Nuns bring hope to ethnic people in Vietnam
Disabled and other members of the Van Kieu minority gain craft and job skills.
A nun offers free medicine to Van Kieu villagers in Huong Hoa district in January. (Photo by Peter Nguyen/ucanews.com)
Peter Ho Van Long, who suffers paralysis of both legs, in 2017 initiated a bamboo products project by involving 27 fellow Van Kieu ethnic people with disabilities making baskets, tables, chairs, brooms, toothpicks and furniture.
It takes only a few months to learn the vocational skills needed, then they can earn up to US$86 a month by selling their products at local markets and elsewhere. Many pass on their vocational skills to others.
Long said some 100 people are now involved, some of them also making alcoholic drinks from rice or fruit.
"The project aims at giving Van Kieu ethnic people a new form of livelihood because they have a long tradition of working on farms, hunting animals and collecting vegetables in forests for a living," he said. "When they lack food, they leave their villages and beg in cities."
The father of two also teaches computer skills to children at his home in Huc Nghi commune in Da Krong district of Quang Tri province.
Long, 35, uses his home as a chapel where Catholic villagers gather for prayers on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He leads a mission station with 500 members.
"All my services aim at expressing my deep gratitude to Catholic nuns who have helped improve the material and spiritual life of our ethnic communities for decades," he said.
Supporters of the Holy Cross nuns offer education scholarships to children and, as a result, many become teachers at local public schools.
The nuns send experts to teach villagers vocational skills, provide cattle for them to raise, repair houses and assist with food and health care for people in need.
They also educate villagers to abandon superstitious beliefs, not least the practice of burying infants alive with their dead mothers. Catholic villagers these days take medicines and pray to God instead of engaging shamans to cure their illnesses.
"We love and have the greatest respect for the nuns," said Long, who was raised by them.
Children with physical disabilities are cared for at Lam Bich Home. (Photo by Peter Nguyen/ucanews.com photo)
Sister Anna Tran Thi Hien, head of Dong Ha Convent, said nuns fostered Long at their Lam Bich Home in 1998 after she encouraged his parents to allow them to bring him up without charge and return him when he finished his studies.
Sister Hien, a doctor, said the nuns offered him a wheelchair, accommodation and scholarships. Each month they transported relatives to visit him.
Long graduated in mathematical informatics from the University of Sciences in Hue, central Vietnam, in 2015. He was sent to be taught spiritual practices by Jesuits before returning to work in his home village.
Sister Hien said his family appreciated the nuns’ help and embraced Catholicism in 2000. They are the first Van Kieu ethnic Catholics in their villages.
Many people send their children to the nuns’ care. Lam Bich Home provides free accommodation for 70 children including those with physical disabilities.
"Long is among 28 catechists who hold regular prayers at people's houses, teach catechism to other ethnic villagers and introduce them to priests at other places," she said, adding that local government authorities seek to prevent priests and nuns from paying pastoral visits to ethnic villages.
All missionaries, who teach at public day care centers and schools or have steady jobs, have been brought up by the nuns.
Long, whose wife is a teacher, said he quietly evangelizes those with whom he works. Many people travel more than 100 kilometers by motorbike monthly to receive sacraments at Khe Xanh Church.
He said there are some 1,200 Catholics in five mission stations in the mountainous districts of Da Krong and Huong Hoa. They gather weekly to pray at their houses and those who have good health travel to attend weekend Masses at Khe Sanh Church.
"We try to build good relationships with ethnic villagers and offer education and health care to them so that they can live a better life," Sister Hien said. "They embrace Catholicism because they trust us and find meaning in their lives."
Quang Tri province, where a fierce battle took place between U.S.-backed troops and northern communists during the Vietnam War, is home to 55,000 Van Kieu ethnic people.