How about Rebooting Valentine’s Day to Generosity Day?

This is such a great idea started by Sacha Dichter who works for the Acumen Fund. It started when he decided to try being more generous himself. After all he was asking other people to give money to the charity he works for.

Some self-reflection made him realise that he wasn’t that generous himself. So how could he expect it of others? His enterprising next step was to start a movement to make Valentine’s Day become Generosity Day. Just one day in your life practice Generosity is the theme.

I tried this same exercise in Brighton, UK over Christmas. There were a fair number of homeless people sleeping on pavements in sub zero temperature. I couldn’t even imagine how cold they were. Hadn’t seen homeless people in Vietnam for two years! I tried to give them some money every time I could. In fact I stocked my coat pocket with change so that I had no excuse.

And boy oh boy. I discovered it wasn’t easy. I felt really uncomfortable giving people money. How was that possible? I struggled to make eye contact. I wanted to hit and run. Throw the money into their hat or plastic container. And dash off.

It took some self talk and practice to make the giving more comfortable. Weird isn’t it. Try it yourself some time.

Don’t think of the fact that the people might use the money to feed a drug habit or buy beers. Just imagine that they really need help. And that it’s a good thing you are doing no matter what they use the money for.

But besides that, try your hand at Generosity Day. Why not join our small band of early adopters and join the Generosity Day movement. Just for one day of the year show your love towards humanity. After all Valentine’s Day is all about giving love to a loved one. Instead of making florists and chocolate makers smile on this day, send your love in the form of a gift to a worthy cause.

If you haven’t got a cause you normally support why not join mine. Check out my Fundraising for Education site or like my cause on Facebook at Fundraising For Education and join in the discussion. I support kids in Hue, Central Vietnam who don’t have access to a good education. What about you?

View Sacha Dichter’s video where he talks about his journey and how he came to think of Generosity Day.

One week left in Vietnam

Hanoi! Motor bike ready outfit!

Just over two years ago I landed in Hanoi as a VSO volunteer. It was my first visit to Asia, never mind South East Asia. What an adventure it has proved to be. Having met many volunteers from other organisations I must say compliment VSO on their exceptional preparation and induction programmes which they put their volunteers through. Added to that excellent in country support and I felt myself lucky to be part of this organisation. Well done VSO.

The year in Hanoi had it’s ups and downs. Learning how to deal with the Asian culture takes time and effort and many misunderstandings later but eventually it sinks in. As for the traffic! That is something that I couldn’t come to terms with. I managed to cope eventually but that is as far as it got.

Hau, my favourite artisan at Hope Center.

Relocating to Hue was a great move. The smaller city was more comfortable for me and easier to negotiate. I was fortunate to have a great boss lady and a fabulous center to work at. Such amazing people. Never mind a disability or a tough background as a disadvantaged person the staff and artisans at the Hope Center are just wonderful.

What also helped was the family joining me on this adventure. It gave me huge respect for people who travel and work in outlying areas and countries all on their own. It’s tough. You don’t know the language, you are trying to adapt to foreign cultures and you have no support systems. Very very tough. And very brave of people to manage that. I met a few VSO volunteers who did their own thing in remote areas of Vietnam. Huge respect for them!

What will I take with me? I’m not as brave as I thought. It’s been quite tough in parts. The language defeated me. I love the sound of it but just couldn’t get my tongue to get those special sounds to be anywhere near what they should be. After many months of struggle I gave up. Probably shouldn’t have. But it’s difficult to carry on with something so difficult when you know you are going to leave again.

The language barrier ment that I couldn’t move as freely as I would have liked to. It also made it difficult to make friends with some people such as my boss lady in Hue. What a fabulous woman. Very special. But we also had to work through an interpreter. Regrettably interpreters in Hue don’t know how to interpret. So it ended up being a chat show between the interpreter and the boss leaving me out of the loop. And I saw many instances of this same problem. Somehow they haven’t learnt that it’s not a chatfest amongst each other. In the end I would sit there and day dream about other stuff while they got on with discussing the weather, babies or whatever else they felt like.

Hue. Ancestor shrine.

