At the end of 2017, SSVP members from Yvelines (78) went to Vietnam to meet their Vincentian counterparts.
The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul has been present in Vietnam since 1930, but Conference work was abruptly cut short in 1975 with the annexation of South Vietnam by the North. From 1976 onwards, Vincentians worked in secret. Although the Society’s activities were known to the authorities, SSVP Vietnam was hosted in the cathedral of Đà Nẵng, with no official legal character.
For several years now, SSVP France has been involved in Vietnam providing financial support for the work of the Daughters of Charity, well-established in the country and with official recognition, so that money can be sent to them. Little contact has been possible however between Council General in Paris and the SSVP Vietnam, partly because of the language barrier, as well as the particular situation of the Society there.
Contact was restored with SSVP Vietnam in 2015, at the General Assembly in Rome, attended by a member of the Society from Vietnam. Then in 2016, the current team of the Vietnamese Superior Council made contact officially with Council General, providing a list of 27 Conferences.
Surviving on local donations only, the SSVP Vietnam has few financial resources but has some very committed teams of volunteers. So, in Đà Nẵng, the Saint Vincent de Paul conferences have 135 members. They focus their work mainly on help for deprived families. On the first Sunday of each month, the Conference at Đà Nẵng Cathedral distributes about 600 to 700 kg of rice to seventy families, among the poorest people in the city. The Conference also provides some help in the form of money, especially for families living further away, or to cover medical costs.
The Huế region has some ten Conferences with 140 members. Every week, it receives donations from its members, mainly packets of rice. There is also an annual parish appeal for each Conference.
The second most important work of the Huế conferences is to care for abandoned children, whose mothers are most often young single women. They do this together with the religious sisters who provide discreet accommodation for the young women so they can give birth quietly, without the knowledge of their own families.
The visit by members of SSVP-Yvelines in December 2017 highlighted the urgent need, requiring humanitarian projects to be established:
– Building of a multi-purpose hall in Lương Văn (Huê region): this village suffers frequent flooding (2 or 3 times a year) and a safe place would be very useful to house victims of weather-related disasters, as well as to provide a childcare centre enabling both parents in these very poor families to work. During the latest flood in November 2017, 2 districts were badly affected, with the water reaching a depth of a metre inside the houses.
– Food and medical help for seriously disabled children in Tam Thanh: the local parish priest has identified around sixty children within a radius of five kilometres with severe mental and physical disabilities, very serious physical defects, or serious illnesses. These children from very poor families receive no medical treatment. The aim is to increase the amount of contact with the families, providing both regular human and moral support for them all, as well as medical and para-medical (physiotherapy) help to relieve the suffering of these children and their families.
– Access to drinking water for the village of Tam Thanh: according to the inhabitants, the disabilities affecting these children are caused by water polluted with chemical agents (including the dreadful “agent orange”) which were used during the war (1963-1975). Access to clean water is therefore an urgent humanitarian need, and the project has 2 aspects: drilling a well, about one hundred metres deep, and installing a filtration system for the water extracted. According to the visiting Vincentians, the most thorough investigations are needed to give an accurate location of the source of the pollution, before committing significant funds.
SSVP Vietnam will also submit twinnage applications along with these projects, in order to receive the spiritual and material support of French conferences, for instance for providing care and housing for elderly, impoverished people in the Mekong delta region.
Despite the obstacles, help continues strongly for the most needy people in Vietnam , in particular through the involvement of Vietnamese volunteers and with financial support from France. Nothing can stop Vincentians!