Tag Archives: Faith

Volunteer Vietnam

18 Jun

His name is Dang Van Quoc Viet, but he goes simply by Viet. He’s a child of war; what the Americans call the Vietnam War and what the Vietnamese call the American War. To him, it’s simply The War. He was one a year-old riding in a car with his family when the car hit a land mine. His father and brother were killed. He, his mother, and his unborn sister survived. It was a tragedy that caused his mother such mental distress that she could no longer care for him. He was a year old and found himself in an orphanage.

A year passed and his mother was doing better. She claimed him from the orphanage and he returned to live with her and his nine month-old sister. The war raged on for another five years. Things were tough. He finished school and went to work, saving his money with the goal of, someday, attending college. At twenty-six he enrolled in college and, at thirty, he graduated, proving that if you want something badly enough and work hard enough, you can do just about anything. He taught English at the university for some time before finding his true calling – philanthropy.

Truong and Viet

Truong, 15 years-old, and Viet, Director of Volunteer Vietnam

Viet is Founder and Director of Volunteer Vietnam, a non-profit organization supporting various orphanages, social centers, homeless centers and low-income schools. While some of the buildings Childrenare governmental, most of the staff is not. I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Social Support Center, which houses approximately two-hundred people, most of whom used to be homeless. The children, many of whom suffer from severe mental and physical disabilities which have been blamed on Agent Orange, include Hga, who is ten years-old and was found living on the streets. And Truong, who has no parents but does have a grandmother who left him a scar on his face due to her physical abuse. He’s fifteen but is about the size of a ten year-old.

Injured Child

This is Truc after she injured her foot. All I could do was hold her ankle and try to comfort her.

Then there’s Truc, ten years-old, who has severe mental and physical disabilities. She has spasms which sometimes cause her to injure herself. On the day I was there, we took her to the on-site hospital as she had injured her foot during a spasm and was crying inHurt Foot pain. The doctor applied medication to guard against infection and bandaged it and, for the next hour, I held her foot up to prevent her from re-injuring it, as well as from causing her discomfort. It was a small thing and I wished I could do more.

The center also houses abandoned, elderly people. Some are physically disable, some have lost their mental facilities either due to age or, in the case of some, due to trauma experienced from the war – they’ve never been the same.

 

Shower Bucket

Shower Bucket, soon to be replaced by an actual shower made possible by one volunteer and the contributions she collected

Showers

New showers being built

Besides the hospital, the building includes an area called “Step-by-Step” which is the physical therapy room, beds for children and adults, a schoolroom, in which Viet and other staff teach English, a newly built shower, made possible by Anouk, a volunteer from the Netherlands who raised money on a Facebook page when she saw elderly bathing from water in a bucket, as the facility had no showers. Other volunteers I met, Marikan and Danielle created a similar Facebook fundraising page which allowed for the purchase of wheelchairs and other needed equipment. Some of the money also went to painting the dank walls. While there, I also helped paint murals on the now more brightly colored blank walls in order to help make it a place of hope and comfort. And that’s what these people are doing here – creating hope and comfort where there was once hopelessness and pain. Nobody should be forgotten or abandoned.

PaintingYou may know that I once worked for Disney Cruise Line. We called each other our Ohana, a line taken from the movie Lilo and Stitch. In it, Lilo is heard to say, “Ohana means family. And family means, no one gets left behind or forgotten.” Viet truly believes this and, while their families seem to have forgotten this, Viet is making sure that his Ohana are taken care of.

When asked what Volunteer Vietnam needs, Viet responds, “Volunteers! Volunteers are our number-one need.” He makes it easy, as anyone who volunteers with them can pay a small fee which takes care of their housing at the Volunteer Center with shared rooms, air conditioning, showers and WiFi (I checked out the rooms and they’re basic, but nice and clean), three meals per-day, and transfers to and from the volunteer sites. Evenings and weekends are free to check out the surrounding area.

The second item on Viet’s wish-list is funding. They do so much with so little, but a Vietnamese Dong (the currency) can only be stretched so far.

