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Stories from Sponsor Visits to Vietnam

Henry’s Girls

Bridges to Learning Child Sponsor Henry Bechtold with poor young children in Saigon Vietnam. Anh Linh School. “I am very easy going and never feel a need to tell people things I have done. I used to think I did not have an ego, until I read about “Henry’s Girls,” and it just kept getting better.

I had planned to take the girls to Dai Nam. A large new amusement park 40 Km North of Saigon. At first I was only going to take Chau and Tram because Thao Ly had already made plans to visit her mother. Then Sister Cam Thuy asked if I could take two more that would be left alone on the holiday weekend and of course I said yes. The two turned into 4 and then Thao Ly decided to go. By the morning we left we had a large taxi and the 7 girls, myself and a friend who went as chaperone. We had the most wonderful time. The youngest was 11 and she was so cute and quiet. The time I saw her laugh the most was at lunch when we sat by a pond full of fish. I bought some hard bread and crushed it and threw it into the pond. The fish came after it and when Ha saw it she laughed and laughed. I bought more bread and Ha broke off little pieces and dropped them in. When the fish came up she laughed and laughed.

The first day it rained and I told the girls, if we are going swimming it does not matter if we get wet. We all ran and kicked up water all the way to the swimming area.

When we got back to the hotel we changed, showered and rested before going to eat. The girls picked the restaurant and even helped serve the meal. They all pitched in at every opportunity.

It was a great tribute to Sister Cam Thuy and the other teachers at Anh Linh who expect the girls to take an active part in caring for one another.

Ha is 11 and small and I never saw her without her hand in Thuy’s hand. Thuy is another of the girls. The exception was the movie. The crowd was large and crowds in Vietnam push rather than get in line and file in so I knew we would get separated and meet on the other side. Everyone was ok with this, however since I did not want Ha to be alone in the theater, I took her. We did get separated and as we sat down I saw Thuy looking for Ha. I waived to her and once she saw that Ha was not alone, she found a seat. I would like to take all of them home, they are all so wonderful.

A few days later I went to see Chau. We talked for a while and then we went in and the others were working on sewing. Some of the girls who went to Dai Nam were there and a few I had not met before. The girls wanted to make me a shirt and Sister Cam Thuy brought some blue striped material and asked if this would be good. I said “no, I want this” and pointed to the light blue of the Anh Linh uniform and I told her that I wanted the Anh Linh Patch. Everyone was thrilled! One of the girls said I could go to Anh Linh now. They took measurements for what I think was the largest shirt they ever made. As they took the measurements they would giggle while reading them. They got together right away and started. Thao Ly laid the shirt out on the fabric, under the watchful eye of their teacher. As she cut she passed pieces to other girls and it became a community project. I was invited to lunch and we had a wonderful time there. There were no chopsticks and Thao Ly wanted me to repeat my walrus impression from a few years ago. Since there were no adults around I put the chopsticks in my mouth like tusks, clapped my hands and barked like a walrus. It was a hit.

After lunch we went to look at the photos from Dai Nam.  One by one the girls disappeared and I hope they were not asked by staff to go. I was left with “Henry’s Girls”. If you remember a photo of Chau holding a painting on the website a month or so ago. She gave me the painting and said it was me.  They call me Grandpa and I am so happy. It is better than a Nobel Prize. Tram gave me a small globe filled with bright colored stars. Chau also gave me two sketches she had drawn.

We talked about getting together again and we looked at the calendar. I am going camping with Chau on the 23rd and they pointed out I can wear my shirt.  On the 25th there is a graduation ceremony and I will be at that also.

Every moment I spend there adds years to my life and hope to my soul. I see so much sadness in Vietnam that I cannot fix but at Anh Linh I have been given the opportunity to help change things for these girls.

I cannot change the world but if I help one child maybe she will change the world.

Henry M Bechtold, sponsor

Visiting Anh Linh

Bridges to Learning Jerilyn Hirsch  and Jim Sherman and sponsored kid at Anh Linh School. Saigon HCMC Vietnam. Teachers and family. “I had hoped to return to Vietnam sometime in my life. Unlike many of us who had served with the US forces in Vietnam during “The American War” 40 years ago, I had not come away from the experience with terrible regrets about Vietnam or the Vietnamese people.  I have befriended Vietnamese here in the US over the last 15 years and my interest in returning to Vietnam grew. My son Everett has lived on and off in Vietnam over the last 10 years, speaks Vietnamese well, and has friends in Vietnam he communicates with.

My daughter’s recent wedding in Singapore gave me the opportunity to take advantage of being in the area, and my wife, son, and I made the side trip to Vietnam. What an experience, and wonderful time we had!  One special event was meeting my sponsored child Linh, at the Anh Linh school. And, while the school was ‘out’ for Tet, Linh, his mother, and sister, arrived at the school to meet me and my family. What an extraordinary event for my family and I am sure Linh also. Sister Thuy gave us a complete tour of the school, and what a school it is!

Bridges to Learning has brought hope to group of young Vietnamese who, without its assistance, would probably never find educational fulfillment.

Vietnam is an exciting place to visit.  My wife commented that she now understands why our son Everett has such positive feeling about living in Vietnam. The pace of life is, while it may seem amazingly hectic, is actually gentle and peaceful. Around every corner is a new adventure with people who are genuinely friendly and full of hope for the future.

Anh Linh Love School is part of that hope, and I am encouraged beyond belief.  I look forward to watching my sponsored student grow up, and I look forward to my next visit to Vietnam.”

Jim Sherman, sponsor, Vietnam Vet

Changes to Vietnam

Bridges to Learning Child Sponsor Martin Dockery and family. Vietnam.I arrived in Saigon in 2002 after a 40 year absence. As I expected, there were changes since 1963, but not as many or significant as I had anticipated. However, the changes, both physical and cultural, in the ten years since 2002 have been eye-popping.

In the past, the streets belonged to cyclos, bicycles, and pedestrians. Today, lengthy traffic jams are caused by competing autos, motorbikes and trucks. Traffic lights and rules are treated as suggestions. A spot on the pavement belongs to the first vehicle to reach it.

In only ten years, most of the mustard colored three storey colonial buildings of downtown Saigon have been replaced by office skyscrapers. Throughout the City, 30 floor apartment complexes have risen, usually with retail space on the ground floor. Western style supermarkets offer stiff competition to the traditional street markets.

It was rare ten years ago to see a young woman wearing shorts, an above-the-knee skirt, or a sleeveless blouse. It was not culturally permissible, but that has changed. Today, older citizens look aghast as the lovely daughters of Saigon walk the streets and ride their motorbikes adorned in short shorts, skimpy dresses and halter tops. Stars in the night were never so bright.

Displays of public affection are now not uncommon, whereas before they were not part of Vietnamese cultural. Again, it is the young people who disregarded the rule.

In 1962/63 I was assigned to an ARVN battalion as a combat advisor; most of the year I was the only American with 500 Vietnamese soldiers. I learned a great deal about Vietnam, the Vietnamese and myself. My book, “Lost In Translation” (Random House, 2003) describes that time and my experiences. The book is available from amazon.com. My second book about my last ten years in Vietnam is nearing completion.”

Martin Dockery, sponsor, Vietnam Vet