Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The mission at Exotic Voyages is not only to develop our business, but also to help the local community under various forms including doing charity work. That philosophy is shared by each and everyone in the team. Last week, Ms. Nguyen Thuy Linh and Ms. Nguyen Yen Giang, members of our Marketing team, took part in a charity activity with their group of friends. And today, we listen to what they talk about their ongoing charity works for the cancer patients

Me: Hi Linh, I hear that you have frequently participated in a charity group. Could you tell us more about your group?

Ms. Linh: I have joined this charity group for almost a year now. It was established 7 years ago with the aim of aiding the patients with their fight against cancer. At first, there were only 4 people in the group, but that number increased to 15 now. Our team is quite diverse, some are young students and others are working. We also have two foreigners in the group which is great I think. The charity work is carried on on a weekly basis with a collective support from our sponsors and our team members.

Me: What are you guys doing for the cancer patients?

Ms. Linh: Well, we prepare, cook and give meals to cancer patients at some cancer hospitals around Hanoi. On Tuesdays, we prepare our menu after having contacted the sponsors. Then on Saturdays morning, we cooked about 200 - 250 meal portions at a pagoda before bringing them to the hospital and giving them to the patients. Last week, we cooked at Thanh An Pagoda in Ha Dong district and gave meals to The Cancer Hospital of Ha Dong.

Me: What was your feeling when the patients received their meals?

Ms. Linh:  Cancer Hospitals around Hanoi are very busy with plenty of patients. Some of them come here after a long hard journey from their hometown in distant provinces to diagnose, collect medication or receive treatment. Thus, they are all really tired. But after receiving our meals, I could see the smiles on their faces and that is quite emotional to be honest. I’m sure that although we cannot cure the cancer, but our meals had surely cheered them up quite a bit. After all, fighting with cancer is not all about physical struggle, but mental struggle also, is it? We were all glad that we were able to help them with the latter.

Me: Does your group have any difficulties with doing charity?

Ms. Linh: The main difficulty is our financial capability. In order to keep the charity going continually and consistently, we have to make sure that we have an enough amount of money. Although we have more than one sponsor, some of them can withdraw at any time or only guarantee to contribute for a short period of time.

Me: How could you overcome those difficulties?

Ms. Linh: We have to keep searching for new sponsorships, ideally those who are willing to support us in the long run. We also have to promote what we are doing to increase our exposure both online and offline. In difficult times, we even have to donate our own money to keep the work on, excluding the student members of course. All in all, we always try our best to overcome any difficulties.

Me: You have been doing charity work for cancer patients for a long time; you must have had some stories about some patients, mustn’t you?

Ms. Linh: Yes, indeed. Last month, I had a chance to talk with a man whose wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. They came from Nghe An province, which is more than 300 kilometers away from the capital. Their 18 year-old child was at home studying for next year university entrance exam. As he was a very bright boy, they wanted to give him the best education, but not able due to limited financial capability, not to mention his mother’s cancer. So we decided to support them by collecting books and money for the boy. Their parents were very happy and last week, they told me that their boy will apply for Hanoi University of Science and Technology which is great news. We all hope the best for him and his family.

Me: Hopefully he will achieve next year and her mom will win the battle against cancer. Talking about your charity work, could you give us some hints on the group’s plan in the future?

Ms. Linh: Of course! We will try our best to maintain our current charity work at the K Hospital in Ha Dong. Besides, we are calling for more sponsorship so we can continue and expand what we are doing in the future. Right now, we are planning to do charity in the K Hospital in Quan Su Street. It is the biggest and busiest cancer hospital in Vietnam.

Me: Linh, thank you for taking time to share with us about your charity work at K Hospital. We all hope that you can continue your great work!

Ms. Linh: It’s my pleasure!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Facing the World

About Facing the World

Facing the World is a UK charity that provides life-changing craniofacial surgery to many of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children in the world. The medical team has strong knowledge on many disciplines. They make facial reconstructive surgery in the UK for children from the developing countries with severe facial disfigurements. Those children cannot be treated in their home countries.

The organization also provides training for some hospitals in partnership in order to develop the infrastructure required for more children to receive the treatment they need in their own countries.

The founders

Facing the World was created by Martin Kelly and Norman Waterhouse (craniofacial surgeons) in 2002. Martin was a volunteer in Afghanistan with the organization Children in Need. During his time there he met a young girl called Hadisa. At eight months old, she was carried hundreds of miles by her father to receive a treatment. The medical facilities in Kabul were not equipped to deal with the severity of Hadisa’s condition that's why Martin decided Hadisa’s only option was to come to London for treatment.

