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Mission Trip to House of Shalom in Batam

House of Shalom

22 September 2013

It was still dark when my alarm set off at 6am. In fact, I had awoken about 10 minutes before 6am.  After saying my gratitude and quiet time with God, I prayed for Him to bless my day as well as bless the team for today’s mission trip. Yes, we are going for a day mission trip to Batam today. It’s my first mission trip in Indonesia! I’m excited. So is Henry! He had long awaken before me, walked the dogs and was back to change when I got out of bed.

waiting at the ferry terminal in harbour front singapore

There were only 6 of us going on this trip – Stanley the organizer, Yvonne, Lori, Henry, myself and Gabriele, I made a new friend today :) . I felt apologetic for not preparing for this trip. With the exception of Henry & myself, the rest had prepared their goodies and brought along clothes and toys for the children. We were going to a children’s home in Batam.

Our ferry set off on time, and we were soon on our way to Batam. The ride journey took nearly an hour in calm water. Immigration was smooth and we got out of custom clearance fairly quick.

 

House of Shalom

We were met by Sari who runs the orphanage called House of Shalom (HOS) in Batam. Shalom means peace in Hebrew. Understand from Stanley, that this home was founded by his cousin, Jacey who’s based in the UK. Though she travels to Batam a few times a year, HOS was mainly supported by well wishers from Singapore, Indonesia and possibly other countries, in God’s honor and glory, Hallelujah!

We were huddled up into Sari’s van, which was also sponsored by well wishers and in 10 minutes, we had arrived at HOS. The children were anticipating our coming and had lined up in a row to welcome us. They were all so well mannered and polite. It was so heart warming. I must say I’m really glad to see smiles and peace on their faces. Unlike some homes that I’ve previously visited in other countries, some of the children does look very frustrated and bear this “I’m angry with life” look on their faces.

The home was Converted from 2 terrace houses tucked in one quiet corner of a residential estate. The 2-storey house had 9 rooms in total comprising bedrooms, mainly 4 to a room, office, computer room and one guest room for Jacey and visitors. There were book shelves which were supposed to serve as library for books, but I noticed there were hardly any books! This can be further looked into. The place was well kept, clean and tidy and nicely decorated with pictures and bible verses all around.

 

Residents of House Of Shalom

Started in 2009, the House Of Shalom is currently homed to 23 children aged between 6-18 years old. The girls, 19 of them were lived in this main house, while 4 boys reside in another house a short walk away. The other house was also where Sari and her husband Tiban stays. The 4 boys were actually new additions to the Home as HOS was primarily a girls’ home.

I do not have much time to explore the reasons of how the children came about in the home. While I learned that some of them were orphans, some do have parents or one parents alive. Some were sent to the home by grandparents who were too old or had too many children to look after. Sari had said that some of the children were literally found in the streets or slumps.

on the walls were pictures of the children, taken when they first came to the house

As the Head of House Of Shalom, I want to give praise to Sari for her dedication and devotion in managing it. She had 3 assistants who were graduates from bible school. All of them lived in the house with the children. The house was neat and tidy, organized and certainly a conducive environment for children of circumstances. The other house where the boys, Sari and Tiban lived were a lot more sparse and in need of a new coat of paint and better lighting. Perhaps some beds for the boys too, as they were currently sleeping together in one big mattress on the floor.

As I understood, all the activities including meals were conducted in the main house though. According to Sari, they are expecting to bring in more boys soon, and intends to find a commercial shophouse where the ground floor can be used as a church and worship premise, and the boys house on the upper levels. They were looking to buy other houses in the neighborhood, but unfortunately none in the vicinity was for sale or suitable.

the children are naturally close to each other, as can be seen when playing games

 

All In A Day

A typical day sees the children waking up between 4-4.30am. Oh wow, that’s really early! But I guess that’s a quiet hour for devotion time with Jesus. After breakfast, they will all set off for school from 6.30am right up to 2.30pm. Depending on their age, they are in primary level to high schools. They are all enrolled in christian School a short walk away from HOS.

