As tears roll down my face, I share that our second year of volunteering in central Vietnam has begun. Today marks our third week since landing back in Dong Hoi, Vietnam. We are continuing our work co-directing Golden West Humanitarian Foundation’s Swim for Life program. Today is also the day we are visiting families affected by the record flooding that hit the region just days after we arrived. Our friend Duc has gathered small donations from friends and family, and found 3 families that have agreed to our visit. We are bringing 55 pounds of rice and $25 to share that members of the community care.
Each of the three meetings started out in a similar manner: greeting the family outside the house, being invited to the family alter to light incense, and then tea while the families share their stories of what happened two weeks before. Unfortunately, the outcomes of all the families we visited today were the same, a lost loved one to the record flood waters.
On our third visit of the day, we met the family of a 16 year old boy that had drown. His father started by telling us how the waters came quickly, and he and his son were trying to save their fish (and livelihood) from washing away, when their boat overturned 50 meters from shore. As he continued, he became increasingly choked up, telling us he tried his hardest to drag his son’s body by his hair to shore, but was unable to pull him to safety. Like many Vietnamese, he is not a strong swimmer and his son had never learned to swim. His mother, shielding herself under a blanket and laying on the tile floor continued to sob, now uncontrollably.
Our small group huddled in their living room and cried together, sharing just a moment of pain with them. A pain that undoubtedly, they will carry for the rest of their lives. As we walk out silently, I wonder if our programs could have helped? Are we teaching the right skills in our survival swimming course? If we could have conducted our classroom based Water Safety Education or broad public awareness on tv and radio earlier, would it have saved this life? I know that the stories we are hearing today is the information we need use in shaping the future of our programs, to prevent future lives lost to drowning.
I knew the day was not going to be an easy one when I went to sleep last night. I was surprised and delighted to wake up this morning and find that friends and former colleagues had obtained a Doug Baldwin signed football and auctioned it off as part of the Microsoft annual giving campaign. The auction raised $600 from the highest bidder and another $600 from Microsoft’s corporate match.
Microsoft matches $25 for every hour of volunteering, and $1 for $1 on donations to the employee’s charity of choice, up to an annual limit of $15,000. Microsoft raises well over $100 million per year from this program alone, and has contributed close to 1.5 billion since it’s inception.
While it’s hard to grasp the impact from such large numbers, it’s easy to see how this money will save the lives of children through our programs. $1,200 will fund 55 primary-age students to learn survival swimming skills in our internationally certified curriculum, taught by trained Vietnamese instructors. If you would like to contribute to these programs or the flood victims families, you can do so here. Please also check with your employer to see if they also provide matching grants for employee donations of time and money.
A sincere thank you to Wendy Arnett, Alex Olsen, Doug Baldwin and Microsoft Philanthropies for providing the means for these kids to be safeguarded from future events like the ones we heard today.
My wife Beth Kreitl and I decided to resign from our jobs in Corporate and Higher Ed to experience our first year of marriage together volunteering in Vietnam – The Vietnam Adventure. We are working with the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation to create and lead a drowning prevention program in Central Vietnam. In Vietnam, on average, there are 35 deaths per day from preventable drowning. We hope that providing interventions in Community Awareness, Water Safety Education and Learn to Swim infrastructure, teacher and student training, we can reduce this unacceptable number. You can find more info here or see a video produced by the Microsoft Alumni Network of our move here.