But on the whole it was a very good time. Interesting cultural differences. Loved the belief in spirits, karma and ancestor worship. It’s given the people a stoic approach to hardship that was kind of refreshing. The developed world people do so bitch and moan when the slightest thing goes wrong. Here it’s a matter of shrugging and getting on with it.

I loved the sharing aspect of this nation. Celebrations are always accompanied by food and drink. And the sharing is open and welcoming. Even just popping in for a visit will mean instant tea served and somebody will rush out to get biscuits or food to ensure visitors are welcomed. During Tet (the oriental new year) people sat in their thick jackets with doors wide open to ensure people felt encouraged to visit. And it’s a veritable tide of motor bikes with red and gold wrapped presents visiting each other to wish happiness, good luck and health.

Once outside of Hanoi the true people emerged. Hanoi can be very cold towards foreigners. Not so the people of the smaller cities such as Hue. Always ready with a smile, a wave, a greeting and ready to make contact. And some truly outrageous things sometimes. My son-in-law was ‘accosted’ by a granny who wanted a lift on the back of his motor bike. Just like that. He took her as far as he could and it ended up in an argument for a while when he wanted to turn left and her way was going right.

On the other hand prejudices are still there and some of the older generation were not that willing to have visitors. My Hanoi interpreter’s parents didn’t want to meet me. They were worried that their town would think badly of them if they had a foreigner step into their house.

In fact prejudices and old-fashioned habits abound. A baby is taken out of the house on the first trip to having vaccination shots with chopsticks wrapped in tissue to keep the bad spirits away. And paper is burnt, flowers stuck in trees, ancestor temples or temples to deities are in arbitrary trees and on pavements. And even though they might appear to belong to nobody in particular there are lit incense sticks, fresh flowers and other offerings on them.

Some parts of this society are still a little behind. Hygiene in hospitals is unheard of with staff unaware of such niceties as washing hands before touching anybody. Dentists have their doors wide open to traffic and dust. And food refuse is thrown on the floor while eating.

Phoenix School. Still keeping in touch with Vietnam.

But it’s a great community of people living close together and looking after each other. And I will stay in contact with this beautiful country. For the next six months I will still work as a consultant for this school and I hope to be able to help with fundraising.

Of course it’s not an idyllic world either. Washing up dishes in the backyard while squatting down isn’t my idea of fun. And my boss from the school where I am doing some work in fundraising has his staff chopping food on the floor. And you should see his fantastic kitchen that has every modern convenience you can think of. Yet his housekeepers are cleaning veg on the floor outside next to the tap which is right next to a magnificent swimming pool. Hollywood folks would be jealous of it.

But perhaps that’s what’s so charming about this country. The opposites. Five star hotels next to houses where people are still cleaning food in their courtyards. And it is that. People live mixed up with a shack next to a fancy new house. And they all seem to get along somehow. And I suppose sometimes not. But it works. And that’s what I’m going to miss the most about Vietnam. It’s the people’s ability to make things work regardless of the setbacks they encounter. Whether it’s strapping a dozen live chicken to the motor bike or hanging your washing on the neighbour’s fence because that’s where it will get some sun during a break in the rainy season. You gotta love ’em!

High birth rates surely contribute to drought

Once more Ethiopia, Somalia and its neighbours face a horrific drought. Watching some clips on BBC news I was struck by the numbers of children surrounding each woman. It made me check population growth figures and Ethiopia is at a whopping 5.4 while Somali is on 6.4.

On average a woman in Ethiopia has 5.4 children. And see the figure for Somalia above. It’s a staggering number. If this is the average what sizes are some of these families?

In a predominantly agrarian society the family will want to live off the land as much as possible. This includes tapping into natural water supplies such as wells, but also affects the shrub and tree density as these resources are depleted to allow the family to cook its food and warm themselves in the cold weather.

Add to this the additional foods that have to be grown, the extra grazing for livestock and so many more contributing factors and one can see that this mass of humanity is seriously affecting the situation and contributing to the conditions that lead to droughts.

It’s not that I am not sympathetic to the plight of these people. I can think of nothing worse than not being able to care for my family. I cannot imagine the horror of seeing ones children die of hunger and thirst in front of ones eyes. Unimaginable.

And there is also no doubt that the disaster facing the Horn of Africa is most certainly caused by low or no rain fall. But a lower population growth would have been able to cope better, work towards mitigating the effects such as planting drought resistant crops and conserving the meager water resources more effectively.