Back home by 2.30pm, they will have a quick lunch and rest before they settled down to study. They will be helping out to tidy and clean the house, prepare and cook dinner in between. I guess it is good for the children to participate in ontributing to home chores, in a way to learn some home craft, and at the same time bonding them with a sense of belong with each other and the home.

The pillar of HOS, Sari was the lady in a dark pink shirt

Dinner at 7pm will be followed by evening devotion before they start doing their homework for the day, and study for test and exams. 9pm is lights off and bed time till the next day. Evening devotion on Fridays are replaced by Praise and Worship.

I guess the children will always looked forward to Weekends where their school time is replaced by music, computer and creativity classes. They also get a lot more free time, or would spend time with visitors to the Home. Church service is on Sunday, held in another location they currently rented every Sunday.

 

Mission Day Activities

We all sat down together with the children as we get acquainted and try to know each other better. Surprisingly, majority of the children were not shy, even the young ones. They took turns to introduce themselves and tell us the grade that they were studying in. Most of the children could speak English, some little, some better.

Knowing that they were taught to sing, we requested for the troop to sing us a song, and they gamely entertained us with a song, “Blessed The Lord” with Sari’s guitar accompaniment. Our Lord is great indeed!

Thanks to Stanley and Lori, they had planned some activities for the children. We started warming up as we played the games. They, including us were all having a lot of fun in the games. As usual, there will be rewards for winning teams in the game. My heart warmed seeing the smiles on those faces. And guess what, when we ran out of our planned games, the older girls took over to introduce more games for us to continue playing. We really had an enjoyable time.

Lunch was prepared  by Sari and her assistants while we were playing games. We had a quick and delicious lunch, after which the children prepared themselves for the most important activity of the week, church service. It was a Sunday when we visited! They had all cleaned up and dressed neatly for church. I duly respected that. To me, going to church service is a date with God. So how would you be dressed in? Your best of course!

very organized and orderly as the children queue for lunch

 

Church Service

By 1.15pm, the children and us were all ready to go. I noticed that they were very systematic in their schedules and kept to their timing like clockwork. This is good training for the children really. The one thing that I value a lot on in punctuality. I’ve got to be always early for my appointments or I’ll start feeling tense whenever I know I am going to be late.

Two vans took us and the children to the church about 20 minutes drive away. We sat ourselves down as the musicians and servers tested their equipment and rehearse for service to start at 2pm. Church is a simple hall with about 50 seats. The band consist of two guitarist, one drummer and Sari doubled up as keyboardist. I must say Sari is one devoted child of God, playing so many roles in her own capacity. There were also two girls from the home who were dancers! There were also other people who attended the church service. Understand from Sari that some of them were parents of the resident children in HOS. I certainly did witness some great bonding between some of them.

the two girls were dancers during church service

Service starts at 2pm with a quick prayer by the worship leader, who is one of Sari’s assistant. This is my first time attending a church service in Bahasa Indonesia, although most of the songs were in English or a mix of English and Bahasa. It was fun for me. Since I couldn’t make out the prayers, I said my own. It was a very joyous worship to God as we all sang, clapped and danced in praise.

Today’s message was by our very own Stanley from Singapore! He spoke in English with Sari translating into Bahasa Indonesia. He shared a personal testimony on his journey in finding Jesus, and how Jesus’s love has turned his life around. Applause to Stanley for baring himself in this sincere sharing. He went on to share a story from the book of John. This is a popular bible story where Jesus and the Pharisees had a confrontation on whether to stone a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. Jesus had asked whoever without sin to cast the first stone at the woman. In the end, everyone had with no one casting a single stone, and the woman was free to go and sin no more.

