Jane Scoular and her husband Graham Pomstra recently travelled to Vietnam to meet their sponsored child Cuong. Jane tells us the highlight of the visit was something very simple, but that will stay with her for a long time yet.
We’ve sponsored Cuong for about five years now, and since we were planning a trip to Asia, we felt it was the perfect opportunity to include a visit to meet Cuong and his family. I’d been to Vietnam around 15 years ago, so it was exciting to go back and see what had changed.
One thing that struck me about Vietnam is that I felt the gap between those that have a wealthy lifestyle and those that are struggling is a large and growing gap – you’ll see fancy cars and signs of wealth in the city and then out in the rural areas, some people live a sparse existence with very little.
The ChildFund staff met us in Hanoi, and we began the long drive out to Cao Bang province. It’s about 7 hours on the road, but our driver was fantastic, he shared ‘his Vietnam’ with us and it was nice to gain a local understanding. We stayed the night in a very wet and rainy Cao Bang and then the next morning, after a cup of tea, we did the last 1.5 hour drive to reach the commune where Cuong lives.
We met Cuong at one of the village meeting rooms – he had his father with him, as well as one of his friends. Cuong is 14 now, and a shy and serious young man. The effects of not getting enough good food to eat in his early life show - he’s small for his age and has to sit at the front of his class as he’s only average at school. His school is very close by now, but next year he’ll go to high school which is a long cycle away, and I worry a bit about how he’ll cope.
We had brought a few small gifts from New Zealand for the boys – ‘NZ’ caps, some clothes, a rugby ball and a frisbee. We passed the rugby ball around a bit (he’s not hugely into sport, just like me) which got a rare smile out of him, but I don’t think he’d ever seen a frisbee before! We also took some books for the children in the commune to share around.
We learnt that Cuong has two older sisters – one who is 16 who is still at home, and one who is 18 and works away from home. She only gets to come home once a year, but is able to remit money to help the family. The family has three buffalo, two adults and a calf; Cuong tends to them every morning.
We got to see Cuong’s school, and they proudly showed us the school toilets – the water for which comes from the water tank system that ChildFund helped put in. We also got to meet his teacher.
The highlight of the whole day is something really simple but it made me really happy. And that was when Cuong smiled. He’s such a serious boy, it just absolutely warmed my heart when he smiled. It’s a beautiful smile, and I’m glad that I managed to capture it in a photo!
Before we visited we felt like we knew Cuong – you get your letters and photos, but now we feel like we have a deeper understanding of his life: who he lives with, what his village is like, how his day goes, the challenges he faces and how our sponsorship helps. I won’t forget the time we spent together, and I don’t think he will either – he got to be ‘King for a day’!