This is not a place which exists to make life nicer for people. This place exists to make life livable for people who, through no fault of their own, are in dire straits and have little hope. If you have some extra cash, or even better, a desire to visit Vietnam and really make a difference, please consider Volunteer Vietnam.

For more information, please visit their website at http://www.volunteervietnam.vn/

Or their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/vnvolunteer.org?fref=ts

Grace

30 Nov

I haven‘t been lucky enough to have a child. Always wanted one. Heck, always wanted about a dozen. Just, well, just never happened. Still, I always thought if I had a girl I would name her Grace. Not Gracie, but Grace. I’ve always loved that word. Remember the show, “The Actor’s Studio?” James Lipton would ask people what their favorite word was. Mine is Grace. It’s peaceful, yet inspiring. It’s a word that can never be taken badly. It’s secular yet, when used, gives a sense of a higher power.

The other day, a stranger told me that the Rebel Project was the definition of Grace. He must have thought I didn’t hear him when, for a moment, I couldn’t speak, not even to express a polite thank you. At that moment, I realized that this project had become my child. I had been given my Grace.

So now I share the joy of my child with you. She’s not easy – no child is. She’s harder work than you can imagine, but she has brought such joy to myself and others. She is demanding of your time and attention, and can be quite exhausting. But she will open up your world because, you see, Grace is the goodness you share.

This project was about many things – paying it forward, keeping promises, giving thanks, and not keeping score. It was not just a journey across the country, but a personal journey to find out if one person can truly make a difference. While I might not have stopped hunger around the world, or saved the planet from global warming, or saved animals from euthanasia, perhaps I helped a homeless, single mom get on her feet, or kept her kids believing in Santa Claus for one more year. Maybe I helped an inspiring hurricane survivor to continue to help others. Or perhaps someone read the stories and realized that they too can make a difference. Maybe they can offer a job or other assistance to those profiled, or simply to someone they meet on the street. Or maybe, like me, they will look deep inside and consider how they might use their talent to help someone else simply because they can.

Thank you for joining me on this journey and I wish you Grace.

And The Winner Is . . .

30 Nov

Today I have the privilege of announcing the person you voted for to win my $1,000 donation.  First, a bit of an explanation as to why this has taken so long.

I had planned to have this project completed in September just after I joined the ship I work on.  Well, when you consider that I was driving 2100 miles, meeting people going through rough times and writing their stories well, that turns out to be pretty time-consuming.  And then I joined the ship.  I still had some follow-up interviews as well as some stories to write when I boarded.  This meant ship to shore phone calls and writing while working an 80 hour per week job.  Add to that, satellite internet on the ship, filming for the Phoenix NBC station (see video here) and technical difficulties on the website during the voting process and I’m very happy to be able to actually announce a winner.

The winner, with 22.9% of the vote, was Jose.  But just as in life, this project is unpredictable.  You see, another reason for the delay in announcing is that Jose is homeless.  If you recall, he was living in a shelter when I met him at a job fair.  I contacted the shelter and they informed me that he was no longer living there and had gotten a job.  They gave me the name of the café he was working at and I called to see if he was in.  They informed me that he had quit the previous week and they had no idea where he was.  I tried contacting him on a cell phone number that I had for him and left multiple messages on the voicemail.  I do not know why he quit and it’s not up to me to judge.  Still, I have found it impossible to get in touch with him.  This left me with a dilemma.  What to do with the money.

I have chosen to go with the spirit of the original plan – to let the readers decide.  As the 2nd and 3rd place winners were separated by one vote, I decided to split the money between them.  They are Stella and Shanika.

Stella, if you recall, was the hurricane Katrina survivor who, after living in a church for two weeks, invited 30 family members to live in her house which she felt blessed to find still standing.  When I phoned Stella to let her know of the outcome of the Rebel Project, she was grateful.  Unfortunately, the good news was tempered with the bad news that Stella has recently been diagnosed with cancer.  Stella has provided so much strength to others that I have no doubt that she will be in many people’s prayers.