Stanley sharing his personal testimony & a word of God, while Sari translate

We also had a young girl who shared her testimony about how she was unable to move her hand while in school. She then laid hand with the other arm and prayed to God. She was subsequently healed, hallelujah!

this young girl was sharing her testimony on God’s healing on her hand

 

Farewell

Service ended. We gave our love offerings to Sari in support of the good work and to keep House of Shalom going. It is time to say goodbye to the children. I don’t know how the children felt, but I know I will miss them. Even though we had spent only a short time with them, the bonding was clearly there. Next up – maybe a Christmas party for HOS in Dec 2013. We’ll definitely pray about it!

time to say goodbye

 

My Defining Moments

I want to conclude by my personal sharing of how this mission had been for me. During church service, I felt really touched seeing how the children praise and worship Jesus. They were all so passionate and expressive. They prayed fervently and sang loudly. I can feel their love for God. It was a defining moment for me.

 

What I felt most fulfilling was knowing that they love God, and there is a savior who loves them for who they are regardless of their identity and circumstances. I thank God for giving these children hope and salvation. I prayed for the continued good work of Sari and her team, sponsors, volunteers and other well wishers to keep His kingdom strong.

It’s been a fulfilling day for me and I know I left HOS with a grateful heart, I believed for the rest too. We headed for the ferry terminal way ahead of our ferry schedule. The team had a little chill out time at A&W before heading home.

 

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Provisions for Society For The Aged Sick

home for the aged sick

Society for The Aged Sick

A friend of mine, Kenny posted about a charity drive on her Facebook page. Kenny was a former beauty queen, and this was a charity event that was organized by her pageant organizer, and supported by all beauty queens. This event was named “Beauty With A Heart”. A list of necessities ranging from rice, milk powder, instant noodles, diapers, canned food, sugar etc. are in the list of items needed from donors.

 

I contacted Kenny to tell her I would be interested to support this cause. No charity drive, events or any  participation is required, but the pageant organizers will organize a day trip for the beauty queens to visit the old folks. It was a simple affair, so I just needed to select the items from the list and just buy and deliver.

 

Henry and I emailed and texted a few friends on this activity. A few people responded and we pooled in our share of money to buy the selected items for the Society. It was about 1 month away from the event, and we just needed to deliver the items before then.

Society for The Aged Sick

Based on the budget we have, we started checking out prices for Milo and Sardines to plan our purchase. One morning, we just drove to Sheng Shiong. I asked to speak to the supervisor and informed her that we were actually buying the items for charity purpose, and asked if we could get some discount. She obliged. So we just picked up the items, packed into boxes and send directly to the Society on the same day.

 

We arrived and asked to speak to the contact person for this drive. For accounting and record purpose, they have to verify the items with the receipts before receiving the goods. It was a fairly simple process as they ticked the items through the receipts and it was done.

home for the aged sick

 

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Philippines – Project Tagaytay

1 October 2011

With the ground crew of Philippines Airlines (where we were booked on) walking out. With Typhoon Nesat wreaking havoc over the last few days, we were concerned about our travel plans to Philippines. But deep in our hearts, we knew we were going anyway. I kept praying to God to help us make this trip and make it a fulfilling one.


I was monitoring the PAL flight situations and the effects of Nesat for a few days. Other than some delay in flight timings, everything seems well, and we are set to go.


We decided to set off to the airport earlier and reached the airport at 8:30am, 2 hours 15 minutes ahead of our flight at 10:45am. We checked in smoothly amidst a long queue. The flight took off 15 minutes behind time. On arrival at Manila, we were further grounded in the aircraft for 30 minutes due to congestion at the arrival gates and unavailability of PAL crew.


Our Filipino friends who picked us up from the airport commented that we are “lucky” as the second typhoon has just landed. Other than heavy rain and wind speed of about 15 knots, everything appears normal in terms of the weather.


