[Guest blog from Cate Hoyle and Alan Casey – social entrepreneurs behind the Calayne smart handbag brand]
Our last blog posts have described a journey that led to us becoming social entrepreneurs, and to structure Calayne in such a way that will fund social causes in each community that we trade with.
It took some time for us to understand who we wanted to help and how.
We met Nick Keegan, of The Kianh Foundation, casually in a café in Hoi An, and over time learnt how they were helping families. Likewise with Linda Burn, at The Children’s Education Foundation, we were able to discuss our ideas, and test them, with two committed individuals who were leading just the type of social cause that we wanted to support.
Here, then, is Cate’s account of the day that we visited The Kianh Foundation’s family centre, just outside of Hoi An.
Back in November 2014, Al and I went to visit one of the charities that we had identified as being a strong candidate for our future support. We wanted to assure ourselves that we would be able to help, and that our values were aligned. This is my account of that visit.
We were both a little perturbed about visiting the centre, neither of us having been to a facility of this kind before. We had heard the stories. We had glimpsed the orphanages in the area, and had heard some pretty horrifying stories. This area was badly bombed during the Vietnam War, and there was huge exposure to dioxin in the form of Agent Orange.
We all know the consequences of that. Some of the children in this province are still being born with horrific disabilities, both mental and physical, and sometimes their families just can’t cope, or don’t know what to do with their babies. There is a lot of poverty here, and a horrendous lack of medical care for those suffering from autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and the other effects of dioxin poisoning. Some of these suffering children were just left alone at home all day on their own, while their parents went out and tried to make a living away from the house.
This is where The Kianh Foundation steps up to the plate.
Programmes running at the centre include early intervention, physical therapy, speech therapy, special education, selected mainstream education, and behaviour management skills. The children have regular access to dental and general health care as well.
We met up with Nick Keegan, an engaging Scot, and the Director of Business Development for Kianh in Hoi An. From there we hopped on our motorbikes (the only way to get around this town) and followed Nick down to the centre.
We were astonished to see a significant building that was The Kianh Foundation’s nerve centre and school. A staggering amount of blood, sweat and tears has gone into this project, not least the US$250,000 in funding to see it completed. A true vision for the future. It is a purpose-built centre, which offers up-to-date services for children with a wide range of disabilities. Through donations, sponsorship, fundraising and an awful lot of selfless hard work from some very dedicated people, this wonderful centre has emerged. It teaches children with special needs a range of life and vital day-to-day skills, and for some of the kids, basic mainstream schooling. We were told that this facility can only cope with a mere 10% of the children that need care in the area of Dien Ban, in the Quang Nam province of Central Vietnam.
No sooner were we in the gates but Co-Founder Jackie Wrafter, a delightful English woman, came to warmly welcome us. She heads up the day-to-day running of the school.
As we stood there chatting, I could hear in the background lots of laughing joyous children. She and Nick showed us into the first classroom, where boys and girls were having a lesson. The room was very clean, spacious, and over flowing with natural light. It was painted white, with lots of traditional colourful weaved mats on the floor. It had a great feel. There was colour everywhere, in the children’s artwork on the walls, and the mobiles hanging from the ceiling. Most of the kids turned and waved to us with happy healthy smiles on their beautiful faces. Some called out “hello”, which amazed us. You could just tell they were enjoying their day. The same thing happened in each classroom we were taken to, four in total. Laughing happy little kids, enjoying their class activities. Lots of them came over to us, showing no shyness at all. Some touched us kindly, or just smiled up at us, and then jumped about giggling and laughing. The children were being children – nothing more, nothing less, regardless of their impairment. Happy and safe: It was heart-warming stuff.
We stayed with them as they all filed into the dining room for their lunch. The children receive a nutritious hot mid-day meal every day, cooked for them in the on-site kitchen attached to the dining room. They had a good healthy meal of rice and noodles on the day we visited, with tofu, carrots and bean shoots, in a clear broth. It looked and smelled delicious. The room went quiet as the kids refueled. Most of them were happy to feed themselves, or with minimal help from the staff, and there was a constant stream of kids going back for seconds.
Afterwards, some of the older kids helped with the cleaning up, wiping down the tables and chairs, then some of the older boys lifted the chairs up onto the tables so the floors could be swept. All done by the older children – great life skills they are learning, and they were so proud to be showing them off to us.
Then it was out to the long basin where they all took turns to brush their teeth, the brushes are all named, and they all knew which brush was their own. The teachers were there to supervise of course, at all times. Siesta time was close.
One little boy who had had a terrible start to life, put his arms around Al’s waist then curled his legs up around Al’s legs, and the two of them did a wee dance around the floor, as we all watched and laughed. The children thought this was hilarious, and it was so uplifting. We talked for some time about the struggles that Jackie and Nick have had to overcome in setting up a charity in Vietnam: Of acquiring and training the right people to become special needs teachers, no easy task I’m assured; and of the building of the centre. The staff and management team here are people with so much energy, and they have so much to give. They are responsible for transforming the lives of these kids into the beautiful, happy, confident children that we saw.
We left not long after, but we came away silent for a while as we rode off down the road and it all sank in. Then we started to smile…….. it was a big YES from us!
What a surprise we had both had. What a terrific bunch of totally dedicated people we had just had the honour of meeting that day. Hats off to all the staff, teachers and volunteers alike. They are to be saluted for their unwavering commitment to these remarkable children. Talk about making a difference! And Nick and Jackie, well what can I say, you two are doing the most phenomenal job. Give yourselves a pat on the back!
A morning Alan and I will never forget.
The Kianh Foundation is a UK registered charity, that has been working with children with disability, in and around Hoi An since 2000.
Please visit them here and make sure you watch the video on their home page.
[Original blog entry here: http://calayne.com/an-experience-of-a-life-time/]