Me Oi Association members at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang on Nov. 21. (Photo: UCA News)
A scholarship-awarding group founded by a Vietnamese-French professor has created educational opportunities for thousands of students from poor families in a central archdiocese for the past 20 years.
Some 80 nuns and laypeople attended a thanksgiving Mass to mark the 20th anniversary of the foundation of Me Oi Association. Three priests concelebrated the Mass on Nov. 21 at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang in Quang Tri province.
Mattheus Nguyen Quoc Chuong, a representative from the association, said the association was named after the heartbreaking cry of “Me Oi!” (Mum!) given by Professor Michael Nguyen Xuan Dang, who could not do anything to help his mother when her house in Hue city was inundated by devastating floods in 1999. Dang lives in France.
Chuong, 75, said Dang’s mother Therese Dang Thi Diem, who lived alone, had her belongings washed away in the floods and was confined to bed after falling down on the slippery floor. Daughters of Our Lady of the Visitation nuns looked after her until her death in 2000.
He said Dang, her only child, returned home for the first time a week after she was buried.
Father Stanislaus Nguyen Duc Ve, the association’s spiritual director, said Diem was a Buddhist student in her youth who joined in religious activities with Catholic students at Thien An Benedictine Monastery in Hue before she converted to Catholicism.
Her husband left her and followed communists in northern Vietnam after she gave birth to Dang in 1945. She taught at a local school for female students and brought up Dang until he was sent to study in France in 1966. Dang is married to a French woman and still lives there.
The retired priest said Diem regularly attended services at church, daily fasted and saved money to support people in need and students from local orphans until her death.
Father Ve said Dang gave a grateful thanks to the nuns who took love care of his mother and decided to establish the association in 2000 to award students grants as a way to remember his beloved mother and support local people. He saves his money and raises funds from his friends for the association.
Sister Agnes Nguyen Thi Thanh, who is in charge of the association, said at first only four sisters and six lay volunteers worked with over 200 college students whose parents sell lottery tickets or are street vendors, housemaids and motorbike taxi drivers for a living.
Sister Thanh said they work with parish priests to have lists of students from poor and big families, visit them and follow their performance at school.
The 55-year-old nun said they monthly provide scholarships to 1,500 students regardless of their backgrounds from 23 parishes in Hue Archdiocese. The beneficiaries from first graders to college students are given 200,000 to 400,000 dong (US$9-17) each.
Anne Mai Thi Thao Van, a second-year student at Hue College of Economics, said it is hard for her to pursue her studies at college without scholarships from the association. Her father carries goods and passengers by tricycle for a living and her mother works as a housemaid.
Van, 21, said in the past her family had to borrow 10 million dong from lenders and pay back 1.2 million dong each month so as to cover her school fees.
“Now we only borrow 5 million dong a year for my school fees since I started to receive scholarships last year,” the student said. “We hope to get grants from the association until I graduate.”
Sister Thanh said association members annually go on a pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang, pray for Diem and deceased members and receive gifts.