But at some stage Ethiopians and their neighbours will need to take responsibility for what they are doing. The West will again bail out the people with emergency food supplies, refugee camps, temporary school facilities, shelter etc. Isn’t it time the Horn of Africa started working towards their own solution.

And the main focus needs to be on women. What assistance and guidance can be given to help women have less children? More education and legal rights for women to be able to determine their own destiny might be a long term solution. Better health clinics to allow women access to birth control and other health related services in the short term.

Whatever can be done one thing is certain. Focus on the women and help them to improve the lives of their families. It will make a huge difference to people of the Horn of Africa. Let’s face it the predominantly male run governments are certainly not doing enough to look after their citizens.

Of course this could be considered a drop in the ocean. Something that will not make much of a difference. Who can fight against natural disasters. And other arguments. Well, human beings are resourceful given the right resources. Give women an education and you will see the situation change dramatically. It’s done it for Europe and America. Let it happen in Africa too.

Hope Center has a Campaign running right now!!

Hope Center\’s team of manufacturer\’s and handicraft artisans

As many of you will know, I’m working as a VSO volunteer at Hope Center in Hue, Vietnam. It’s a Center that provides vocational training and work opportunity for disabled and disadvantaged people.

Great excitement. We have a fund raising campaign starting this week and you are the first to hear about it.

Please join us in raising funds for our new shop. This brand new retail space is a wreck! It needs a new floor, walls fixed and painted, a ceiling put in, lights fitted, shelves for products and not to forget stock of our great products. At the moment we make our handicraft products according to orders received so we need funding to build up our stock levels.

Deaf artisan Hau measures for the new Hope Center shop

We need one or two fans (yip it gets mighty hot here), a safe cash drawer, product tags, Hope Center branded bags for our customers to remember us by…. And so much more. We know you can understand what we are looking for.

On the flip side, a shop will provide us with a good source of cash. We will have the opportunity to learn about business (I’m working on putting a business course together), find out what our customers like and give more disabled and disadvantaged people the opportunity to make a proud living for themselves.

We are sure you will love to be part of this project. As much as we will love to have you on board. Click here to help us and to pick up your free copy of a fabulous eBook we have prepared for you.

Please do this now! You have absolutely no idea what a tiny donation such as $5 will do for our folk here. It could possibly be the best spent $5 for a while.

A huge thank you goes to Yeah Can for the hugely successful photoshoot and the amazing graphics. All design work donated to this worthy cause. THANK YOU YEAH CAN! We truly do not have sufficient words to describe how we feel to have this work done for us. So willingly and such wonderful design work.

Friends of Hue Foundation calls on Yeah Can for design work

Yeah Can designed fund raising Invitation

First the Hope Center and now the Friends for Hue Foundation came to Yeah Can for assistance with design work. It’s important to get your designs right which is why Yeah Can takes particular care with designs for charities. Especially if it is for a fund raiser. Without funding these charities would not be able to perform their invaluable work.

Some background on FHF. FHF was started to provide long-term assistance in economic self-sufficiency, health care, education and emergency relief for victims of natural disasters in the Thua Thien Hue province and nearby areas in Central Vietnam.

FHF was founded in May 2000 to assist victims of the November 1999 floods in Central Vietnam especially those experienced in Thua Thien Hue province. This particular disaster was the worst to hit this region in the entire 20th century.

The UNDP (United Nations Development Program) and local authorities confirmed that the damage caused by these floods would take 10 years to repair. The work and funding provided by FHF to this disaster struck area have been invaluable to the people of this Central Vietnam area.

Besides the general relief work that FHF has done, a project close to their heart is the Children’s Shelter for Orphans and disadvantaged Youth. There are approximately 34 children living at the shelter at the moment with 20 already having ‘graduated’ with promising career paths and a formal education.

FHF instructed Yeah Can to help with an invitation to a fund raising fashion show event to be held in San Jose, California where the FHF headquarters are situated. This is where the bulk of the funding for FHF comes from. All fund raisers are therefore incredibly important as the charity’s work depends on it.

It was decided to use photographs of beautiful Vietnamese models presenting the traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai long sleeved full length dress which is worn over trousers. The look is wonderfully feminine and suits the slender body of Vietnamese women very well.