Shanika and her four children were living at a shelter run by the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.  When I contacted the shelter Shanika was still there.  But, true to form, she was working to become independent.  Shanika has obtained a job cleaning houses.  While she hopes for a job which better suits her experience, she is grateful for the work.  Besides some money, the job has provided something more.  A home.  You see, The Coalition for the Homeless runs a program called Housing Now.  The Housing Now program provides assistance to those with moderate barriers to independence.  Participants must be drug free and have a job. It provides rental assistance, case management and supportive services.

When told of the financial donation I was providing Shanika told me, “This could not have come at a better time.”  Her case manager will work with her on budgeting and the best way to use this money.  Shanika continues to do her best to be a good example for her children.  “Manners and respect carry you far,” she says of her philosophy on raising her kids.

This project was very personal and I thank you for sharing it with me.  I am not only grateful for the opportunity and resources to have taken on this project, but for all of your support.  In the spirit of the Rebel-With-A-Cause project, I will ask you to do one more thing – help because you can.

Voting is Up and Running Again

19 Oct

Well here we are again.  Announcing that voting is open.  I know what you’re thinking – in the great words of Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again.”  Well, yes.  But I thank you for your patience.  We’ve worked out the kinks (I hope) and any votes previously cast are included.

You may vote multiple times although it may take a minute to reload.  Voting will close at 11:59 Eastern time on October 30.  Then, as they say, the proverbial check will be in the mail.  But more importantly, what will the “Rebel” in you do to help simply because you can?  Whose life will you impact for good?  Start thinking about it and please feel free to share it in the comments.

In the meantime – VOTE HERE!

Voting Is Open

2 Oct

Thank you for joining me on this journey.  It’s not only been a geographical one across the country, but a spiritual one across economic gaps.

We’ve now come to the end – or perhaps this is just the beginning.  One goal of this project was to use my talent to help others.  We all have some talent.  I ask that you look inside yourself and figure out where your talents lie.  Is there a way to use that talent to make a positive change in this world?  We can all contribute, and it does not need to be cash.

Perhaps it’s time we stopped keeping score.  We can do good without thinking about what that person has done for us in the past or how they might help us in the future.  We can do good simply because we can. What I have discovered through this project is that when you begin to good simply for goodness sake, you are rewarded in ways you cannot imagine.  People share their story, which is the ultimate form of trust, and friends send endless supplies of kind words.  Finally, strangers find you and share similar goals.  You are also able to see the kindnesses that people begin to share with others through your inspiration.  There is no greater gift.

You’ve heard their stories, formed your opinion and now it’s time for you to vote Just click “Vote” at the bottom.  DIY Travel Deal has been kind enough to supply the poll and results.  You may vote for more than one person if you choose.  Just click again. Each must be done separately.  Voting closes at 11:59pm Eastern Time on October 15th.

Please remember that this vote is simply for whom I give $1,000 to.  If someone’s story has touched you and there is anyway you can help, please do so.  This does not mean contribute money to them; perhaps you can help them with a job, or a doctor or fulfill some other need.  Or perhaps it involves none of these people at all. Perhaps this has encouraged you to help someone else in need.

Please choose to vote.  And share the stories you have read.  Should you like to get in touch with any of those profiled you may feel free to E-mail me at crosen7646@yahoo.com.  Thank you for sharing this journey.  Please continue to share the goodness.

VOTE                                    

Harold – Positive and Caring Despite Challenges

26 Aug

Harold lives in Houston, TX.  I was introduced to him through the Lord of the Street Episcopal Church and Community of the Streets Outreach.  Their mission is to minister to the spiritual, emotional, physical and social needs of individuals living in Houston who are homeless, in crisis or in transition.  Harold came to them for assistance last year.

Born in Denver, CO Harold received a teaching degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder.  He never used his degree as he got the travel bug and became a Flight Attendant.  In 1991 he retired after 20 years as an international Flight Attendant.

He now does some work gardening for a small group of clients as his age, 60 years, makes it difficult to get a job.  But that’s just his work history; his personal history is a bit more complicated.

