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Vietnam disaster victims feel real Christmas spirit

Church congregations reach out to communities reeling from recent floods

UCA News reporter, Hue

UCA News reporter, Hue

Updated: December 22, 2020 09:14 AM GMT
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Vietnam disaster victims feel real Christmas spirit

Dang Thi Ha receives a bag of rice from Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception nuns at May Tai Church on Dec. 18. (Photo: UCA News)

Dang Thi Xuan gets up at 4am and cycles several kilometers to buy fruits and then carries them back to Phong Chuong market to sell for a living.

Xuan, who has a tanned face and wears ragged clothes, displays mangoes, bananas, oranges, star apples and guavas on the ground and invites people to buy the produce in the cold weather.

“Lovers of the Holy Cross sisters generously offer me 4 million dong (US$174) to do this business and I earn 50,000 dong ($2.17) a day to support my children,” the mother of three said.

The 49-year-old single mother, whose husband died in 2015, said storms and floods in October and November washed away her 50 chickens, eight pigs and tonne of rice and damaged her three-hectare farm. Floods killed four people and destroyed 53 houses in Phong Chuong commune in Phong Dien district of Thua Thien Hue province.

“We have nothing left. Our daily food is rice, instant noodles and fish sauce given by benefactors,” she said.

Her eldest daughter, a 12th grader, has had to drop out of school and work at the market to support the family.

She said many people have to sell their furniture or borrow money from lenders with high rates of interest to prepare for the next crop in January.

The Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry reported central provinces suffered severe floods caused by heavy rains and typhoons in October and November, killing 249 people, leaving 57 others missing and damaging 241,500 houses. The natural disasters wiped out 24,000 hectares of crops and fish farms and killed 3.2 million cattle and poultry. Economic loss has been put at 30 trillion dong ($1.3 billion).

Truong Thi May, who is thin and pale, transports people across a river in her small boat to put food on the table in the aftermath of the floods which damaged her shrimp farm in Quang Dien district.

May, 36, said she also collects one kilogram of snails from the river for her four-member family’s daily food or sells them for 15,000 dong to buy rice. They live on donations of instant noodles.

The mother of two said she sold their television set and wardrobe for 1 million dong ($43) to buy medicine for her heart disease. Her husband suffers from epilepsy and is jobless.

“We are deeply grateful to Catholic sisters who visited and offered us 5 million dong to treat our illnesses and cover school fees,” she said, adding that her children would have to drop out of school without the nuns’ support.

Sister Mary Le Thi Anh Phuong of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Visitation said her congregation has reduced its expenses and canceled Christmas parties for people in need and will use the money to provide basic supplies for flood victims to celebrate Christmas, repair their houses and grow crops. Last year they organized parties for hundreds of disabled people and patients.

Sister Phuong, 45, said nuns also introduced hundreds of local students to benefactors abroad. They need support to maintain their studies since their families lost everything during the floods. Their parents struggle to make ends meet by collecting used items, selling food on streets, carrying goods at markets and catching fish in rivers.

Many people cannot afford to repair their houses and boats damaged by storms and floods, and lack blankets, mosquito nets and clothes in the winter. Children need books and other school items.

The sisters gather children at their convent on Saturdays and teach them English, human values and games. They traditionally offer colorful nativity pageants serving the children.

Maria Phan Thi Lien, 30, said Daughters of Our Lady of the Visitation Association members save 10,000 dong each day for the poor during Advent.

Lien, 60, said on Dec. 21 that 30 members visited and offered 35 million dong as a Christmas gift to Van Kieu villagers in Khe Sanh Parish. The ethnic community was badly affected by the floods.

She said this year the association will not hold a party on Christmas Day as they did in the past.

Sacred Heart Father Joseph Phan Tan Ho, who is in charge of the congregation’s charitable work, said he and a local pro-life group give Christmas gifts — warm clothes, food, school items, toothpaste and brushes — to over 1,000 students at centers run by Catholic and Buddhist nuns. Students get meals, receive gifts and watch cultural performances to celebrate Christmas.

“We try to bring Christmas joy to them as a way to console and encourage them to get through this difficult time because Jesus came to save all people, regardless of their background,” the priest said.

Lucy Bui Thi Ha from Phu Vang district was among 260 farmers who received rice, cooking oil and fish sauce from the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception nuns at Mau Tai Church on Dec. 18.

“We have no money to decorate our home and have a Christmas party like in the past, but we feel community solidarity and deep sympathy from other people,” said Ha, 55, who sells fruits on streets.

“That is the real spirit of Christmas in this hard year.” 

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