Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sara's story

Two-and-a-half months ago, family friends of my parents moved to Vietnam on a two-year contract, as the husband works for the Canadian government in Immigration. His name is Jack, his wife is Shirly and their daughter is Georgia, 20. They have a crazy dog named Mickey. Not surprisingly, they live on a compound filled with North Americans, who are working in Vietnam, with their families. Most of them employ locals as cooks, gardeners, housekeepers and drivers.

I have pasted below the unedited story Jack & Shirly sent us last month, a story about a woman who works in their home and needs help - in a big way. The story is long, yes, but moving. Heartbreaking. At the end, there is information about how to help. If you feel so inclined, please contact me or Wilf personally. I plan to help, as well.


This is the story of Sara, her recurring nightmare and her simple dream. Sara is 47 years old, is married with two children, a boy of five, and a daughter who is eight. Sara is of mixed race, half Arabian, half Vietnamese. She is looked down upon by other Vietnamese, though she was born here, went to school here, speaks only Vietnamese, and is married to a pure blooded Vietnamese man.

Sara works seven days a week from five in the morning til late at night. Her day begins by getting her children up and started on their day. She’s at the local market by 6:30, picking up food for breakfast, kids lunches, and dinner. She also buys food for the family that she will go and work for. She returns home from the market, feeds the children, makes her husbands breakfast then leaves for work on her motor scooter.

She cleans and cooks for a family of foreigners who live in an extravagant home that is safely hidden behind high walls. Sara and her family live in one room. She comes to this majestic house Monday through Friday, cooking, shopping, doing the laundry, the ironing, washing floors, bathrooms, and more. She sees how this family live together in harmony and love. She sees the parents make plans for their two children and how they interact together. She sees the children go from their International school to a language school on weekends. She sees these children flourish.

Sara didn’t get much schooling in Vietnam. In Vietnam you have to pay for your children to go to school. After grade four the cost goes up. If you are poor you must leave school. This is the reality of the new communism in Vietnam. Her children seem destined to follow in their mothers’ footsteps.

On Saturday’s, Sara comes and works for us along with her sister-in-law, Yen. Sara doesn’t speak English, but Yen does. This is how we have come to know Sara and her story.

Sara must work hard every day because her husband doesn’t. He has not worked in a long time. He’s capable of working, but doesn’t. Maybe it’s because of this that he beats her and the children. Maybe it’s because of this that he carries on an affair with another woman and keeps telling Sara that he is going to leave her and the children. Maybe he beats her because she is not pure enough. Maybe he beats her, just because.

Sara is afraid of what will happen if he leaves them. She is afraid that she will be shunned. She never knew her father because he left Vietnam right after she was born. Her mother is dead and she has no siblings.

Sara was born in Saigon. She has spent every living moment of her life in this city of eight million. She has never ventured out beyond the city limits. She has never seen life beyond the perpetual day-in, day-out, need to work from dawn to dusk. She has to work. She cannot stop for one minute. She has no health care. She has no pension. She has no family to go to. She has no one to care for her.

But Sara does have one thing. She has a special thing she holds onto. She has a dream, a very simple dream. She dreams of going to Dalat with her two children for a little holiday. Just the three of them. In Vietnam, Dalat is the destination of choice for newlyweds. Dalat is a place for romance.

Dalat is in the central highlands, a six hour bus-ride from Saigon. The cost of the tickets is a pittance. The cost for the one star hotel, probably less. But it is beyond her reach and why it lives as her dream.

Shirly and Georgia put our Christmas tree up this past week and it looks fabulous. For the first time we will be without family for Christmas and it feels a little strange. But then we start thinking about Sara and our loss seems so trivial and insignificant.

We want to do something for Sara and her two children. We want Sara to live her dream and more. We want her children to have an opportunity to escape from their reality and have a chance for lives that take them beyond the city gates.

We want her children to have the dreams of childhood that we once had. Dreams that have a chance. Not dreams that are still-born at the moment of their conception.

The key to this is for the children to get a good education. A good education in Vietnamese and English. The ability to speak good English combined with a minimum grade 12 diploma will give them a chance. A chance to compete for something higher. An opportunity to meet other students who are being properly prepared for the future. An opportunity to aspire for something above and beyond what they know. A possibility of going to university.

Did you know that economists are predicting that by the year 2050, Vietnam will have a larger economy than Canada? With their work ethic, population size, and natural resources, this will probably happen. These two kids can be a part of that and we can give them their chance. We can make a real difference in the lives that they will lead. We can show them the value of helping others and working together for a better world.