This fashion show inspired event will be held in May 2011 and it is hoped that participants will dig deep into their pockets to give generously to the FHF worthwhile work in Hue, Central Vietnam.

Yeah Can designs for Hope Center

New bookmark for Hope Center by Yeah Can designs.

It’s unusual for a brand new design studio to start off it’s client list with a free service. But that’s exactly what happened when Yeah Can took on the Hope Center in Hue Vietnam as a client.

The Hope Center is a small organisation that looks after disabled, disadvantaged people and a minority group the A Luoi by providing them with vocational training and work. It provides a loving and encouraging home environment to people in need.

The Center has been providing training in tailoring skills since it opened its doors in 1991. Graduates of courses are able to work in production making uniforms. The Hope Center has a well deserved reputation in Hue City and surrounds for its high quality and reasonably priced uniforms.

More recently the Center also started making handicraft products to tap into the creative talents of Vietnamese people. Vietnamese people have a natural ability when it comes to selecting colours and making beautiful patterns. Handicraft production fits perfectly into this.

Besides the classic small gifts and jewellery items produced there are also products made from the traditional handwoven fabric that the A Luoi weavers make. The beautiful colours are enriched by clever use of beads to enhance motifs and designs handed down from generation to generation.

The Hope Center’s graphic design requirements were for an upgraded corporate identity, material to promote the center and it’s services and products and a new web site. There are also plans for new signs for the building and the interior of a new shop.

It’s going well and new business cards and bookmarks to hand out to visitors have been printed and the new site is taking shape. Hope Center staff are so enthusiastic about the new look that they have come up with the idea of new uniforms for themselves incorporating the new colours. They are going to look great!

Everything of the very best for Yeah Can design studio and the Hope Center in Hue Vietnam. May they both grow from strength to strength!

Different cultures don’t always work together

An interesting question got thrown at me a few days ago. Do different cultures work together? The question was whether international NGOs were helping disabled people in Vietnam get a better deal.

So here’s the conundrum. Vietnam is a top down type of society. The communist party tells its citizens what to think and what to do. At the citizen level the patriarch in the family tells the family what they have to do. For instance the wife has to move in with her husband’s family.

In business as well as government organisations the leadership determines every move that the organisation and its members are allowed to make. This is how society works in Vietnam. And mostly it works quite well in a traditional Vietnamese kind of manner. In fact in all fairness the developed world had a similar style of management not so long ago.

So if you consider a total top down style of determining the lives of the people of Vietnam how do you see a lowly NGO fit into this picture? How can an NGO with a few staff members, with nobody of any consequence running the branch in a remote South East Asian country,  tell the upper echelon of whatever organisation they are working with what should be done? And even expect that organisation to follow quite different practices and procedures at their say so?

How successful do you think that would be? The communities in the developed world have an inclusive style of doing business of trying to influence folk. They have to have this approach. Nobody would listen to anybody who marched into an office and demanded that something should be done in a certain way. There would be a riot.

So imagine these two totally opposite ways of doing business, of tackling problems, finding solutions and working for the good of human kind. Imagine one where the big chief determines everything and another one where decisions are made by a bunch of folk and implemented collaboratively together.

In all seriousness do you see these two systems working together? And can you see somebody coming from the collaborative model influence anybody in the top down scenario? With great difficulty one would imagine.

Working for VSO and Hold the Future

Actually that’s not entirely correct. I work for VSO as a volunteer. And in this instance VSO has partnered with Hold the Future. So that’s how I got to go to Hanoi to work at a Centre for disabled young people.

Hold the Future’s Gardens in Co Nhue

Hold the Future and it’s director Mrs Hien is an example of total commitment against all odds. And here is a brief history.

Mrs Hien, herself a disabled person resulting from a vicious bicycle accident in her final year at University, found herself widowed at an early age with two teenage children that still needed support through higher education.

She was a civil servant at the time and salaries not huge. To supplement her earnings she spent her evenings and week-ends working on extra projects. She sold food on the pavement and worked at making handicrafts.

It was during this time of huge effort that she started to get to know other disabled people who were also eking out a living. Eventually this informal group grew to such an extent that it became worthwhile to open up a business and lease premises.

