Gifts with a Big Impact
By Thomas L. Higginson, Jr. '76
With a continuing interest in Vietnam, where focused charitable contributions within my means can make a visible difference (unlike in some other contexts), I most recently funded two improvements for a small primary school in the province of Dong Thap in the northwest part of the Mekong Delta. Assisted by a Vietnamese friend in the critical matter of dealing with the local and district Peoples’ Committees, I gave the school a proper set of bathroom facilities, complete with water tank and pump, which cost less than a long ski weekend in Vermont.
My financial bona fides having thus been established, the authorities proceeded as agreed to replace the rickety wooden bridge over a canal beside the school with a solid and durable concrete and rebar structure. All of the children must cross the bridge in order to reach the school, and the wooden predecessor, in effect a large xylophone missing many notes, produced such apprehension in the littlest ones, aged five or six, that in crossing they would form a human chain with hands on the shoulders of the child in front.
Last November my friend and I attended the very colorful opening ceremony for the bridge arranged by the local officials. There were many speeches in Vietnamese, a bit of which I understood, as well as one by me (also in Vietnamese) which my friend said was indeed understood, and I handed over the promised funds in a fat envelope of hundred-dollar bills that paid most of the cost. The amount would perhaps have funded a week’s vacation at Stowe.
Some of the posturing by the more important officials grew a bit wearisome, but it was very gratifying to see the children scampering back and forth over the “Starfish Bridge,” the name I prescribed it should bear. (In Vietnam all bridges, even the smallest, are named.)
Perhaps the best moment was when, after the ceremony, two elderly ladies from the local village came up to my friend and me to thank us, since the bridge not only serves the school but is also in daily use by villagers working in the surrounding rice paddies. The ladies were touchingly appreciative and expressed themselves with the grace and politeness characteristic of older people in that fast-changing country.