In this month’s Community Focus column, we are continuing the theme of philanthropy, or the giving of one’s time, money, reputation or voice for social good.
Ben Mawdsley came to Vietnam on his way to Japan where he planned to join the United Nations Development Programme. He had intended to stay a month, complete his TEFL qualification before moving on, but like so many others he was drawn by the country and its people and decided to stay. This was March 2016.
Ben quickly found work with a chain of schools and during a team building event asked the CEO what the school was doing for social welfare and community development. The answer was little more than offering a handful of scholarships, and this inspired Ben to do something more meaningful during his stay in Vietnam.
At this time, he was already involved with a local community group run by one of his students, a catholic priest who supported ethnic minorities through university in Ho Chi Minh City. The priest had no money to pay for English lessons, so Ben volunteered to teach them for two hours each Sunday. They were the best students he ever had and improved rapidly.
As their English abilities grew, Ben challenged them to go out in to their communities and make a presentation of an issue they faced, and a solution to improve it. For each successful presentation, Ben promised them one million VND towards putting the solution in to practice. The students jumped at the opportunity and were quickly working on their goals.
Soon the students started to organise food drives to help the hungry, and as word spread the Sunday classes grew from six to more than 50, bringing even more who wanted to be involved in Ben’s projects. With his support, the students called themselves Audium Army and started to receive donations from the local community to help fund their projects.
Audium Army now do a monthly food drive on a Saturday night. With support from local restaurants such as Union Jack’s Fish & Chips, they are giving more than 500 bags of food and clothes each time they go out. They deliver around hospitals where people visiting patients are often forced to sleep outside, and a bag of food and some extra warmth is a welcome gift.
The team from Audium regularly visit orphanages where they audit what is needed, buy it and then deliver to those who need it most. The experience can be traumatic for some, but the joy on people’s faces when someone else remembers their plight makes it all worthwhile. It’s stories and memories like this that bring the commitment, Ben explains. It’s hard to turn your back on other’s suffering. And that’s the root of philanthropy.
The next fundraiser event for Audium is at Cuba la Casa del Mojito on August 18th. Check out the Helping Hand Saigon Facebook page for more details.