I’ve got a couple questions from friends who can’t read Vietnamese, about the FB links I’ve posted in the past few days about Com Co Thit – Meals with Meat – or Only Rice is Not Enough. I could have answered my friends in a few lines to summary what it’s about, but I think it’s not sufficient. So I decided to [roughly, very roughly] translate the blog post from Tran Dang Tuan, the one he wrote about a year ago, after visiting the kids in Suoi Giang. It was how he started the project, and the blog post was how I learned about it. I didn’t have much time to proof read it – will do it some time later – so please excuse any mistakes. I tried to stay as close to the original post as possible (link at the end of Note) but I did have to make some tweaks and turns. I converted kg to lb, in case you aren’t familiar with the metric system. Money is converted to US Dollars. So here it is, and if you feel like you can help making a difference in a kid’s life with as little as a dime, donation info can also be found at the end of the blog post.
THE TRIP TO SUOI GIANG
By Tran Dang Tuan
Today is my first trip to Suoi Giang, with the intention of visiting the ancient giant tea trees there. At my age, sometimes I’m worried that there are still so many things from my own country that I’ve heard of since I was a kid, yet never had a chance to see with my own eyes.
The van stopped at the center of Suoi Giang, and right in front of a school. Hundreds of kids were exercising together in the schoolyard. Next to the school were their residential dorms. For some reason, I’ve always had a liking for mountain kids. The owner of a little store in front of the school – I didn’t know his wife was a teacher at that school until later – told me: This elementary school had 80 kids who lived on campus. You need over 100 kids to get funding from the government. This residential area is taken care of 100% by the local people. The parents send over about 2kg of rice and 5000 VND for food every week (about 4.4 lbs and 25 cents). We couldn’t believe it, so we kept questioning him: What can they eat with 5000 VND??? He kept on saying it was the truth. Right then, a H’Mong man walked by, carrying a bucket of water. The store owner pointed to him: There, he cooks for the kid. So we followed that man. Taking a short cut across some houses on the hill, through the main door of the People’s Committee Hall, around the backyard of the Hall, we reached a small cabin whose walls were just wooden planks put together. Inside the cabin was a cooking area, outside the door was a big bath tub filled with dirty bowls. In the kitchen, except for a big pot of rice being cooked, and another pot – perhaps for the soup – there was nothing else.
Ask: 80 kids and they eat only this pot? Is it enough? The H’mong man replied: “It’s a big pot, 13-14 kgs of rice in there!” Ask: “So what do they eat rice with?” Answer: “With veggie soup.”. Only then did we see in the dark area of the kitchen sit a few tiny bunches of vegetables, half was turning yellow and wilting down. We’d no idea what the soup would be cooked or seasoned with, since there was nothing else in the kitchen. Ask: “How come there are so little vegetables?” Answer: “Yeah, it’s not enough, we need to buy more.” “What about meat, or fish?” “Nah, rarely, only when their parents send over more money can they have a meal with meat”.
A pot of rice (hopefully big enough) and a pot of leafy vegetables soup (cooked from the bucket of water that man carried up, some small bunches of veggies, fish sauce, seasonings… ). That was the lunch for 80 elementary school kids, the young generation of Vietnam, on September 22nd, 2011. It was the second decade of the 21st century. It was one year after the grand celebration of 1000 years Thang Long – Hanoi, the first year of the 11th Party Congress term, et cetera.
We asked “Could you please buy some meat for them for today’s lunch?” and gave him some money. I was afraid it would still be not enough, so I asked him again “Is that enough?” The H’Mong man replied “Yes, yes. Come back later and see they’ll have meat for lunch.” He walked to the market right away; it seemed to be close by, on the other side of the mountain.
When we went down, the driver, usually quite taciturn, let out a curse. Goddamn, eating like this, how can the kids survive?
They can probably survive, I think, but it will be hard for their studying. When I was a kid, I always wanted to eat, even though my parents took great care of me – maybe more than what my neighbor friends got. When I started undergraduate studying at Thanh Xuan, I was hungry constantly. Eating at the dining hall, I finished the meal, washed my bowl, and already felt hungry on the way walking back to my dorm room. A meatless-meal with rice doesn’t make any difference between “already ate” and “haven’t eaten yet”. In class, I always thought of food. At night, sometimes my friends would ask me to come along with them to the girls’ room, and I usually turned down because it’s fun to hang out with girls but it’s a turn off when I get hungry while talking to them. I thought of hunger as a detestable man living inside, always reminding others that he’s there. And while he’s residing there, your thoughts and feelings can’t be let out, words and numbers and calculations on the blackboard can’t enter your mind.
