ASIA CONNECTION INC. --- Our Tenth Anniversary
This year marks our tenth year of existence as a non-profit organization. Asia Connection's seeds were sewn at the reunion of former Minh Quy Hospital volunteers held at Camp Indianola on Brainbridge Island, Washington, in 1995. This was ostensibly a social event, but there was an underlying sense of mission as we reflected on our past Minh Quy experience and on the plight of our old Montagnard friends in Kontum, who were in living in dire circumstances compared to the majority of the Vietnamese population.
As a loose-knit group of concerned friends we agreed to form an organization to explore ways of reaching out to our old comrades in the Central Highlands --- the group's original name was "Friends of the Viet Nam Highlands," later changed to "Friends of Kontum." A newsletter added cohesiveness to the group, and we began to send sporadic gifts and messages back to Kontum although communication remained problematical in the aftermath of the war.
In January 2000, Asia Connection Inc., an offshoot of Friends of Kontum, was officially incorporated as a non-profit organization with the general goal of facilitating support for health and welfare programs in Kontum and elsewhere. The original mission statement, which remains in force, was "To provide financial assistance for agencies and individuals involved in emergency relief and health and welfare projects in needy parts of the world, with a particular focus on Asia."
Our Beginnings were humble, and our modus operandi remains simple. We minimize overhead by having no paid staff, no office space, and no promotional apparatus except for our web site - www.asiaconnectioninc.org
Over the years our target populations and budget have increased, and here's where we stand on our tenth birthday:
Program Director John Havicon continues to make regular visits to Viet Nam as a member of a St. Louis-based surgical team that treats burn survivors and children with facial deformities, an ongoing program operated in collaboration with staff from the Hospital of Odonto-Stomatology in Ho Chi Minh City. These missions are combined with side-trips to Kontum and Quinhon, where ACI supports programs of the Kontum Diocese and the Nguyen Nga Rehabilitation Center.
In 2010 John distributed grants to a midwife training program, a home economics program and a student hostel for Montagnard girls, a supplemental feeding program for outlying Montagnard villages and a Family Science program, and also purchased laboratory and clinic supplies.
We continued our support for our old friend Sister Gabrielle, who operates an independent clinic and children's shelter in the village of Kon J'Dreh outside Kontum. Sister Gabrielle is presently caring for fifty children (including a new-born baby that was left on her doorstep), and carries on her humanitarian efforts with selfless dedication.
Ms. Nguyen Nga, director of the rehabilitation center in Quinhon, is equally dedicated. There are now over 150 students at her privately-operated and -funded center; 23 students are currently enrolled in colleges and universities, one in a Master's degree program. Many have attained independence as entrepreneurs.
In Bangladesh our old Minh Quy colleague Dr. Edric Baker continues his tireless efforts to promote "health care for the poor by the poor"at his rural outpost in Tangail District. The Kailakuri Health Care Program, initiated in 1980, has grown in scope over the years and as the outreach has increased so have the challenges.
The socio-economic backdrop at Kaikakuri is overpopulation, cultural and ethnic diversity, and grinding poverty. Patients and staff represent three distinct groups: Bengali (Muslim), Mandi (Christian), and Borman (Hindu); the program provides a stable and therapeutic environment along with affordable health care, and there is a remarkable level of harmony and co-operation.
According to the latest report from Dr. Baker the average cost for impatient comes to about US$3.60 per day, while the cost of outpatient visits (including medication) is about US$1.20. Patient fees amount to about 4% of the program's overall revenue, with donations from New Zealand, Europe and the United States providing most of the operating costs (total expenditures in 2010 were about US$172,000).
In addition to treatment at the hospital itself there is an aggressive outreach program of maternal and child health, pre- and postnatal care, family planning, and immunizations that extends to seventeen outlying villages.
Dr. Baker writes,"The provision of health care for the poor at extremely low cost is possible because actions are simple, investigations minimal, staff non-professional, salaries low, medical supervision committed and correctly orientated, and there is close co-operation with other organizations for cost sharing." He closes his report with the words, "The poor must not remain deprived. Their health must be improved without making them poorer in the process. They must know that they can do it themselves, but they need support and they need to know that they are not alone."
