Thursday, February 17, 2011

Leprosy Communities February 14, 2011

After 6:00 morning Mass and breakfast I had a little time to tour the grounds of the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Our Lady of Unity in Bắc Ninh. My tour guide was Nguyệt Le, a young, newly married woman from Portland who has been working for some weeks as a volunteer with Kim Dung (Zoong) and SARA. She is fluent in English and Vietnamese and showed me the school for pre-school children that the sisters operate and then a few other buildings before Kim saw us and said: “Let’s go!” We were off to a leprosy community.

The government operates leprosy communities that appear to have dorm rooms and community rooms. We take gifts to the members of these communities – which Kim Dung calls camps. The gifts are basic and practical: a thermal sweatshirt and pants with the SARA logo and name on them, a small bag of rice, some cooking oil, a bag of candy and some “lucky money”, 50,000D – about $2.50, but with the buying power in the USA of about $25.

Everyone gets the same gift and they are extremely grateful. They are grateful that someone would come to see them, grateful for the gifts, grateful that someone would look them in the eye and treat them with personal dignity. It seemed that the residents we visit are all treated well, in general. Kim insists on delivering the gifts personally. She has visited most if not all of these communities many times in the past. We saw jackets and mattresses that she had delivered years ago and are still in use.

When we arrived at the camp on this day, at first it seemed that we would not be able to visit the residents. The operators insisted on a few days notice, but Kim negotiated with them and explained that she had called and that no one got back to her. There was some discussion about the accuracy of the phone number, but I wasn’t sure, it was all in Vietnamese. In the end we were allowed to go from room to room to deliver gifts to those who physically could not leave their rooms. Then the rest of the residents all came to a large social hall where speeches were made and the operators of the camp made a point to thank us for our help. We passed out all the remaining gifts for that camp and made some endearing connections.

Some of the Catholic residents wanted to show us something special. We walked down a long path to find a Catholic Chapel in which Mass could be celebrated. We didn’t have time to celebrate Mass that day, but it showed the government’s openness to more cooperation with communities of faith.

Then we drove to the convent of some of the Sisters of Our Lady of Unity who operate a home for disabled children. We visited the children and the sisters provided us with dinner. We gave them a donation to support their ministries and we were on our way back to Bắc Ninh.

Pre-school operated by the Sisters of Our Lady of Unity in Bắc Ninh

Children at the school.

Two of the sisters with a different group of students.

Kim Dung (Zoong) is as compassionate as she is tireless.

Kim is able to connect very quickly with the residents of the leprosy community. Some remember her from previous years.

I’m just trying to look busy.

Everyone is grateful for the gifts we provide.

Nguyệt Le is a volunteer from Portland who is working with Kim Dung.

Even though I don’t understand Vietnamese, I did a lot of listening of the heart.

Fr. Bình Hoang is very compassionate toward those who suffer.

Often we were greeted with such joy and laughter.

I miss my bicycle and was able to pedal this one for a few yards.

Huong Nguyen, who works for SARA, helps distribute gifts.

We also give “Lucky Money” a traditional gift to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Kim, again, connects on a personal level.

Meeting with the entire community.

Kim telling the residents how happy we are to be with them and that we come to share God’s love with them.

The Catholic residents take us to their chapel.

The Catholics are very proud to show us their chapel.

We all prayed together in the Catholic chapel.

Thật, one of the sisters who helped us, and Huong prepare snacks for the volunteers.

Meeting some of the disabled children cared for by the Sisters of Our Lady of Unity in Bắc Ninh.

I really connected with this little boy who was laying on a mattress on the floor. These children couldn’t speak, so my lack of Vietnamese did not hinder my ability to communicate.

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