1 comment:

  1. Hey Guys, I am Loving Your Blog. The World Tour Looks fun. See You soon :-]
    - Azzare H.


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