And Honoring Her Earliest Friend
We delivered the first letters to the children today…49 letters to 49 children in three different schools in rural Viet Nam. The letters were from Loving Work Foundation friends who are making it possible for the children to attend school, and in some extreme cases, are providing rice for the family.
As Mr. Toa (the coordinator of our program), Ms. Be (our volunteer translator), and I sat with the principal of the first school, I suddenly remembered my own childhood experience of receiving letters from someone I admired and was awed by, just as these Vietnamese children are awed by the attention of a foreigner.
In a flash of enlightenment (as I understand that word to mean), I understood the origin of this letter-writing program; I understood why I have believed such a program, in which the sponsors and children exchange letters, can be so meaningful.
The similarities between the children in the rural villages of Viet Nam and Little Trish are striking. Like the children in our program, my childhood was spent in a very small town (village). My parents were farmers. We were poor; our house and all of our possessions had been lost in a fire when I was three; a baby had died the year before I was born; my parents were discouraged and dependent on the help of others for the family’s survival. The house we were given to live in until my parents could recover financially was, in my memory, bleak, barren of color (except for the flower garden my mother planted and maintained wherever she lived, amid every kind of circumstance).
When I was six, my eldest brother married a girl from a big city in the northern U.S. (Philadelphia), a world away from my world of the deep South. When he brought her to meet the family, she completely won me over, with her sense of humor and her loving ways….and….she had RED hair! No one in my life had hair like hers, and no one around me was as relaxed and humorous. She was a Light that must have come to brighten our life, for that was the effect she had on me.
They returned to that far-off, magical-sounding city to live, but my life was never quite the same, for every week I received a letter from her. And, I learned to write letters. We kept up that exchange until they moved South and had their first baby, a girl they named after me.
The memory of that experience came flooding into my consciousness, as I sat this week with the school officials to explain why we have begun this letter-writing program. I told them the story, and they listened very carefully. I saw they were touched by it. One teacher came to me and told me her story, a similar one. Our eyes filled with tears, as we remembered the pain of childhood.
This program has the potential to encourage these children (and their caregivers). Attention from someone whose life is so different from their own world of poverty and hardship can brighten their days.
And we know the Light shines both ways, nourishing seeds of happiness in all who participate in The Jeanette, a letter-exchange program between sponsors and needy school children in Viet Nam.
The Jeanette is dedicated to my sister-in-law. At age 90, the red hair has faded, but not the humor and not the loving ways. Her Light continues to shine.