Over the past years I have at times been asked how a person can help Charities in Vietnam. I am aware of many orphanages and have limited experience with Charities such as World Vision, Doctors without Borders, East meets West, and so on…….. I have always been aware of monies lining pockets of administration but recently I got a bit of an education. A woman from Australia asked I could drive her to visit 2 kids she sponsors through a global charity group as she had been informed that one of the kids were being dropped and would be replaced by another. Net getting answers as to why, she flew to Vietnam to visit the family. The family is poor and the 14 yr old girl was quitting school because lack of funds. Why they were being dropped was a mystery and arrangements were made for her to stay in school for much less than the monthly contribution the donor was making in Australia. I also have a friend in town who helps making free meals for the poor for a local tourist restaurant but has since stopped because most of the meals were simply going to non needy people who just wanted a free lunch…. The free food program seemed more aimed at marketing a reputation than actually feeding those in need….. Anyway…….This got me thinking it was time to re-introduce you to my friend Bob.
Bob and his wife live in Tuy Hoa on the south central coast. Bob Johnston is a Vietnam Veteran and has lived here since 2007. Aside from charitable work for the poor they own and operate a western café called ‘Bobs’ Café American’ in the town of Tuy Hoa.
They have both been involved in building houses for Agent Orange victims, helping with support for families and other associated projects. At the present time they work with and support a small local project ‘Rice Soup from Love’. Information about the project can be seen, along with the mission statement, on the Facebook page of the same name. The following is his words…….
“Owee asked me to write this because he has limited experience with charities in Vietnam. I have lived here for a number of years and my wife and I do, and used to work with a number of them.
Caution: some of my remarks will seem callous and cynical to the uninitiated in this area. It is in fact reality…the reality of trying to help and being led (blindfolded) down the primrose path or, sometimes worse and seems very hurtful…simply not being able to do anything because of a lot of stupid roadblocks. Most of the logic causing these roadblocks are, things here, operate without much logic or, even better, a much eschewed sense of what a western person would see as logic.”
Ying and yang- the good the bad and the real bastards
Anyone with half a brain and, an IQ slightly above a 3 minute egg already knows that at least 85% of all ‘charities’ anywhere are a complete rip-off. They are in business to benefit 1 group of people…the greedy money grubbing people who run or ‘administrate’ the workings of the charity. OH? Hell yes! The largest charity organization in the world pays its CEO 3 times as much as most HUGE corporations, they have offices in a multi-million dollar building. The charities here (most of them) have set themselves up in the same way. It’s the ‘how-much-can-we-make-on-pain’ plan. Remember kiddies, it’s still almost a 3rd world country. There are mansions and guys driving Bentleys but that’s the upper 5% The simple fact is just pitiful. There are no decent social programs because the guys running the country have zero management skills and worse, don’t want to learn any. They pretty much fumble around in the dark mucking-up the works and, they do this very well. Until this changes, nothing else will and, dat’s a fact Jack.
Goody 2 shoes – you got it all wrong
I could give you maybe 50 examples of good deeds gone sideways, money burned in the street, but I won’t. I’ll simply make a point about how, some things, done with the best intentions that become useless effort. This is often because of economic-cultural differences that unless you’ve lived here for a while, the poor slobs had no damned clue of how big a waste it was. People want to give ’things’ to help the poor. They must have the hands-on experience to give them the feel good feeling of actually doing it. “I want to buy this and have my hands on something that little Nguyen will use at school every day…I want to touch what she’ll touch.” Bull!!
If you bought a nice but cheap 3-ring binder in a place like Topika Kansas or Melbourne Oz; and didn’t also buy a big box of paper to re-fill it with, when she runs out of the paper it came with she’ll pitch it in the trash. First, it’s too big to lug around. Second, they can’t get the paper to put in it and, third, they MUST have a separate notebook for each subject. You just bought junk…then paid a really stupid price to ship it here. Work with the right person and you can buy the notebook she really needs here. Not your 99 cent, on sale at Staples but 10 of the ones she can really use for that same 99 cents. Now you’ve done something worthwhile. Do some research before you spend and ship, trust the involved foreigners who live here and do things like this all the time. Ask questions and get reasonable answers before you become part of the problem.
Use common sense.
