Since 1998, Children of Vietnam, co-founded by Ben Wilson and Loung Thi Huong, has been serving the children in Vietnam whose futures are stifled by poverty.
Children of Vietnam works to break the cycle of poverty, illness and homelessness and provides immediate aid to Vietnamese children and families in crisis by building relationships with local people, finding the greatest needs and delivering aid.
Its basic mission springs from the idea that all children should “have the basic life necessities to achieve their fullest potential,” said Nancy Letteri, the agency’s executive director, said.
Because poverty impacts Vietnamese children in profound and various ways, she said, the agency has chosen four main initiatives: education, health care, housing and nutrition. In addition, Children of Vietnam has special initiatives for two of the most vulnerable groups — children with disabilities called Hope System of Care for Children with Disabilities and Empowering Foundation for Women and their Children for children who have single-head-of-household mothers.
“Our ability to successfully impact children in all of our programs lays in working at the grass-roots level in a very collaborative way with local officials and families to access need and the best approach,” Letteri said.
Both the Hope System and Empowering Foundation programs bring interdisciplinary teams of specialists together to collaborate with one another in order to develop a plan of integrated interventions.
“We started nearly eight years ago using this model and encouraging all stakeholders to join together with us,” Letteri said. “To date, we have assisted over 500 children with disabilities and their families and over 200 single mothers and their children (well over 300 total).”
Marty Halyburton, who served on the board of Children of Vietnam for several years, said that the organization has brought “life-changing results to hundreds of these children and their families.”
In the C’tu ethnic minorities communities in Quang Nam Province, the agency listened to local leaders’ priorities and focuses on early education and clean water and sanitation. With collaborative funding, partnerships with local authorities and volunteer labor, Children of Vietnam has built nine kindergartens.
Additionally, working with another nonprofit, Stop Hunger Now, the agency distributes hundreds of water filters to households and schools. “We collaborate together and our impact only grows to the benefit of hundreds of children and families,” Letteri said.
Jean Janicke, chairwoman of the board of directors, appreciates the “nimbleness” of the organization. When the organization recognizes the need, Janicke said, it moves quickly to respond.
“On my last trip to Vietnam, I learned from the (agency) staff that a local hospital had done a health survey and was puzzled by the low parasite rate in one rural district — until they learned ... (Children of Vietnam) provided parasite remediation,” Janicke said.
“I’ve visited human service agencies in many countries but have chosen to support (Children of Vietnam) because it is, in my opinion, a cut above the rest,” said Marcia Vaughn, social worker and international adoption specialist. She attributes this, in large part, to the ethics of the group’s co-founder and in-country director, Huong, who has a reputation as a no-nonsense provider of human services.
For the past 16 years, Huong has watched children grow up, go to college, start families of their own and move out of poverty. She said that she regularly hears from families in the Hope System of Care program telling her how their children are healthier; that they buy more cows; and they no longer have to struggle to make ends meet.
“It is such a proud moment to see those students now all grown up and ready to have their own families, and for me, it is the most rewarding thing about my work,” Huong said.
The impact continues through each subsequent generation. The girls who received university scholarships have gone on to graduate and become mentors for younger girls just starting higher education. The agency’s financial aid that helps mothers start small businesses results in their children being able to attend school, find good jobs and help support their family.
This month, to raise money, a small group of bike riders will set out from Da Nang in central Vietnam to ride for four days through some of the world’s most beautiful yet poorest areas. The four-day route will cover 135 miles. Simultaneously, in the United States, other cyclists will be biking to support the nonprofit.
Pat Bailey, who adopted a child from Vietnam 40 years ago, will participate in the Cyclying Out Child Poverty in Vietnam fundraiser by biking 100 miles in Virginia.
“Through (Children of Vietnam), Ben Wilson has built a network of Vietnamese people who find and help the families who are most marginalized — single mothers, orphans and disabled,” Bailey said. “I know few organizations that successfully address all of those service areas in an effective way. But (Children of Vietnam) is unique in that respect as it stays true to its mission, despite the many challenges of caring for the needy in a developing and communist-governed country.”
Ruth D. Anderson is executive director of The Servant Leadership School of Greensboro and member of the program committee of The Guilford Nonprofit Consortium.