A trip to Dak Nong very moving

Dak Nong is a very poor province in the Highlands created after the partition of the Dak Lak province 8 years ago. Its population is composed by many ethnic minorities making their living from agriculture. Due to the remoteness of the region, it is very difficult for disabled people to receive help from the community. Therefore, the trip of a delegation from Maison Chance, whose aim was to distribute wheelchairs and understand the real living and working conditions, had a special meaning…

After a trip of exploration in the different provinces of the Highlands and especially in the province of Dak Nong last April, Tim Aline Rebeaud, founder of Maison Chance, has received numerous requests for assistance. Having realized the needs of persons with disabilities, Tim has set up a wheelchairs donation program. To ensure that the equipment would be distributed to those in need, some members of the Project Office of Maison Chance made the trip to distribute directly the wheelchairs and ask families to sign receipts. They also checked that the kind of wheelchairs is well adapted to the disability of the recipient. The province of Dak Nong has 8 districts. This time Maison Chance has chosen to distribute the material in 11 villages of the district of Krong No. A chaotic path.

Because of the many storms of the days before the trip as well as trucks illegally transporting wood, Highway 14 between Saigon and Dak Nong was in a very bad condition. The distance is only about 400 km but it takes a whole day to cover it. Sometimes, the driver must go down to check the depth of a large pothole filled with water before moving on. And a pool that seemed harmless might prove to be deep and would require all occupants of the bus to get off and help get it out of the pothole. It is touching to see how local people would spontaneously stop to help in freeing the bus. But the hardest part is when the bus must follow red dirt, slippery and muddy roads; almost impassable. Finally, everyone must get out and continue on foot. Despite all these obstacles, participants keep smiling because they know that this trip is for a good cause.

Dak Nong province is crossed by the river Serepok, famous for its beautiful waterfalls. But people also remember this place because of the accidents that occur there, including one that took place four months earlier when a passenger bus fell into the river from the Serepok bridge, bringing with it nearly 40 people. During the second day of the trip, our bus drove by this place and Tim Aline decided to stop for 10 minutes to pay tribute to the victims. Watching the river 20 meters below, the red water reminiscent of blood, we are overwhelmed with emotion.

To make things easier for the people with disabilities, it was decided that the group would go directly to each family to get acquainted, to get a clearer idea of their needs and deliver instant noodles, rice and dried fish in addition of the wheelchair. Two social workers of Maison Chance explained the use of equipment and show some basic physical therapy exercises tailored to each client. This trip lasted only 5 days, but the goal is ambitious because it allowed us to distribute 40 wheelchairs and three pairs of legs in the 4 corners of the vast territory of the district of Krong No. In addition to this, Tim Aline also wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to understand the real living and working conditions of the local population in remote areas in order to open a new center on the Maison Chance model in this poor rural area where the percentage of people with disabilities and poor children living in very difficult situations is high. The difficulties of accessing weigh heavy on the successful completion of the trip but do not undermine the enthusiasm of the participants. The third day, we had to rent a tractor to be able to bring 5 wheelchairs on the narrow muddy lane 7 km long connecting Gia Nghia to Buon Choah as no other motorized vehicle can manage it. The more the difficulties increase, the more we feel happy because it means that our aid reaches people in really difficult situations.

Laughs and tears

A large part of the territory of the province of Dak Nong is part of the Truong Son mountain range which has received a large amount of dioxin during the war. Forty years have passed but the scars of the war are still visible through the bodies that cannot develop normally. In addition, the customs of life, the level of education and the lack of a health care system hinder the development of the region.

Long distances make it difficult to deliver aid, which is why the disabled poor peoples of Dak Nong are living in very difficult situations. The group will long remember the impressions we had by each encounter with a disability beneficiary of this program…

When visiting Y Sung’s family (176 Bonphepri village of Nam N’Dir, Krong No District, Dak Nong Province), we were all shocked by an elderly couple, one of whom has difficulty to move, which must still take care of three young children. Tim Aline tried to convince the family to think about the future of these three children and assign them to Maison Chance so they have a better future. However, the customs of the M’Nong minority are very strict regarding the custody of the children by a third party and our group had to leave empty-handed, giving all the necessary contacts to the family.