Every few months we get a bag (200 kilo) of clothes donated to our charity. It’s a mixed bag of everything; mixed sizes as well. The women sort the clothes according to who needs what (in the poor areas) then everything gets distributed over a month or so. We have leads on where to cheaply buy jackets and even heavier jackets in bulk for when they’re needed. These things take years to find and set-up. A number of years ago I was a member of a group based in Pittsburgh who were doing charity work in Da Nang. They had a number of ongoing projects and some smaller ones. 2 in particular were – reading glasses for the poorer people and warm winter coats as well. Their contact in Da Nang received things on this end and managed most projects; the guys in the states had money to burn. Instead of buying the necessary things here they wanted to buy the items in the states and ship them. A $15 to $20 coat from Goodwill, $11 to $15 a pair glasses from Wally World.
These things add up and quickly; then you add air freight. I told them that we have access to very good things like used coats for $1 or $2 each – I can buy reading glasses in any market for about $5 every day. I offered to buy what they wanted, as many as they wanted and ship to Da Nang by bus, right to the door of the contact person. I openly posted this in the group for all to read. Following a month of nothing I contacted the person in the states via email. People were posting all over that they found coats at Goodwill for $20 and $30(each)…they were buying boxes of them! After about 2 months and, no reply from anyone, I left the group. If they wanted to be ‘hands on’ morons, good; do half the good while spending 10 times the money, great!
Agent Orange – the billion dollar ongoing ‘grief and sorrow factory’ that just keeps growing
The AO issue is very confusing and multi-sided. Sorting out what’s really happening is about as simple as picking fly turds out of pepper. Yes, we did use tons of it here, it does degrade at a certain rate, yes, it, the dioxin, once taken into the body, stays there pretty much forever. Yes, it causes a lot of really bad things and is related to many birth defects in humans (as well as fish, fowl and wildlife). Where the problems begin is; when the US left Vietnam the problem continued and, continued to this day. As I type this there are thousands of farmers spraying crop areas with very cheap poisonous and highly toxic chemicals bought from their good buddies in China.
It’s about money and a total lack of training/basic information in the handling of dangerous chemicals – there is no training at all. They don’t even know what an MSDS sheet is, let alone how to read and use it. Buy the cheapest herbicides and pesticides you can then, spray it on good and heavy. If a little works a lot will work better. Any heavy agricultural area in this country will also have the highest percentage of birth defects…highest rate of cancer and other nasty things. It will continue until there is education about these things. There are trillions of dong spent on museums and monuments to martyrs, not a single dong is spent on farmers’ education about these things.
‘Cash Cow’…that would be you or your organization. You are a walkng. talking ATM and they have the passcode. If you’re donating money and not goods the first thing they will want to do is throw a party in your honor. A big fancy lavish pig and drink-out because you’re so generous! Why not…you’re buyin’?! The party will be at a friend’s, the prices will be inflated worse than NASA and the guy who owns the joint will get a handsome kick-back. Hell, everyone will get a kick-back. You’re a stranger in a strange land, you won’t want to offend anyone so you’ll go along with it. Turning them down would be rude and very unfriendly…right? Wrong, those hundreds of bucks you (and they just threw away) could have been much better spent on the people you’re trying to help. If you’re so naive as to think they’re paying for it (with their money); you need to wake up.
The g-men in charge just get in the way – if they don’t get their cut of the action
To do it the right way, don’t advertise ahead of time. Yes Virginia, we all want recognition, we thrive on it and being especially recognized for doing good deeds. Attracting attention here just means
that you get the wrong ‘dog and pony show’ and, believe me; they have learned how to do that VERY well. Sure, make contacts ahead of time, slip in, do the good deed and get outta’ Dodge before anyone knows you’re there. Be the good Santa, not the idiot Santa. The more time you spend ‘on station’ the more time they have to pull the curtain on the 2nd and 3rd act. In the beginning I went through this many times. I’m a realist so I did figure things out before they did too much frisking…I also have excellent bull filter software installed.