From the kitchen we walked to the residential buildings. There were signs in front of each room. There were bunk beds, dirty bamboo mats and dirty blankets. But this I’ve seen several times. Good thing is the house is decently isolated from the winds; this is the most important things when you live in a mountainous area in the winter.
We walked over to the residential area of middle-school kids (also taken care of by local residents). It looked a lot worse. The kids would die out of the cold when winter comes! The teachers lived in the same building with the kids. I almost mistook a teacher for a student since she was very petite-sized, with a white top that looked like uniform. Two pots were on the fire in the kitchen; I opened the pots and saw that one was a pot of rice, the other one a pot of squash soup. I leaned closer to take a better look and see the squash pieces kept jumping up and down (the fire was fierce – there was plenty of wood). I could see a layer of oil on top, too. Ask: “Is there anything else for the meal, teacher?” The teacher pointed to a small plastic bag on the table: a pack of dried fish. There are 45 middle-school kids living here, also with 5000 VND/ week. But they seem to have better food than the elementary kids. The teachers donate some money from their salary to buy food for the kids. With simple calculation, every month 45 kids = 900 000VND (about 45 dollars) from the parents, and about the same from the teachers. On average, every day each kid has 2000 VND (10 cents) for food (5 cents/ day for elementary school kids). More organized than the elementary school kids, this group has one meal with meat/ protein every week. To be precise: 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of the cheapest meat, stewed with tofu.( I know this kind of dish, since the other day I visited Meo Vac I saw the on-campus kids eating something white-ish, I examined the bowl and realized it was tofu mixed with meat and fat, in a aluminum bowl also white-ish. The teachers later on told us the truth that that day the kids got to eat that just because there were visitors; it wasn’t their day-of-meat yet).
100,000 VND (5 dollars) and all those kids get a meal with meat stewed with tofu. As of now, the kids only get to eat that once a week.
We put together some money and gave that to the teachers, asking them to buy more food for the kids.
This reminded me of 6-7 years ago, while working on the Noi Vong Tay Lon program for the 2nd or 3rd time, I sent some groups to distant, poor areas. My Linh (now still an MC for Culture – Events – The Character on VTV3) was assigned to the Western North area, also to a residential area of mountain students, videotaping the kids during meals. When the program was on air from Studio S9, she said, that only 2000 VND/ day for each kid will make their meals much more colorful, unlike now, there’s only one color white: of rice and of bamboo shoots cooked with salt. And she couldn’t help it but burst out crying on the spot, in front of how many millions TV audience. How many years have gone by, but today, visiting Suoi Giang, I still saw the same kind of meal, and the number 2000 VND for a meal-with-meat, but the kids still don’t have that 2000 VND yet. And 2000 VND from seven years ago is worth much more than 2000VND as of now.
On the way out, we did the calculation again. For every residential area (80 elementary school kids for one and 45 middle-school kids for the other) to have a meal with meat stewed with tofu every day, we would need 2kg (4.4 lb) meat for the elementary kids, 1 kg (2.2 lbs) for the middle school kids, with tofu that would be 300,000 VND (15 dollars) a day, or 9,000,000 VND (450 dollars) a month. We would need 108 million VND (5400 dollars) per year. If the kids were to have both meals with meat, that would be twice as much: 18,000,000 VND (900 dollars) a month, or 216 million VND (10800 dollars) a year.
If we keep counting for ten years, for these 125 kids to have at least a meal with meat stewed with tofu (and it definitely will make a difference for the kids, at this age they need a lot of protein for brain development), would call for 1.2 billion VND to 2.4 billion VND (54000 to 108,000 dollars). With that much money, 125 kids can have meals with some sort of protein for ten years! For an individual, that amount of money is very large. But to have 125 kids (well, after 10 years, they wouldn’t be kids any more, more like adolescents, or young men and women) who are smart and healthy… would that amount of money still be too much? It’s a whole ten years, and after ten years, a whole new era of technology would come to replace the current one. In those ten years, at Suoi Giang, 1-2 billion VND would help over 100 kids to grow up in better conditions to be ready to enter that new era.