Since his body has lost its vigor to become paralyzed 6 years ago, Pham Van Anh, born in 1968 (66 Nam Tien district, Nam Nung village) only knows the outside world as it can be seen from his small window. By receiving a wheelchair, his family is now able to carry him out to breathe some fresh air and show him all the places he has wanted to see in a very easy way. We cannot change his destiny, but we all forgot our fatigue seeing the happy smile lighting up the closed face of the man. It was gratifying to see the joy of the family of the small Pham Van Cu when we gave him a wheelchair specially designed for children with cerebral palsy. Cu has been paralyzed for 12 years and his parents take turns to bear him whenever it is necessary to move him which is very painful. This wheelchair offers them a little freedom and Cu was very excited to sit down. As if he could feel the joy of all the gathered people, he tried to pronounce the word “thank you” to the applause of the crowd.

On the evening of the third day, we abandoned our bus at the foot of the mountain to climb the steep road dotted with very big potholes filled with water, which leads to the hamlet of Nam Giao, village of Nam N’Dir. There is a village of Thai ethnic minority created ten years ago where people live very simply in a few dozen of houses, cut off from the outside world. After many requests, we are led to a small wooden house in the middle of the village. Within 5 minutes, the 12 m2 house is filled with about thirty curious people coming to see these strange visitors. It is the home of Van Ban Chung, a patient with congenital cerebral palsy. Chung lives with his 70 year old mother. Since the family is in the category of the poorest families, for over 20 years the world of Chung boils down to four walls because he cannot move. Despite of that Chung has a good understanding of the surrounding world. We can say that the wheelchair that we offered him opens a window on a new world, a world that he has not enjoyed since birth.

But the most moving episode of this trip happened on the last day, just before returning to the city. The day before, a senior person who was on the list of recipients and whose health was good, asked us to give his wheelchair to someone who would need it more. So we tried to find a new beneficiary. Guided by providence, we arrived at the hamlet of Tan Lap, village of Nam Nung, another village of the Thai ethnic group in the heart of the forest of Nam Nung. In a dilapidated wooden house, a young man is lying on a very used mat in a very strange position, his mouth and his tongue moving uncontrollably. This young man called Su Van Luong and was born in 1990. He married last year and his son was born a little over a month. However Su cannot feel the happiness of being a father as everyone because he was hardly hit by the disease 3 months ago. The family members told us that Su first had fever, felt numbness and finally completely paralyzed. For 2 months, Su cannot speak and cannot sleep. His family took him to the hospital but the doctors were unable to identify his illness. After 2 days of hospitalization, he had to return home because of the lack of money. Since then, the healing of Su is in the hands of the shaman but despite debts contacted to meet the shaman requests, the health of Su worsens. This time, the family does not know where to find the money to buy the goat, the 4 pigs, the 12 hens and all the other things required by the shaman to bring out the evil of Su’s body…

Seeing the situation of Su, Tim Aline decides to fund the Su’s trip to Saigon so that it can be treated. To general surprise, because for two months he had not uttered a single word, Su replied: “Already” when Tim asked him if he has already been to Saigon. During the 12 hours on the return trip, Su slept all the time after 2 months of insomnia. His mother, who is coming with him, weeps all the way to the good fortune that affects her child. Life is full of happy events, which is why you should never lose hope.

Only listening to her heart…

If this program of wheelchairs distribution can improve the living quality of poor people with disabilities in the Highlands, Tim Aline has a broader objective that is to develop long-term activities. On the evening of the second day, with the help of a group of young people of the area, we managed to reach the hamlet of Choaih by a mountainous and muddy road. This small village, where E-de and M’Hong minorities are living, depends of the village of Duc Xuyen. There are dozens of houses that are the home of about 360 people who not only do not have enough to eat but do not have access to a quality education because the school, which has only two classrooms for 6 degrees, is in an advanced state of disrepair. Access to drinking water is also a problem to solve … But because of lack of time, Tim has promised to return consider the problem during her next trip.

The trip was a success, but it has also brought many questions about the needs of the mountainous communities of Dak Nong which still are awaiting consideration and support from society.


Huong Vu- Volunteer

November 2012