2 October 2011

This being Sunday, our original plan was to attend the local church service and meet the key person for this project thereafter. Due to some urgent matters, we were not able to make it on time. Together with our Filipino partner, Wen Dolatre, we finally met Anna May Gonzalez over lunch at Alabang, a town in the suburb of Metro Manila.


We had a long chat as we shared about the mission of Guiding Angels in helping children and the least fortunate people to build a future.


Anna May gave us a good understanding of the school, the children, the farm people, and the work that she has been doing with them these past years, up in the mountains of Tagaytay.


We decided that we had to visit the mountains to visit the school, see the children and their living conditions for a better appreciation and more meaningful outreach.


4 October 2011

What a splendor! It’s amazing to imagine active volcanoes sitting on top of lakes surrounded by water. We were told

Tagaytay Volcanic Mountain by the Lakes

Tagaytay Volcanic Mountain by the Lakes

that tourist can actually take a short boat rides to the volcanoes, hike up about 150-200m and look down at the inside of the volcanoes, still sprouting with smoke. The last time the volcanoes explode was in 1965. Wonders of the universe.


After the school tour, we proceeded to the Gonzalez’s farm nearby for discussion. Below are excerpts of the Outreach being discussed. Our group of 5 comprising Wen, Gigi & Anna May Gonzalez, Henry and myself sat down for some serious discussion after touring the Gonzalez’s farm and late lunch.


For ease of understanding, I have provided some background information.


Background of Outreach Recipients

main-entrance-to-school

main entrance


Although the school building and facilities are provided by the government, its condition is badly in need of repairs. Originally not intended for Grade 4 due to space constraint, they decided to continue with Grade 4 knowing that these students would otherwise be taken by their parents to work in the farms if they were forced out of school. The plight of these 4th Graders remain unknown after they finished the school year.


Some Facts

  • The Teachers were government assigned by the government
  • Text books were free, but are on loan to Students and must be returned at the end of the year
  • Although no school fees were paid for Elementary Grades, Students had to buy their own uniforms. Most don’t wear uniforms because of affordability
  • Many wore slippers instead of school shoes

grade-1

grade 1

grade-2

grade 2

grade-3

grade 3

grade-4

grade 4

The entire Outreach can be divided into two phases with immediate action to achieve Phase 1 in the next 3-6 months.


Phase 1 – Children

  • With additional space, the school can cater for Grade 5 and 6

  • There are no proper facilities for Library and Medical/Dental room

  • The Kindergarten area is in need of repairs as they are without doors and windows


b) Nutrition Programs

The Children skipped breakfast and will normally pack bananas or plain rice for recess and lunch. As expected, many will go hungry often and may suffer from malnutrition and poor health which is bad for growing up kids.


The Nutrition Programs target to build up the Children health by providing them with proper meals, where the parents were unable to. Breakfast and Lunch will be included in this program.


May has discussed with an organization who would provide for the meals with a cost. Details of program will follow in the next update.


c) Peso 2000 – Support 1 Child for 1 Year

The School currently has sponsors to support 38 out of the 91 Children in the school. Php2000 program will cover the below:

  • Uniform

  • Student ID

  • 1 English Book

  • Test Papers

  • Field Trips


Wen has very kindly agreed to work on this project with her network.


Other Programs

  • Jogging Pants Suit – May suggested getting them for the Children as the weather in Tagaytay is much cooler than in the city.

  • Medical

  • Dental - May is in touch with a Dentist, and are making plans to come over to check on the children.


Phase 2 – Parents

Majority of the parents are poverty stricken, and hired to tend the farms by farm owners. Most merely make ends meet, and often do not have enough food to eat or feed their Children.


They lived in poor housing conditions without electricity, water, sleeping on soiled floors and depended on a nearby spring and river for drinking, cooking and washing. Apart from food, many of them are even lacking in basic daily necessities like clothes, shoes, soaps etc.


These farmers had very little or no education. They have no clues with their lives and that of their Children. All that was important was having a meal and a roof over their heads.


