From Peaks Island to the Mekong Delta

October 16, 2019 § 1 Comment

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Tomorrow morning I take off for Vietnam to participate with a Habitat for Humanity team where we will help build in rural Dong Thap Province housing for two families, structures that are sturdier and safer than the current small homes they currently live in of metal sheeting, wood frame and broken bricks. Along with family members and skilled workers from the community, we will construct homes with a stable foundation, concrete floor and preformed metal sheets, homes that will especially help the families resist the intense storms that have increased in the Delta.

My little sketch above is not one of my best efforts since packing and fighting a cold has sapped a bit of my creative efforts but you are in for a visual treat to follow.

After the build is completed five of us will travel to the rural area of Hoi Xuan with our good friend Phuoc to visit again with the children of Hoi Xuan Elementary School and to bring drawings to them from the kids on Peaks Island Elementary School. Through this exchange of drawings the kids will be able to see what is similar and what is different about the way they live.

So I’m packing a great trove of Peaks’ drawings with me and I want to share a few with you below as well as a shout out to Keith and Ginna Christy owners of the Art Mart at 517 Congress Street. Keith and Ginna have donated a plentiful and wonderful supply of pencils and drawing paper for the kids in Hoi Xuan that I have also packed away in my bag. I know they will be appreciated.IMG_5942.jpgHere below is just a sample of what the Peaks kids are sharing with the kids in Hoi Xuan. We’ll pass out the drawings and Phuoc will do his magic translating. And then the kids in Hoi will begin their drawings.







I wish I could publish all of these drawings and it will be great fun to see what the Hoi Xuan kids make of the stories and lives revealed. It seems like such a small thing to do but drawing puts us into a thoughtful and curious place and kids when encouraged can be masters at that activity.

To Be Continued.



Kids Drawing Exchange/Peaks Island, Maine and Hoi Xuan, Vietnam

October 11, 2019 § 1 Comment


After our Habitat for Humanity building project in the northern Tu Ne Commune last year, we all returned south to Saigon and then several of us went to visit Phuoc and his family in Cai Lay. Phuoc had been our translator during my first trip to the Mekong and now we all were friends. Phuoc is very involved in a group of retired teachers and students who offer educational and financial supports to students in need from elementary to high school. One of these schools is in Hoi Xuan, a rural, elementary school some 75 miles from Cai Lay. Phuoc arranged for us to go to the school to speak about an idea we had about a cultural drawing exchange between Peaks Island Elementary where I live and Hoi Xuan Elementary. So, on a Sunday afternoon, 5 of us and Phuoc along with a driver bundled into a van and set off. Unfortunately, we ended up getting lost and arriving two hours later than we said but everyone was still waiting for us, the principal of the school, the teachers and the children.IMG_2669.jpg

We introduced ourselves and…IMG_2667 copy.jpg I explained how we had all flown from the United States to Vietnam, that I lived on an island in the state of Maine called Peaks. As I was talking I drew on the board to illustrate much of what I was saying while Phuoc translated.

I asked Phuoc to tell them about our idea of the children from the two elementary schools exchanging drawings that would show how their lives were different and also how they were similar. Since Hoi Xuan is located in the Mekong Delta and Peaks Island is surrounded by Casco Bay both of those worlds have bodies of water in common. The kids were all in the same age range but so much is also different when neighborhoods are quite literally half a world apart.

Phuoc translated all this and then I asked, did the kids want to do it? Phuoc translated and the children responded in unison with an upward and downward lilt of voices and Phuoc took a step back with a funny, quizzical look on his face. I asked him what they said. He said,”They said, “No”. But why, I asked? Why wouldn’t they want to do it?  He translated again and the simple and unified response was that they would not have the money to send the drawings to America. Both Phuoc and I assured them not to worry, that we would find the money to send the drawings back and forth. With that impediment  resolved (and another lesson learned for me) Phuoc and I handed out paper and pencils that I had brought from home. Then….IMG_2676.jpg

The kids (as well as Paul, our fearless team leader and my own Saint Andrews Elementary School childhood chum, got down to the real business of drawing their worlds to share with us.IMG_2680.jpgIMG_2678.jpgIMG_5725 (1).jpg



To Be Continued.

Back to Saigon and the Mekong

October 5, 2019 § 2 Comments

I first went to the Mekong Delta with Habitat for Humanity Global two years ago to assist a family with building their new home. This October 17th, 2019 I will return to the Mekong Delta again to do the same activity with another family.  This will be my third trip to Vietnam.

I hope to record this trip differently through words, images and drawings of contemporary Saigon, the Mekong, my fellow team members and people I meet on the way.


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This photo was taken last year in a Muong community where we were building a home with the family. Here, my friend, Dan, a pediatrician who served time in prison as a young man for resisting the draft during the Vietnam war and one of the kids in the village.  Helping a family in need is one way that people together can bond after war to rebuild what was destroyed. 

It is never lost on me that a great part of my coming of age in the United States of America in the early 1960’s was influenced by the war in Vietnam. The books I have written reflect how  war in general has been crucial in forming my world view.

This year, especially, I am conscious of all the divisions in our world, both  internally in the United States of America and within the global family. The story of Vietnam and our country’s participation brought all of us such harm and division . Habitat For Humanity offers a study in how countries and former combatants can try to reconcile.

Today Vietnam is not at war. It is a very young country with the median age being 30.9 years of age. During that conflict, 2 million Vietnamese civilians were killed and 58, 000 Americans were killed in the war. One of the soldiers’ names etched on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. is a childhood friend. In the War Remnants Museum in Saigon I saw photos of other friends of mine who protested the war. In many ways,  all of our lives are still connected and our country remains divided by that war.

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Young students in Saigon who wanted to speak English, an impromptu class is a common occurrence if you are sitting and reading, writing on sketching in a park.

Habitat for Humanity builds homes where once fire rained down on villages and paddy fields. Vietnam is not a perfect, idyllic society but it is young and energetic and rebounding from a demoralizing and tragic time. I think there are lessons to be learned here for our own country. I do believe we must be warriors for peace and reconciliation as ardently as our country has called upon us in the past to be warriors for war. In that spirit, I hope to illustrate in subsequent blogs that I post some efforts toward that spirit of reconciliation.

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A tranquil paddy field we crossed in the Mekong in order to get to the building site two years ago. 

I will only be taking an iphone with me  to Vietnam so I hope I will be able to continue these postings without interruption.  However, I will publish one more entry before I leave on the 17th that tells the emerging story of a collaboration between the Peaks Island Elementary School on Peaks Island, Maine where I live and  Hoi Xuan Elementary School, a rural, elementary school on the Mekong.  This is a private venture in kids to kids communication through drawings that a few of us have undertaken beyond that of our Habitat for Humanity involvement.  The kids on Peaks Island live near the water on Casco Bay and the kids in Hoi Xuan live by the Mekong.  What are the similarities and what are the differences in these two global villages? The kids have begun to illustrate these differences by sharing drawings of their lives and sending the drawings back and forth to their home schools. The photo below is a teaser for the next blog entry I will post before departing for Vietnam.

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Getting ready in Hoi Xuan to draw the story of their lives to share with the kids on Peaks Island, Maine.

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