A Hard Dirt Floor and a Table with a Light

Less than 15 years ago East Meets West was a shoestring operation doing humanitarian aid work in Vietnam. Now it is the largest NGO operating in Vietnam. It has expanded into Laos, Cambodia, and East Timor. It has built or renovated over 300 schools. It has built a state of the art medical center in the ancient capital of Hue, a pediatric hospital in Hanoi, and expanded the capacity of several other medical centers. It has developed simple technologies that are saving countless premature babies annually. It offers scholarships to over 5000 impoverished school children and supports their education from the 3rd grade through high school and even provides bicycles if the distance to school is greater than average.

Today I visited one of the elementary schools where EMW provides scholarships to poor students. It was a modern, for this part of the world, school with attentive students and teachers. There are 800 students in the school, but only 34 of them are in the SPELL program. Students are selected by a local organization when they are in the third grade. The criteria is simple: are they from the bottom 10% of impoverished families and therefore likely to drop out of school because they cannot cover the low cost of fees, uniforms, supplies, etc. A local organization identifies the candidates and then East Meets West re-checks the criteria and visits the families. If selected, EMW provides the student with a scholarship until he or she graduates from high school as well as tutoring to make up for any lack of preparedness.

After we visited the school we went to the home of one 4th grade SPELL student, a beautiful boy with flawless copper skin and a SPELL baseball cap. The home was a simple one room hut where he lives with his mother, father, two grandmothers, and three siblings. The hut has a hard dirt floor and a corrugated tin roof but there is a table in the corner where he sits to do his homework. I met his mother and grandmothers. All of them were smiling and welcoming and obviously grateful for the help their son was getting with his education. When we left the boy jumped on the back of the local official’s motorbike for the ride back to school and we drove to Hue to look at the hospital. How can you not love this work?

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