The program faces ongoing problems of staffing and funding. There is not much that Asia Connection can do to address the former, but we have been able to assist finanically over the years and intend to do so for the foreseeable future.
In Cambodia our support for the Indradevi AIDS care and prevention program continues. Our colleagues Don Luce in Buffalo and Kay Halvorson in St. Paul raised a total of $13,865 from their respective constituencies. We sent wire transfers totally $15,000 to Phnom Penh to support Indradevi's work: a feeding program for AIDS-afflicted households, safe-sex education, and job training for former sex workers. Five hundred impoverished families were uprooted from their homes in a Phnom Penh slum by the government to make way for an urban renewal program, and relocated to a neighboring province. Indradevi stepped in to assist the evictees with housing and feeding programs and built a school where classes for children and vocational training for adults are provided.
According to some observers the right of eminent domain is being pushed to the limit in Cambodia as investors from China and Korea are undertaking real estate development projects, and the burden of caring for the dispossessed falls upon agencies such as Indradevi. More power to them!
Also we continued to serve as a financial agent for The Cambodian Children's Rural Development Organization, a newly-organized group which has built an educational facility ("Harmony Farm") for underprivileged youth.
We made a small grant to the California-based "East Timor Religious Outreach" program, providing books and supplies for Catholic and Protestant schools in this fledgling country which has been woefully short on resources and infrastructure since its formation ten years ago.
A small grant went to another former Minh Quy colleague, Dr. George Pradhan, who is endeavoring to set up a privately-supported hospice for AIDS patients in his home town of Vishakhapatnam, India --- a noble effort that we are proud to support.
We made another small grant to Christian Peacemaker Teams, a Chicago-based group that functions in conflicted areas such as Colombia, the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, and the West Bank in Israel to try to reduce violence and help protect the rights of oppressed minority populations.
Over the years Asia Connection has remained primarily a funding agency, supporting programs which we believe to be effective and beneficial; we do not initiate or implement programs ourselves, but rather respond to requests from the field. [I have to report that the one exception, our effort to promote advanced medical training for Montagnards via the Pat Smith Scholarship Program, has not been successful --- thus far there haven't been any qualified applicants, and the designated funds remain stashed away in Bank of America CDs.]
Here's a look at income and expenditures for the Tampa-based account:
Balance as of 1 January 2010 (not including CDs): $ 26,987.12
Donations received: $ 91,600.29
Transfers to John for Kontum/Quinhon: $51,050.00
Kailakuri Health Care Program: $25,000.00
Harmony Farm, Cambodia: $ 7185.00
East Timor: $ 1,000.00
Dr.Pradhan's AIDS hospice $ 1,000.00
Christian Peacemaker Teams: $ 1,000.00
Administration (bank fees, printing & mailing, $ 2,871.37
Florida registration fee, tax preparation fee)
$118,587.41 beginning balance + donations
- $104,606.37 total expenditures
$13,981.04 balance as of 31 December 2010
So: fifteen years down the road from Indianola and ten years from the incorporation of Asia Connection Inc., we're still doing what we can to support and disseminate the 'spirit of Minh Quy in Viet Nam, Cambodia, Bangladesh and elsewhere. As always, our profound thanks to supporters at home and to the many dedicated field workers abroad who are putting our grants to good use.
- Bill R.
We have made contact with staff at the Viet Nam Archive at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and found them to be very accommodating in their efforts to classify and store anything and everything pertaining to the American presence in Viet Nam. All forms of memorabilia are welcome --- not just written material, but photographs, tapes and artifacts as well, as long as the material is related to the U.S. involvement in Viet Nam whether military or civilian, and regardless of political persuasion and viewpoints about the war.
If any of you have mementos of Minh Quy or any other aspect of your Viet Nam experience that you would like to have preserved for posterity, please consider contacting the Archive at (806)742-9010. Their web site is www.vietnam.ttu.edu