A long journey with many stops

December 2011

Tim organized a trip to Lam Dong from the 26th to the 29th of December 2011. This had been planned with the following goals to achieve:

– To further investigate and learn about the living conditions, material situation and special needs of the population living in the Lam Dong province in general, and the town of Bao Loc in particular, with relation to the new Maison Chance project which will be set up in a rural area; we also intend to visit some charitable organizations.

– To know more about the types of animals and crops that could be found in the area.

– This trip was also an opportunity for the children to learn more about Tim’s mission and follow up and share her task.

– The participants to this trip were :

Tim: founder of Maison Chance

McFreddy: photographer

The orphans: Cuong (assistant), Bich Tuyen, An, older Thanh and younger Thanh

Two handicapped orphans: Phuong and Lien

We left Saigon at about 2 pm and arrived in Bao Loc at 7 pm. The city of Bao Loc is located 190km away from Saigon at an altitude of 800m and boasts only 150 inhabitants. Once there we started to experience the cool mountain climate.

We had dinner at a restaurant, then visited Bao Loc by night and eventually returned to the hotel to rest and make preparation for the following day.

We were very impatient the next day to admire the Dambri waterfall, the highest in the Lam Dong region.
18 km away from Bao Loc, firstly, we crossed large hills planted with green tea and after following some convoluted roads, we finally reached the touristic heart of Dambri. We were suddenly faced with the wondrous and poetically evocative landscape of Dambri: green hills, shivering water and a gorgeous cascade.

More than a chance for sightseeing, this trip was an opportunity for us to better understand this region where Maison Chance plans to develop its new center in order to help the less fortunate. However, the project will only successfully continue if we have the ongoing their support from visitors. Therefore, we have to choose an area that offers beautiful landscapes and is close to a touristic route. Dambri beautifully captures these features.

The travelers posing in front of the 90m-high waterfall of Dambri, the highest in the Lam Dong region.
After our experience at the cascade, Tim and the children ventured into the heart of Dambri’s tourist site where the forest was rich with the plantation of bamboos. Very few people apparently explore this far into the region. The landscape is but of great beauty and well preserved.
We made our farewells to the Dambri cascade and headed to the Loc Phat center, which provides support to impaired persons in Bao Loc.

The center stands on a small lane in the city. We wanted to know more about how handicapped people are helped here and how they live in the area. The center welcomes some children suffering from minor handicaps and some who are retarded in their development. It is a dependency of the Thi Nghe center for handicapped persons in Saigon and takes in about 30 children who do not need any assistance to move around.

We were warmly welcomed at the center by the nuns and beneficiaries who were all delighted to see us, especially Thanh (the very first beneficiary to be helped by Tim), who first returned after 20 years. Thanh met up again with the nuns and friends he had played with as a child. Thanh has many secrets and names he hasn’t talked about, but he still could remember his friends’ names and that he was called Hung when he was a child. Thanh was really happy to see them all again, even if he was a bit shy after all this time away.

We had a long conversation about Thanh and then visited the center. Here, the nuns gave the children vocational training so that they can gain their independence by working as farmers or breeders.

Moreover, the nuns created the proper conditions so that the handicapped persons can grow up and become independent while relying on a basis out of the center. They have had six houses built and each one takes in six persons. They plan and organize the everyday operations and tasks. They feed the hens, take care of the coffee beans and collect them.

After we went to have a look to the coffee trees grove and visited the handicapped people’s homes, we parted company with the nuns and beneficiaries to head to Duc Trong.

Duc Trong is located in the heart of the Lam Dong province, covering a surface of 901.79 km2 with a population of 166 358 inhabitants at an altitude of 900m. The climate is fairly chilly as well.

We went to Lien’s home, as she was one of the handicapped travelers and visited her family. We then came back to our hotel to rest in preparation of the following day, as we would drive to Dalat, a city in bloom gifted with poetic beauty.

Dalat city is 394.64 km2 and home to about 210’000 people. It is high up in the hills, 1500m above the sea level, which accounts for its mountain climate, moderate but cool over the year. Dalat is now one of the famous sites in Vietnam and attracts millions of visitors every year. The mountain view and pine forest unfolded before us. After going through the Prenn pass, we entered a “little nation” settled in the heart of Vietnam. Dalat revealed to us its European-style architecture and chilly climate which made us think we were somewhere in France. The city was preparing to host the yearly Flower Festival that is an attraction for many visitors.

Our first visit was for the “Vong Tay Yeu Thuong” group, which Ms Yem is in charge of.
This was originally the home of one of the group’s members who was the parent of an impaired child and had much sympathy for Yem’s mission. She consequently allowed her to use the house to create a place where the handicapped people could work. The house is tiny and only 10 persons can work here.

About fifty more persons work from their own place to produce woolen articles as for garments, flowers and dolls.

All the group’s members are in a particular situation. Most of them are older people and their families are facing difficulties. They come to the center during the day and work here before they go back home at the end of the day.

Yem (vice-president of the Association for handicapped people in Dalat) leads the group and is handicapped herself. She explained to Tim that the center is so small that she was still unable to find a plot of land to build to extend the center’s activities. She therefore finds it difficult to meet and help the impaired people in the area. She finally wished she could get some support to develop her network and give help to more persons in the region.

After this reunion and conversation with the Vong Tay Yeu Thuong group, we couldn’t wait to visit Dalat. The city is beautiful and busy at night; the habitants go out and have fun despite the cool weather. We had to buy some warm clothes as we were not used to this cold. Younger Thanh had even packed is swimsuit, thinking Dalat was on the coast and that he could enjoy a swim in the sea!

We later met up with Lam, one of Tim’s friends who studied in France for more than 10 years. He’s the president of the association of the young catholic in Paris. He helped Maison Chance to organize several annual galas to support the association over the last four years. He’s still happy to encourage new projects for Maison Chance in Vietnam. We were all delighted to be invited to share dinner with his family and we all loved the Dalat’s banh beo, very tasty but weird at the same time. We then enjoyed the night market, buying a few souvenirs and tasting some of Dalat’s specialties. It was then time for us to get on the bus back to Duc Trong and spend the night there.

We asked for more information about various centers in Bao Loc the following day, but since the Tia Sang is closed now and has been abandoned for long, we couldn’t do anything but get on the bus again and leave.

We had just left Bao Loc when we faced some problems with our bus. It has been in service for more than 20 years and is now old and worn-out. We had to organize with the mechanics to have it repaired and to successfully continue with our trip.

On our way back home we visited the Madagui center that welcomes orphans and is located in the Da Huoai district. This area is South-West of the Lam Dong province, 145km away from Saigon and has a population of about 33 000 inhabitants.

The center was founded by Ms Kieu (vice-director of the center) and only operates resulting from kind donations. It is on the road to the touristic center of Madagui and employs 9 staff to look after the everyday well-being and health of about 40 children, all being orphans and suffering from mental handicap. However, only a few know about this center which has been operating for over four years.

Most of these children come from remote villages. They have been sheltered, looked after and educated by Ms Kieu. The center also enabled six children to attend an external school.

After this last visit, we then took our bus back to Saigon. This trip has been enriching as well as amusing. We all hope we will soon go back to this region and the building of the new Maison Chance center will help the less fortunate and be an advantage to improve their living conditions. They have to know that life is beautiful and that they still can dream.

Tran Tat Cuong

January 2012