Those families who were not hired by farm owners did odd jobs or nothing. Many would not send their Children to school, but instead brought them to help out at the farms to work as young as age 5.


Many  of them are caught in a whirlwind cycle for generations. With no means of feeding themselves and their Children, they would just do menial farm work and earned barely enough to feed the families, let alone send them to school. Lacking in education, these Children would grew up and get into the same cycle of life as their parents.


Means of Livelihood Skill

Teaching them the concept of making a living is thus crucial for these farmers. The objective is to take them out of dependency on handouts and learn the ability to provide for themselves.


This Phase would require more understanding of the parents, gathering resources and setting the right expectations. More time would be required to kick start any program.


Ideas for brainstorming

a) Turning farm produce into products for sale

The advantages are multi-fold:

  • Providing work for the farmers

  • Generating a higher revenue from the finished products compared to selling raw harvest

  • Creating a small business for farmers will aid their future life support


b) Sewing – clothes, curtains

May had mentioned that some of the farmers could sew, or learn sewing. They will then be able to make simple clothes or curtains to sell to the villages or nearby towns.


Areas of Support Required

  • Packaging of product

  • Marketing of product

  • Financial aid on start-up cost

  • Mindset shift from dependency to self-provide


Other Donated Items Required (non-urgent)

  • Clothes

  • Books – Adults, Children

  • Computers

  • Toys

  • School Bags

  • Slippers


It does seems like a whole lot of work to be done within these 4 hours of constructive discussion.  With the night setting in and a long drive back to Makati, we exchanged contacts and set off from Tagaytay.


It’s been a fruitful and meaningful trip.  We understand from the Philipinos that a big group of the population that are in similar situation as the folks we visited in Tagatay.  Although we will not be able to impact as many as we like, we draw comfort that we are at least able to touch some people’s lives. And that’s the spirit of Guiding Angels!


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Volunteering For Singapore Heart Foundation

It’s been a great start for year 2010, and we have been busy with volunteering work in the month of January. Totally unexpected as both volunteering request came barely a week before the event. To top it off, both events were merely 2 days apart. In good spirits, we had agreed to support both events.

Go Red For Women (GRFW) – 5 February 2010
This was an event organized by the Singapore Heart Foundation, and the intention was to raise the awareness of cardiovascular diseases among women. Most people knew that heart diseases are the #1 killer in the world as well as in Singapore. Although the statistics of women getting heart diseases are significantly smaller than men do, few women are aware of the fact that in most cases, the fatality rate on women is much higher than on men.

grfw-4

Also declared as Go Red Day, 4-5 Feb are dedicated to raise the red alert to women on all forms of heart diseases which includes heart attack and stroke. The events comprises health and sports workshops, activities and of course health screening.

Due to other commitments, we volunteered for only Day 2. We were both attached to the health screenings booth which include Blood Pressure Screening and Body Composition Screening. It was a busy day as participants flow in endlessly, and the queue was especially long during the lunch breaks.

We get to rotate between both screenings and it was fun though tiring and we managed to squeeze in just 20 minutes of lunch and toilet breaks, and its back at the stations. End of the day, we felt fulfilled knowing that the majority of the people we screened are in the pink of health. Nothing beats that.

Read the full Go Red For Women blog post. Pictures.

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Updates! Hot off the Press…

It had seem like a very long time since we revisited Guiding Angels. No, we have not forgotten or forsaken the good intentions of Guiding Angels. Ever since Henry had a heart attack in May this year, our lives have revolved around re-adjusting to his new “heart”, changing of priorities in life, at home and at work. Many things have changed and will continue to do so.

 

We have grown stronger. We became more conscious of our health. We make it a point to remind people to take good care of their health too. We now have a better meaning and purpose in life, and through it all, we are determined to make a difference to someone’s life. After all, we only live once.