Harold was diagnosed with HIV in 1983.  He contracted it from his long-term partner who became infected with it before the virus was ever recognized.  His partner died of AIDS in 1985.  Harold’s virus has not turned into AIDS partly because he is diligent in taking care of himself.  He doesn’t drink or smoke, and he walks and rides his bike to stay in shape.  He takes his AIDS cocktail of medication religiously.  And while this can be quite expensive he is grateful that the State of Texas has a program which pays for it.

The challenge comes when he becomes ill or injured due to something that is determined to be not directly related to his HIV positive status.  He has Medicare but that only pays for so much.  In 2003 Harold was diagnosed with Hepatitis.  He was treated with chemotherapy which was quite hard on him.  Last year Harold was treated for skin cancer.  He is grateful to have his health back.

Harold received housing assistance through the AIDS Foundation of Houston which had a grant from the City of Houston.  Unfortunately, due to funding cuts, the grant was eliminated in 2010.  Harold heard about Lord of the Street from a friend.  He contacted them but was denied assistance as there were others who required help more immediately.  He understood as he knows many are struggling these days.  He tried hard to stay afloat but eventually fell behind in his rent payment.  He was grateful when the city reinstated the grant to the AIDS Foundation at the end of last year, although he received less than he had before due to the overwhelming needs of the community.

His latest concern is that the grant expires again in October of this year.  He doesn’t know if it will be renewed as the city of Houston has had to lay-off city workers due to lack of money.  So Harold prepares.  He is applying for a housing program through the State of Texas although he is aware that there is a two-year waiting list.  He has heard that the Houston Area Urban League just received more funding so he’s arranged a meeting with them next week.  “You have to be tenacious in keeping your head above water,” he says.  “God wouldn’t bring you this far only to leave you.”

Harold is one of the most positive people I have spoken with.  He is a spiritual man who is grateful to his church for their support over the years.  When speaking about the challenges he has faced he says, “That’s my lot in life, but it’s o.k.  Life offers many challenges, be positive and caring.”

 

Mike – Confidence and Faith

22 Aug

Church where I met Mike

I met Mike at a church in Mesilla, New Mexico.  He lives just down the road in Las Cruces.  In the 1980’s Mike and his father opened an air conditioning and heating company.  They spent 28 years growing the business which eventually employed 60 people. The company’s main business involved new residential properties and Mike was working 6 days a week.  He didn’t mind as he loved his work and took pride in the company’s success.  Mike’s wife worked for a mortgage company leading others through the mortgage process in order to buy their home.  They had worked hard and proudly built their own dream home.

Then the housing bubble burst.  “Nobody could qualify for a mortgage,” he says.  Suddenly the orders for new air conditioning units slowed.  Mike had to start laying people off.  Finally Mike had to close down the business that he and his father had worked so hard to build.  His wife was laid-off from her mortgage company job.  Within a year and a half Mike and his wife lost their home.  Then, after knowing each other for eight years, and being married for two, the stress was too much.  Mike and his wife separated three years ago.

Mike’s wife has since worked various jobs trying to survive.  She has worked for a bank and an advertising agency doing radio station promotions.  Both paid less than she used to make, and both soon ended.  When applying for positions she was often told she was over-qualified.  She was recently working for a state agency which builds low-income housing.  Last Friday she was laid-off from that.  She is currently living with an adult son from a previous marriage.  They help each other hang on, as he was laid-off from his job over three months ago.

Mike does his best to help out financially.  He has found a job installing air conditioning units for commercial institutions such as prisons and schools.  If only it were closer to home.  Mike now spends four days a week living out of a hotel room 200 miles away.  He’s grateful for the job but finds it difficult on his relationships with his adult children.  He says his kids are happy that he now has a job, but they’re not as close as they once were because he’s just not there.  Still he says, “If this is what we have to do to keep our economy going, then that’s what we do.”

Mike is used to overcoming the odds.  He is a recovering alcoholic who has been clean for 11 years.  “I have confidence and faith,” he says.  “The mental state cannot be shocked anymore.”

Mike is working hard to catch up on outstanding debts including state and federal taxes.  He is trying to help out his wife, and hoping to find a job closer to home.  “It’s been difficult,” he says, “but it’s built more character.”

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