I know that our country is still poor (in general, VERY general). But, are we really THAT poor?
Okay, enough with wandering thoughts. I’ve decided that when I go home, I’d contact Tien and Linh to start a Meat with Tofu project for these 125 kids at Suoi Giang. We’d aim to have one meal with meat per day for them, or the 9,000,000 VND project. If we could get our friends join us, we’d try to roll over as fast as possible to the Two-Meals-With-Meat- Per Day Project, or the 18,000,000 VND project. Hopefully there’d be no more inflation or price increasing, that’s the lowest price for meat, they can’t go any lower than that!!!
We left Suoi Giang for a while already when we suddenly wonder whether the kids got any decent meals today. Each of us made a guess, but no one was sure.
We arrived Phu Tho when I suddenly understood the strange feeling that I had. Since I left Suoi Giang, even though what we saw was sad and depressing, I was pissed off and also angry, but somehow there’s still a warm strand of thought lingering in my mind, and apparently it came from something I heard. And I remember when I talked to the teacher in the middle school dorm kitchen: “So how much does each teacher put in for the kids’ food”? The teacher replied: “ It’s not all equal, those with higher salary, or the Communist Party members, chip in more; while seasonal/ contracted teachers chip in a bit less.” To be honest, it has been a long time since I heard something that nice about Communist Party members. Especially when it’s not from any grandulous set-up/ event/ discussion. And I could believed it right away. That thought warmed up my mind for quite a bit, because I’m also a Communist Party member, for a very long time.
I got back to Hanoi, turned on my laptop to write an email to Tien. Yes, the exact line at the beginning of this blog post “Today is my first trip to Suoi Giang, with the intention of visiting the ancient giant tea trees there…” And I suddenly remembered that this morning, everyone forgot about the ancient giant tea trees. After we parked our van and visited the kids, we were all so caught up in our thoughts about their meals that none of us remembered the original purpose of visiting Suoi Giang.
September 22nd, 2011.
COM CO THIT – ONLY RICE IS NOT ENOUGH
Com Co Thit – Rice With Meat – is a project that was started by Tran Dang Tuan and friends in Hanoi, since 2011, and it has supported 5000 kids under 5 years old to have meals with meat every day. This project also helps kids with blankets, warm clothes, school stationery etc. The kids come to class more regularly, the the ratio of malnourished kids is lower. Their parents, teachers, and the kids themselves are all happier.
Com Co Thit receives donations from individuals and organizations from everywhere in Vietnam and even from other countries. Com Co Thit uses all the donated money to support the kids, and nothing for management fees.
HOW MUCH FOR RICE WITH MEAT?
10 cents/ meal, 20 cents/ day, 6 dollars/ month. With six dollars you donate to Only Rice Is Not Enough, you can help ONE mountain kid to have ONE WHOLE MONTH of meals with protein. 30 dollars helps a kid for five months. 54 dollars helps a kid for a whole academic year. Thousands of kids are still waiting to have meals with meat.
HOW TO DONATE IF YOU’RE IN THE UNITED STATES:
1. ACCOUNT to receive donation for Only Rice is Not Enough – United States:
– Acct. holder : Yen Pham, Bank of America
Acct. No. 004629017263
Routing No. 011000138
Zip code 02180 (or 00000 if zip code 02180 doesn’t work)
You can transfer via email with address: firstname.lastname@example.org
– Paypal: email@example.com
2. ADDRESS to receive checks, money orders:
Yen Pham, Apt.10, 220 Central Street
Stoneham, MA 02180
(Please write: “for Com co thit”)
Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org right after you make a transfer to confirm. After the campaign ends (November 5th, 2012), all the money will be transferred back to the main Only Rice Is Not Enough account in Vietnam, and it will be distributed to the final destination – the kids at mountain areas.
Original post: http://trandangtuan.com/2011/09/23/t%E1%BA%A3n-but-hom-nay-di-su%E1%BB%91i-giang/
Only Rice Is Not Enough United States Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ComcothitUnitedStates