 

Just recently, we discussed the possibility of continuing with the Guiding Angels project. We had merely started where we left off. There were some plans in the works, and a possible trip in the first half of 2010. We need to re-establish contacts with our Vietnamese friends. We had also made some new contacts with Vietnamese in Singapore and hoped to be in talks with them to put our plans to work.

 

Progress will be slow for the time being, but never once had we thought of given up, and we strive to touch the lives of the least fortunate people in Vietnam.

 

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Volunteering Trips


In Singapore, overseas mission trips are being organized to countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and some other developing countries in Asia. These trips are often organized by churches independently. The organizers and the people who went to these trips served as volunteers. 

The mission of these trips are multi-folds and volunteering activities may include:

  • Building houses and facilities in villages
  • Setting up of schools
  • Stocking up of books, clothes, other items collected from donors
  • Teaching of specific skills e.g basic English, arts and crafts
  • Organizing fun activities for underprivileged children

Volunteers usually travel for between 5-7 days in a typical trip. All expenses including airfare, food and lodging are self-paid. Some volunteers rope in the entire families and treat it as a family trip. Other than going for the usual sight seeing tours, parents deemed such trips as educational and practical life experience for the privileged kids in Singapore. It’s also a great time for family bonding.

Usually, the kids have great time experiencing volunteering and helping people of their same age, but were alas not as fortunate as them.

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Charity Donations in Singapore

Singaporeans are a charitable lot. When it comes to charities, they never fail to donate generously. Charity organizations are known as Voluntary Welfare Organizations (VWO). While some are supported by the government, a majority are setup and formed by volunteers and raised public funds to support and maintain the state of being.

Donations in Singapore takes different forms. It really depends on how the organizations raise funds in terms of the activities they organized to solicit donations. Most commonly used practices include flag days, public fan fare events, sales of collectibles from volunteers in those organizations, and the fund raising event TV shows featuring artiste performing songs, dances and in some instances, dangerous stunts.

Some charitable organizations in Singapore also offer donations on a regular basis. You can opt to donate a fixed amount on a monthly basis. To make it convenient, your donations can be deductible from your bank account monthly if you authorised it.

Then of course, other than monetary, donations can be in other forms. The most common of all is donating of old/new clothes, shoes, bags, utensils, toys and even furnitures or anything that you can think of. On their own, some charitable organizations spread word of a donation drive on a specific period. During which, they may allocate a centre for people to drop off their donated items in a stipulated locations or they may go round collecting the bigger items.

There were never short of donated items when the need calls for. However, at times people do treat some donation drive as a means of getting rid of old furnitures and stuffs. Although the objective of collecting items were met, the spirit of such people were uncalled for and not in sync with the charitable organizations.

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Earlier Encounters With HCM Orphanages

Dieu Giac Orphanage

Dieu Giac Orphanage

Back in Jun 2008, we started to think about how we wanted to get the idea transformed into action. In one of Henry’s business trip to Ho Chi Minh in Jul 2008, we had drawn up a list of task that he should pursue while there. I did a search for the list of orphanages in HCM, the addresses and contacts. In order to maximize all our field trips, we determined that it will be wise to start with orphanages around HCM city. Gaining access will be easy, and with close proximity to the airport, we reckon that our time would be better spent in each trip.

 

 

It was not easy getting the list from the internet. Although many searches appear, some are not relevant while while others lacked in information. Eventually, I came out with a list of 5-6 orphanages and a task list including getting contacts, and doing simple street survey, and set Henry off to HCM.

Henry extended his business trip for 2 days during which he visited 2 orphanages and make contacts with a English Language teacher. 

 

The first visit was to Dieu Giac orphanage. This was an orphanage run by nuns and groups of volunteers. The childrens’ age ranges from 8-17 years old and there were 100+ of them housed in this orphanage.

   

Children at Dieu Giac Orphanage

Children at Dieu Giac Orphanage

Children in this orphanage will be sent to local schools when they come of age. Afterwhich, they may learn some simple handicraft skills like knitting, toys making etc. Some of the girls did expressed interest in learning hair dressing. 