With your help we can raise enough money to help fund their Vietnamese schooling and English language training. The plan is to put it into a trust fund that pays only to a school that the children attend. I can set that up here with HSBC. I’ve met a man who runs HSBC here in Saigon. He’s from Canada and lives on our compound. He will help us with the logistics.

This being the run up to Christmas, it is the perfect opportunity to tap those friends on the shoulder to contribute to Sara’s Christmas story. The beauty of Vietnam is that a dollar will go a long way.

Language classes at the best schools, ie, being taught by English speaking teachers cost approximately $100.00 U.S. (yes, we’re back to that) per student for three months. That’s approximately $500.00 per child per year, if they go year round. That’s $1000.00 per year for ten years for the two of them. Then there is regular school fees that must be paid. It’s a lot of money, but then there are a lot of us. I’m sending this to everyone I know. If each of you reach out and get five of your friends involved, we will make this happen.

Many of you have friends in the corporate world, some who own their own businesses, many of them influential and connected to others who are looking to make a difference. If you believe in a world of possibilities, if you believe that dreams can come true, then we can make this happen.

Feel free to share Sara’s story to others. If you could see the way she is in spite of her situation, it is awe inspiring. She is quick to smile and her face lights up with joy, which turns to bashfulness in her self consciousness. Standing in front of us in her bare feet, in clothes that would be turned away by Sally Ann. She makes me know that the stars were aligned in my favour when I was born. How lucky I was to have been born in Canada to the family I have. How lucky I have been to have had the parents that raised me. How lucky I was not to have been born in Vietnam. If not there but for fortune? How true it is.

The trip to Dalat can be done in a first class way for less than $300.00.

Apart from us giving bus tickets, hotel reservations, and money for food and miscellaneous spending, Sara will never have access to the funds. If she does, her husband will force her to give it to him. This can never happen. She cannot be put in a position where he can abuse and exploit her any more. The reason for a Trust fund.

Neither Shirl nor myself have done this type of thing before. We know that many of you have lots of experience in this area. We welcome all suggestions as to what should be done, could be done, etc. If you would like to give a gift of hope this year, then please join us in making this dream come to life.

We will be sending this out to over 100 people that we know. You are one of these lucky people. If you get just 5 of your friends involved, then we’re quickly at 500. If 500 people threw in $25.00, we will have the funds to turn Sara’s dream into reality.

John Lennon wrote a glowing song to his baby boy, Sean. In the song he has a great line, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”. Lets make a plan to help two young lives take a different path from the one they’re currently on. Let’s help their mother get on the bus to Dalat for that trip of a lifetime.

That is Sara’s story. We hope you will join up with us.



from Jack

I want to thank all of you who so kindly gave me feedback and suggestions as to the next step. After much discussion, we have decided that the best thing to do at this time is to try and get as many donations as we can, and then see if we can turn this into a longer term project for the future. Setting up non-profit societies, getting registered charity status, tax numbers etc, will take time and we can't do it from here in the time frame that we are looking at. As they say, strike while the iron is hot.

To that end, I would ask that you make out a cheque to me, ie, Jack Avery, and notate on the sbj line "donation for Sara's Kids". My esteemed brother-in-law, Wilf has kindly volunteered his time to collect the cheques and deposit them. Once he's deposited them, I will do an electronic transfer to HSBC here in Ho Chi Minh. I will give you all a full accounting of how much money we raise, and how the money is dispersed. You can feel good about your donation in that there will be no administration fees. Every penny will go to the recipients.

In terms of getting the money to Wilf, there are three ways of doing this. You can send it to him by mail. You can arrange to meet him and give it to him. If you are holding more than one cheque, ie, family, friends, etc, he has volunteered to come by and pick them up. Best way to reach Wilf is by email at wilfreimer@gmail.com. He lives in Metro Vancouver.

The response to this has really amazed Shirl and I. People are sending her story to friends, who want to contribute etc. To all of you, we say many thanks for your generosity. Your contribution need not be a big one. If you can get some of your friends, associates, etc, to also contribute, then the amount will grow through the generosity of many. Like the seed that finds the crack in the sidewalk, maybe it will find life and surprise us.

Her story is a sad one, but in spite of her situation, she is quick to break out into a big, beautiful smile when you engage her in conversation. I will get a photo and post it in the near future so you can see what we mean.

That's it for now. Stay warm and dry. We think of you all at this time as Christmas nears

Salut..........Jack and Shirl.

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