Don’t go public – stay way under the radar
In the immortal words of Obe Wan, “We want to avoid any imperial entanglements.” The nano-second after you let the government and the cops know you’re in town and, what for, you’re entire ‘mission’ begins to give you or the organization a lot less bang for the buck. Hands come out, permits must be paid for and many red stamps must be purchased. Suddenly you will have ‘escorts’ (minders) and almost everything you want to do as well as where you want to go will become ‘restricted’. There will be no end to
the money spent and papers officially stamped until you are suddenly taken where ‘they’ want you to go. How well do you know the country, how well do you know the law, how quick are you to call ‘foul’ and walk away? Hmmm, you can’t, they have the car and you’re in the middle of nowhere with a government paid translator. You 5 star hotel is in a different province and you couldn’t find your way back if you had left a trail of crumbs behind.
Lost in translation – every time
You’re not in Kansas anymore. Here everything is about ‘face’, respect, position and age relative to all of that. That fancy smiling translator will only translate what’s relative to her and who she’s translating to and, she will do it with respect. What that means here is that anything that seems even remotely ‘offensive’ will not be translated, same with anything ‘she’ doesn’t think is important enough to translate. The other problem is that neither language translates ‘straight-up’ to the other one. As a matter of fact, sometimes words aren’t even in the same zip code. It also depends on his/her vocabulary. They don’t want to look stupid to either party so they just make up something, whatever they feel like! You’re standing there smiling and nodding like a big dump schmuck and don’t realize that this is going on until it’s too late. Then, if and when you finally realize that something WAS screwed-up, you’re gonna’ get a ‘story’ to save ‘face’. You won’t get anything changed…you won’t get any real satisfaction…a story is about it. He or she is working for the guys in the suits, no contest.
The overly well meaning person will always have a personal agenda
The more they talk, the faster they talk, the more endless they dither-on…the more pure bull they’re dishing out…the bigger the lie. Think of a barker at the last carny you went to; it’s the same deal. If it sounds too good to be true, if it sounds like something you couldn’t make up, yep, it ain’t true.
Orphans – the ‘dog and pony show’
In truth, the majority of the ‘orphanages’ run here are for profit, the profit of the owners. It may not be a big profit but it’s mostly pretty good. This is something I’ve also found out over the years. The hard way! You see, they don’t ever count on you coming back to check on what’s going on. I know because I got nicked twice and, quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’ In my days of misplaced guilt and sorrow I visited a few local joints for disadvantaged children, mostly babies and toddlers. I was told they needed things so I gave money. I was told they needed milk supplement and the store to get it at. I went, I spent, I delivered, a large case of big cans of formula. Then I wasn’t doing anything a few days later so I went to see what was happening with the kids. The trip before had been ‘announced’, the return trip wasn’t…oops!
Instead of the ‘staff’ of a dozen to care for the kids, there was 1 very tired and shocked woman who clearly didn’t want me to enter. I found a lot less children, none of them spit-shined like before, she became very upset but I started snooping around. The box of toys I’d brought previously was nowhere to be found, the milk supplement had gone the same way…MIA. Other than some water and rice the cupboards were bare as Mother Hubbards’. The guy who runs the place but, is only around for visitors (I found out later), takes everything donated for his family or sells it (the case of the milk) at a handsome profit. The kids are a good show for the tourists…and his income.
Going back to see the results of your ‘frisking’ and what it really cost to build that POS that’s falling down now
The bad news on most projects is that; they are so busy lining each others’ pockets, that everything else gets thrown under the wheels of the bus. When the money begins to run out the quality of construction goes straight to hell in a hurry. Most well intentioned donors won’t realize this and, the majority, won’t see the finished product until it’s finished. In most cases long after it’s finished. I’ve known cases where the primary donor wanted to see what was going on and traveled here to do just that…flew here to do a little inspection. In one case the organization was told that seeing the project, before it was finished, was a ‘restricted’ matter and ‘forbidden’ by the government! EXCUSE ME??!!??
If I’m paying for it I damned sure want to see it, whenever I see fit to visit! This group turned tail and went home. There is also another problem which is generally believed here. ‘All foreigners are stupid; they don’t know about anything.’ While this is partly true (Americas Funniest Home Videos?) this doesn’t apply to all foreigners. Some of us have more ‘life experience’ than most; we’re the wild card that they don’t consider. Some of us learned things the hard way; those lessons aren’t quickly forgotten. There is a now famous internet news story which pretty much outlines this bit.