 

The second orphanage, Go Vap was a government run orphanage and housed many children who were handicapped by nature. Some of them have deformed limbs, were blind and even those who were so severely handicapped their bodies were deformed at birth. A lot of them were abandoned at birth. 

 

go-vap-1

Go Vap Orphanage

There were over 200 children in this orphanage and again groups of volunteers cared for these children ranging from a few days to 17 or 18 years old. We understand that they are still lacking in volunteers due to the state of the children, and would naturally requires more care givers. 

 

Unfortunately, both the 2 orphanages do not fit into our requirements.  Although we tried asking the English Language teacher to support us in this initiative, she was unable due to old age and health.

 

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How It All Began

It all begins with an idea. An idea of helping people. An idea of giving back to the society.  

Back in 1993 when Henry was in Cambodia, he had witnessed orphans and children as young as 6-8 years old who had to work as shoe shine boys or paddle goods like newspaper or cigarettes in the street to make a living. Some were orphans while others had parents who were either sick or war victims i.e. handicapped by the land mines and sustain injuries through prolong war.

 

Even watching TV program showing destitute people set us thinking about how fortunate we were in this part of the world. Henry was also planning for retirement and had wanted very much to pass on his skills in mechanical engineering and repair. and hope that some people can benefit from it and use it to earn a living.

 

After the idea was mooted, the next thing that came to our mind was “who should we help? and how?” There were a lot of unfortunate people in this world thus it is impossible to want to help everyone in need. The other consideration was instead of just giving monetary donation which we often do or were approach to do, how about doing something more meaningful. Something that will last a lifetime and has a higher chance of continuity.

 

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day”.

“Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a life time”.

 

Our philosophy intends to take a step further.

 

“Teach the man how to breed fishes, you not only feed him for a life time,

but for generations after generations”.

 

The next daunting task was deciding between Cambodia or Vietnam after some consideration. After further research, we realized that it will be difficult to gain access to Cambodia due to political issues and travel restrictions. Vietnam became our natural choice. It was only 2 hours by flight to Ho Chi Minh city, and Singaporeans do not require visa to travel there. Bearing in mind that we will require volunteers and supporters from Singapore to support this initiative, we didn’t want to travel to a place that will be too difficult to access or pose limitations when we want to execute any initiatives.

 

As we were both working in Singapore, we had to draw some plans to determine how much time and money we can afford to allocate to this initiative considering that life goes on and we had to sustain our business and jobs as well. To begin, we need to be able to help ourselves before we can help others. We decided that we can’t do this on full swing but can get things moving and develop plans to kick start and take us through in the longer term.

 

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Trip to Ho Chi Minh (4-5 April 2009)

Our flight was 7:15am with Tiger Airways. Planning to be at the airport at least 1.5 hours ahead of flight schedule, we had to wake up at 4:30am. Though it was about 60km to the airport, traffic was smooth all the way and we arrived at the departure counter around 5.40am. Surprisingly, there was a long queue waiting to check-in. And long it was, it took us nearly 45 minutes to clear the queue. We proceeded right in, had an early breakfast and waited for the flight.

 

We arrived Ho Chi Minh at 8:15am after a 2 hours flight and by the time we checked out, it was 8.30am. Note: Ho Chi Minh is one hour behind Singapore. Thanh, our friend and Vietnam’s partner for this project met us at the airport and took us back to her office. Unfortunately, she was tied down at work but had very kindly asked a friend, Minh to host us till 5pm. She had also arranged for us to visit an orphanage around HCM city.

 

Minh and us set off and arrived at Long Hao Temple after a 20 minutes taxi ride. Long Hoa was housed by the river and on a fairly spacious plot of land which also includes a big temple. Although on the outskirts of HCM city, the orphanage was barely 20 km away. When we first set eyes on the entire place, we will never had the impression that this would be home to hundreds of orphans or otherwise unfortunate people.