This was in 2002 and over the years the focus of this Centre has shifted slightly to become more vocational training focused than purely a facility for a co-operative of people working in handicraft production.

Over the past years the Centre has nurtured and offered training to close on 300 young people between the ages of 18 and 30. Currently there are just under 90 young people benefiting from vocational training sponsored by Caritas Germany.

During these eight years the Centre not once received assistance from the local government. There has been most welcome assistance for the vocational training by charities and foreign government agencies. A small grant for instance was provided by the Canadian International Development Agency some years back .

Young disabled people at Hold the Future

But it is the sponsorship of Caritas Germany that has enabled the Centre to substantially improve and extend it’s training portfolio to not only promote the acquisition of handicraft skills but to also add tuition in numeracy, literacy and sign language  to the mix.

During 2010 with a much more substantial grant awarded during the second half of 2009 by Caritas Germany it has been possible to add soft skills to the training. These cover such subjects as building, confidence, communication skills and presentation and sales techniques.

As much as the production of handicraft is still a major focus there is a move towards providing additional skills. It is hoped these skills will provide young disabled people with more choices and opportunities to build their own future so that they may live independent lives.

To follow the heart warming stories of the people involved in Hold the Future visit the blog at www.holdthefuture.org and sign up to the newsletters.  Your participation is most welcome.

Are taxpayers happy to see their money being wasted

Governments in the developed world allocate a fair amount of money towards international aid projects.  This usually falls under the umbrella of international development.

For instance the Department of International Development in the UK, or DfID, has a budget of £5.6 billion to spend on projects it feels will make a difference to the lives of inhabitants of the global community.

However, a problem faced by government departments such as DfID is how to determine where your money should go. How can one assess from ones office in London that the funds are being appropriated in the correct way.

The situation is often complicated further by the fact that the countries where corruption is the most endemic are also where the poorest people live who really need the aid.  Corruption and fraud seems to percolate into all aspects of those societies even the NGO’s and charities.  Aid just doesn’t get to those who need it.

DfID has also been caught out backing the wrong horse so to speak  as many other developed world governments have been who are trying to assist countries that require aid.

What is interesting though is that according to this recent article in the Independent that discusses the misplacement of funds, DfID is not prepared to provide information about the organisations that have defrauded them.

The department states that if it did name and shame projects and countries where fraud had been uncovered it would jeopardise the UK’s relationship with foreign governments.

Logically one would think that opening up these cases to the public view would mean that the organisations involved would not receive further funding not only from the UK but other countries too thus ensuring the funds would be given to projects that were legitimate.

One example listed in the article is a £1.3 million amount which had been provided for the purchase of learning materials that has disappeared in Kenya’s Ministry of Education. Or the Nigerian government’s missing £165 000 which had been provided for the training of teachers.

In this instance the problem is probably the same as in Vietnam. Civil servants earn so little money that they are forced to use bribery and corruption to earn a living.  In Vietnam officials supplement their measly salaries with bribes from the population.

In Germany for instance this would be a rare crime as civil servants are very well paid. But compare the German teacher’s salary to the salaries earned by teachers in African countries such as Kenya or Nigeria and one would be able to understand why the temptation to help oneself to international funds would be almost irresistible.

But why not admit to these mistakes in funding? Surely it can and does happen to all charities, governments dispensing development aid and even to citizen efforts such as Live Aid or the Tsunami donations. Funds disappear and aid does not  reach those in need.

Where the real problem could lie is the fact that this money spent by DfID is sourced from taxpayers’ contributions. And this is what makes the issue so sensitive. It’s all very well to distribute money generously. But whose money are they handing over to corrupt governments and defrauding charities?

The issue is that the 4×4 vehicle the Minister of Education or a head of a school is now driving in Kenya or Nigeria has been paid for by the hard earned cash of the ordinary people in the UK.

Those are the very same people who often cannot afford the basics in life never mind a luxury vehicle. Of course one can argue that the budget allocated to DfID is small in comparison to the entire government budget and that the individual tax payers’ contribution is negligible.

Still, it’s not easy to admit to mistakes made especially during an election year. Regardless of that sentiment, opening oneself up to fair scrutiny is always the better option. Nothing is ever achieved by secrecy.