A guy came here from NZ and got hooked-up with a poor family in the north. Poor, house falling down and all that. He raised some money, came back and attempted to change their lives for the better – it didn’t go too well. On the first trip he was a ‘ghost’, on the second trip word had spread and he was now a ‘mark’. With no regard for the well being of the family (assuming he was a money tree) the locals allowed him and a friend to have the house torn down for rebuilding. From that moment everything went Tango Uniform – right into the toilet – at warp speed. This is very common and, one reason I am no longer building houses for AO victims…you just line everyone’s pockets…first. That brick that costs a nickel becomes a quarter, the $4
bag of cement becomes $8 or $10. Little things which would never be done to finish the house become, suddenly, necessary or mandatory for the builder. The money is ‘free’ so everyone has a nice payday at the expense of the poor people.
I’ve gone to the dedication of AO houses that were overbuilt to the extent that the family was living in a small mansion…lacking doors and windows…they had a new fancy motorbike but no furniture in the house. But, they had fancy tile floors and walls. Prices of everything inflated quicker than an old inner tube, the house had to be built to ‘specs’ and money disappeared down the drain quickly. So many things ‘had’ to be done ‘properly’ and in a more costly manner which ate up the cash. He left town a few weeks later; leaving the family homeless and him the whipping boy of the local press and social media. The real price of failure was local boundless greed. He’d blown through about $6000 in the few weeks he was here. All he had to show for it was a retaining wall and a few truckloads of fill, no house, not even a brick. In truth; you can build a very nice 5 room house (in the countryside here) for about $4000, not in Saigon but, in the boonies, where this was. It won’t need a kitchen because they cook outside and it won’t need a bathroom because they do ‘it’ the same place the bears do.
To a modern and educated western person this seems so very primitive, so ignorant, so backwards. In truth, in the tropics and in the countryside, the logic is perfect. Surrounded by every form of insect and rodent you can imagine; every little scrap of food you drop is an alarm that the buffet is open for business! And, most bathrooms are the dirtiest rooms in any house. Remove these 2 things from the house and you have less pests. Simple logic.
Give ‘til it hurts and, it sometimes really does
The average person who wants to help is the last person who should be doing the helping. You just ain’t qualified to make it happen in the right way and, that’s a simple truth. For most individuals, charities and organizations bent on improving things here, they find out over time, that most of the money went to the wrong place…to the exact opposite wrong place it was meant for. It caused more harm than good. This is why, after years of trying, many large well established charities and NGO’s have thrown up their hands in frustration, burned their tents and left town shaking their collective heads. This is also why the local government doesn’t seem to get much done…they can’t. Even with local management supervision it all just slips away down the rat hole. The collective greed, right down to the most lowly official is so perfect that, in most cases; only about 10% of the original funds get to
where they need to go. Sometimes the figure is a lot less – nothing comes out the other end of the pipe. There are 3 organizations right here in Tuy Hoa and 1 company that should be put out of business yesterday. They are very high profile and rake in a lot of cash from abroad…a LOT.
These charitable donations do little to help the poor…they don’t even get to sniff it. Most of the money goes into parties for the organizations, lavish houses, cars and trips abroad; extended trips abroad for the main players and their families. Even though this is flaunted on social media and on web pages; it’s never questioned by those who give. It’s accepted. Hell, the one guy who was busted in Da Nang (administering a very noble educational place) was doing so well he had 5 new big houses, a bunch of fancy cars and a string of upscale apartments. This was all done on donations and volunteers ‘paying’ for the ‘privilege’ of teaching for a few weeks or months at a time. His one employee learned how to do this very well. She moved back to town and now runs one of the slickest ‘dog and pony’ shows (teaching poor street kids English and other ‘trades’) that’s a front for a tuition based English school that really rakes in the cash from locals. She pulls it off because the parent organization (based in New Zealand) can’t be bothered to fly over and check things out even once a year.
Take the time to do some research before you dig in your pocket. Talk to some foreign locals who are involved or have been involved in charities here. You will find that 80% or more are money machines, income production for a local few. But hey, it beats actually working for a living.
This photo of Bob’s Cafe American is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Bob’s Cafe American and Motorbike Rental
43 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Tuy Hoa
Home of the Best Pizza and Burgers in Central Vietnam
AUTHENTIC Fish & Chips !!