 

Long Hoa Orphanage

 

 We met with the orphanage head, Mr Do and informed him about the visit. Although Mr Do spoke French, he wasn’t as comfortable with English. With Minh’s as the interpreter, he gave us a run down of Long Hoa. In principle, Long Hoa is a government sponsored orphanage. It currently houses 100+ boys ranging from age 4 to 24. The criteria that these boys must meet includes – real orphans i.e. both parents are not around, and there were no other people/relatives who could look after them. Only then do they qualify for a space in Long Hoa.

 

Besides the government, Long Hoa also has corporate sponsors including Singapore Stock Exchange, DBS Bank. Deutsch Bank and other local and international companies. The place is fully equipped and has different buildings for hostels, kitchen, dining, office and even boast of facilities like a library and fully equipped computer rooms with broadband.

 

The boys are segregated by age groups and have child sitters for each group. Other than Mr Do and a few administration and operation staff, most of the people are volunteers. These include kitchen helpers and nurse. All the boys are immensely polite and never failed to greet as you pass them by. By day, the boys were sponsored by the government to attend schools up to college level, and until they eventually started working life. They could still continue staying there.

 

After we made clear our intentions to Mr Do, he expressed interest in developing automotive skills training for the boys. He would like this training to be continuous and long term to be effective. He also emphasize that if certification can be provided jointly by both the organization and the government after a certain level and period of training, it would make the boys more employable in the job market. Mr Do is willing to help facilitate with the relevant government agencies should this project take off. Certification would also provide opportunities for the boys to venture out of the country.

 

Skills training in areas like cooking do not appeal to this all-boys orphanage, and there is already a volunteer who conduct English language lessons for the boys weekly. Looks like only automotive skills appear interesting at this moment. Nevertheless, this being our first visit and a fact finding trip, we could not make any commitment or concrete plans yet. After discussion, Mr Do took us on a tour around the site.

 

The boys slept in open concept dormitories with double-decker beds.  The dorms are sparesely furnished and they slept on wooden planks without mattresses. We discovered that there is a mini mineral water manufacturing plant within this premise. Basically, the orphanage produces their own mineral water, bottle them and resell in the market place. Mr Do even showed us a paper from a government agency certifying the water standards. They have even achieved ISO. This mini plant and mineral water business serve as some form of self generated revenue for Long Hoa.

 

Dormitory

 

We proceeded to the Library which was fully stocked with Vietnamese books of all topics, some English encyclopedia, language resource books and stacks of comics to entertain the younger ones. The computer room was also equipped with computers and broadband. Volunteers offered training on basic computer skills and simple office applications. 

 computer

  By all accounts, we were impressed with the way Long Hoa was equipped and run. Thanks to the people behind the management of Long Hoa, all the boys appears to be well taken care of and polite. We ended our trip and went back to Thanh’s office.  classroom

 

 

We had lunch and checked in to our hotel to get some rest. Later in the evening, we gathered to round up the afternoon’s visit and observation. As the original intent of Guiding Angel was to help the poor and unfortunate people, we decided to search and identify a few other orphanages that can truly benefit from this intent. 

 

As Minh had suggested earlier in the afternoon, he felt that there are a lot more other orphanages or even folks from the rural and village area who could really gain some help. In true spirit of charity, it would make more sense to help the needy even by a little.

 

Thanh and Minh had kindly offered their help to round up a few other orphanages for our next trip, and hoped that we can select some and kick start the programs soonest. We also discussed some issues pertaining to legal aspects with charity work, and a potential business model to aid financial support. These are not appropriate for sharing at this time.

 

Work continues in Vietnam in search of orphanages, and in Singapore for volunteers program, financial and operational support.

 

Although this trip was planned in very short notice, it was by no means a fruitful one.

 

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