This project to Sponsor the Studies of Poor Vietnam Children was started on the occasion of a friendly visit in Vietnam, by Fr. Jean-Pascal Lombart after his second visit to Vietnam, in 2001. The program was called forth by seminarians and religious sisters in Hue area, and started in our Spiritan parish of Holy Spirit, Hsinchu, Taiwan with the support of the pastor and then local superior Fr. Jean-Paul Hoch. Parents’ lack of education, of land to farm, of house to live in, of health, of income, prevent many parents who would like to send their children get a primary or secondary school degree to do so. The country social services are not providing for this need. Our local contacts meet these families in their ministry, and present to us the children to be sponsored. We then look for a sponsor, and support the children as long as they go to school.
I had the opportunity to visit a child who is sponsored by my own mother. I was touched by the importance for a poor child and his family to have the possibility to go to school like all other children, for as many years as possible, so long as he is able to study. Indeed, many children only go to school for a few years or even not at all, because of the situation of families whose work does not even produce enough to feed themselves. In this socialist country, school is nevertheless getting more and more expensive. But some children need to work with their parents. During that stay, I was asked by three local religious congregations of brothers and sisters to look for sponsors for the children whom they visit regularly during their pastoral work.
Back in Taiwan, Fr. Jean-Pascal, together with a Vietnamese friend, started preparing some displays to present the situation of those children and ask people to help then. People were interested and the questions they asked have helped us to set up a reliable system of collecting information and communicating them regularly, together with pictures. Today, the program has become a Spiritan project where other confreres also collaborate. Fr. Jean-Pascal, back in France, continues to communicate with some sponsors, while the program is managed by another Spiritan from Taiwan.
We have about 600 children in our files, including 300 currently sponsored, the others having stopped receiving sponsorship after they finished school or for another reason, and a waiting list of about 30. A class of ‘unschooled’ children is also being sponsored by paying the salary of 2 teachers. We also help some families fund the building of their new house. There are 8 contact persons in Vietnam collaborating in the program, for 17 different groups of Children in Hue and Quang-tri provinces. Every semester, we transfer about 12,500 usd for the sponsorships. We have about 200 active sponsors (Canada; US; France; Taiwan; Ireland; Italy; Portugal). Every year, we publish a report newsletter.
Since 2005, the program has been endorsed by the Spiritans, and in 2009 it has developed a branch in south Vietnam run by the confreres there. In Taiwan, several confreres are involved. The collaboration in Taiwan includes 4 parishes, one company, one catholic secondary school, and the local Caritas for fiscal receipts; in Portugal the network of friends of the spiritans are supporting; in France, Ireland, Italy and Scotland, parishes are involved. In Vietnam, our partners belong to 3 different religious congregations: they distribute the sponsorships, account for it, follow the children’s studies and the families situation, and provide material for report to the sponsors. These provide the financial support, the encouraging feedback, and the advertisement.
This is mainly a charity work, but the dimension of sharing information on the causes of poverty, their consequences on a family, and explaining the way education is a respectful empowering way of fighting poverty is very much part of the communication with sponsors, through visits in the school, company, parishes, newsletters twice per year, and individual reports on the family situation of the children, including letters they themselves write. It also empower sponsors, including school children, to do something within their reach for a child of similar age.