As a 34 year old professional living and working in Ho Chi Minh city, Thao Dang has a typical life of a modern Vietnamese woman. She works hard, plays hard, and enjoys life in every possible aspect. Fashionable and sophisticated, she enjoys reading books, traveling, hanging out with friends at coffee shops and bars, and fine dining. At a glance, it’s hard for outsiders to know that this lady shares a great bond and connection with people who don’t have a lot of chances to experience a privileged life like hers.
Joining “Hoi Ngo 15” – a charity group that mainly operates via a Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/352278881649498) since 2019, Thao couldn’t imagine where this journey with Hoi Ngo 15 would lead her.
Ever since she was a student, she thought about participating in charity activities, but couldn’t find the time or the opportunity. That passion never left her and was always on her mind. In 2019, while working in a company, a coworker invited her to an activity with Hoi Ngo 15. As it was something she had been thinking about, she decided to join without knowing what to expect.
That first trip was an eye-opening impression for her. Not wealthy, but being a city girl, living in a happy family, she never experienced these kind of difficulties. This experience gave her insight into a not-so-easy-life. The local people that she had met during the trip, their lives were so difficult, that made her realize that the difficulties that she experienced were nothing compared to them.
That started a new journey in her life. Four years passed by, and she almost never missed a trip with Hoi Ngo 15. From big trips that gathered dozens of people into big luxury buses, to small trips with a few people using their own scooters to travel together, she has been passionate about them all.
Each person is responsible for their own tasks in the group during the trip. I’m just a very small part of the whole group. Usually, on the departure date, I will be the one who gathers the team together in Ho Chi Minh city and tracks attendance. When arriving at the location, I am usually in charge of packing gifts for children and families, such as notebooks and cooking ingredients (fish sauce, salt, sugar, cooking oil).Thao Dang – a core volunteer at Hoi Ngo 15
She is grateful to the friend who introduced her to Hoi Ngo 15, as it opened doors that led to a brand-new world for her. She discovered a new version of herself from all of these experiences.
Studied banking, currently working in a company providing healthcare mobile app, she finds herself surrounded by where her heart calls to: a love for humanity. From her work, her hobbies, and her charity activities, everything is about people.
To talk about all the trips that she had joined, all the experiences and feelings, it would take a book, but there are a few things that she discovered about herself and about life.
She always had energy for those activities, no matter how tired she was. There were many weekends that after finishing office work on Friday, she and friends gathered to drive to Long An on scooters. Departing from HCMC at 9-10pm, arriving at Long An around 2-3am, getting some rest, then in the morning they visited nearby families. There was a time when she traveled every weekend, and even after a long week of working, she still found energy for these activities. She was excited, and looked forward to the weekend to come during the week.
For Thao, the lack of material comforts doesn’t mean the lack of joy, sometimes it even increases it. Visiting those places that needed help and lacked everything. They didn’t even have enough space for sleeping, not convenient for taking a shower, and a lot of other “nots”, but what they always has, that compensated for everything, is the love and care that they received from local people.
Ms. Bay and her family is an example. Not rich at all, even struggling to find enough food, but Ms. Bay always supported and accommodated Hoi Ngo 15 team well so they had a place to stay, so they could be able to help others. She even brought anything they had for the team to eat. The simplest foods became the most delicious food. Thao thought that: “If Ms. Bay can do that, then whatever I do is so small”, then the more she goes, the stronger she felt, and the more she enjoyed the journey.
Thao noticed that happiness comes from the appreciation of life, as small as drinking water. Two months ago, she had a trip with other team members to Tri An lake in Dong Nai. They visited people who live on boats, those who for many different circumstances, choose that place as their home. When they visited, it was still in dry season, the people there gathered themselves into a very small space of water to live. But that also meant the lack of water for their livelihood. Drinking water had to be bought from a far away place. And they had to save every tiny bit of water. After that trip, every time drinking or using water, Thao appreciates the experience that she can spend water more generously than the people she visited.
Thao realized that what truly was given wasn’t about the materials, but the care and experiences. What the team brought to people was just 1-2 meals or a couple of notebooks for students, but what those people truly received was the joy that someone cared about them and spent time with them.
An old man who had never eaten macaroni before was given food from the supply of Hoi Ngo 15, had commented that: “What a magical dish! The more you eat, the more it becomes. Has been living as old as this, I never experienced anything like this”. He even got a portion to bring back for his grandkid as he also wanted them to experience that.
Thao also learned that: the ones who give “gets” more than the one who receive
For Thao, the chance to do the charity work with Hoi Ngo 15 is precious. The more she goes, the more she understands the lives of others, and the more she understands other people, the more she understands herself. Knowing how other people live, she also knows how lucky she is. And that helped her to increase her life’s quality significantly. And she thinks it also happen the same with people who participated in activities of Hoi Ngo 15. As they usually have new people joining, although not all of them stay long with the group, just one trip, one experience could help them to appreciate life more.
“Hội Ngộ 15” was created on March 15, 2015 in Đồng Nai province which was the first trip of 15 people who have the same heart to go together. Sitting together and having a group discussion, we shared our thoughts about charity work. We were different with each other in many ways: from education level, age, gender, social positions, lifestyle, preferences; but we had the same direction and same heart with charity work.
From that time, it took us a long time to develop and connect the supporters, volunteers to the people who are in need of help. We have done different things, such as: building charity houses, kitchens, libraries, painting schools, creating scholarships and raising fund for patients, etc.
We’re truly grateful for people who trusted on us and share their hands with us to make all of these possible.Tan Dinh Ngo – Founder of Hoi Ngo 15 (I met Tan during a filming trip in Dong Nai)
All the trips with Hoi Ngo 15 were challenging and difficult, as they tried to save cost as much as possible, they put as much supplies they can into the vehicle so they can give those to people who are in need of help, they don’t have much space left, but they’re not lacking of joy and connection with each other.
She saw that both men and women can contribute in their own way into the charity work, and they can make a great team. For example, the women can spend time with the girl kids and help them to do their hair, while the men can help carrying heavier items. Otherwise, they each contribute their best ability in a trip.
She realized that what she and other volunteers received were a lot: from beautiful experiences, true friendship and great relationship with people, open their perspectives, discover their own limitations. And the most important thing is: they have a chance to choose LOVE. In the modern life, when everything is fast and people tend to be “fair”, such as spliting the cost after a meal, that is not wrong. But by doing so, we lose the chance to love other people and sacrifice a bit for other people.
Her idea about an ideal society, isn’t a place which everyone is rich or there is no distance between the rich and the poor. Her idea about an ideal society is a place where people are more aware and know more about other people and their lives, and understand other people that there are more actions based on love and care and wanting good for others.
What do you think about Thao’s story? Do you share the same or different idea?