In order to help other children like Hadisa they founded Facing the World.

Martin Kelly passed away in 2008, letting a motivated team behind him, wanting to carry on with his initiative. So far Facing the World has treated over 40 patients in the UK, and more than 90 through the Vietnam Project.

The project in Vietnam

In 2008, Facing the World began a partnership with Danang General Hospital in Vietnam. Vietnam has a higher incidence of children born with severe facial disfigurement than almost anywhere else in the world. Some believe this to be linked to the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

Viet waiting in the hospital
Facing the World team came from London two weeks a year to train and perform surgeries with the local team in Danang. Some training was also organized for Vietnamese surgeons going in the UK for a short period of time. A web based telemedicine was created to link the surgeons in London and Danang to facilitate the treatment of the most complex cases in Vietnam.

Thanks to this program, more than 100 patients, both children and adults, are seen each year, receiving the surgery and support care that they need.

Exotic Voyages and Facing the World 

Exotic Voyages feels very inspired by this program. In many cases Facing the World saved a child’s life through surgery, and this means a lot to us. Children represent the smiles of Vietnam, the future generations and our best pride. In some other cases, Facing the World gives children a chance to be accepted in a society full of prejudices and judgments on physical appearance.  This project can bring a lot to the children: it helps them build projects and believe in their future; they gain back their self-confidence, then can finally flourish and live again without their handicap. But it also teaches a lot to our society showing that behind each body is a soul full of potential and creativity, a soul that can surprise you beyond any barriers.

This is the reason why Exotic Voyages strongly want to be involved in this fantastic adventure through a partnership with Facing the World. We are deeply reflecting on how we could participate, make a change and lighten lives. There are many possibilities and we will find the one fitting the needs and capacities of both Facing the World and Exotic Voyages.

It is something very important to us and therefore some projects might come up very soon!

Some Stories

Pan before her surgery
Pan was born with an encephalocele, a rare defect, caused by a failure of the neural tube to close completely during pregnancy.  The disfigurement, this left her at continual risk of meningitis or brain haemorrhage.
She lived and never left her community on the Mekong Delta, and only dared venture beyond her village with a blanket covering her face. She was raised by her cousin who because her stepfather didn’t accept her. She spent most of her time alone as she had no friends and her cousin couldn’t afford to send her to school.
Pan after the surgery

Marianne Carsons, who was touring through the region in 2004, met 16-year-old Pan and was touched by her story.  She contacted Facing the World, who brought Pan to London for treatment. After life-saving surgery, Pan returned to her village and got accepted and also respected as she was one of the few people who had ever left the region.  For the first time in her life she was able to mix happily with others.

Viet before the surgery

Viet suffered a bilateral facial cleft going through his cheekbones and up into his eyes, which sadly means he will never be able to see.  He also had a cleft palate, which causes problems with eating and communicating. Viet’s parents worried that he would never be accepted in society - his prospects were very bleak. Facing the World’s medical team accepted Viet for surgery in the UK, in February 2012.

Viet and his mother after the surgery
Three weeks later, Viet had surgery to close the cleft and to reconstruct both eyelids.  Following a rapid recovery from these operations, he saw an ophthalmologist, a cleft feeding specialist, and a speech therapist.  He made rapid improvement, producing more sounds using his new palate, eating, growing and developing well for a child of his age.
Facing the World have found follow-up care for Viet in Vietnam, and  Children’s Hope in Action want to provide him with education at a local blind school.  Here he is, enjoying a sunny afternoon in the park a few weeks before he went home.

Marion Nourrisson

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Building Schools in Ba Be Distric

Ba Be district is a poor area in mountainous Northeast Vietnam, home to a national park in Bac Kan province. It remains a rural area far from mass tourism; hiking lovers know it for its beautiful lake and landscapes.

After leading some tours in Ba Be, our director, Exotic Voyage’s founder could witness the poor living conditions of local families and, above all, the old schools that were just made of tatted shacks, which is very chilly in winter. Some schools were also situated in remote locations, and the kids had to walk through a fast flowing rivers and rice fields to reach it. Thus, he decided to find better places and to build new schools for the children.

Exotic Voyages team started a harsh journey to find nice places to build the schools. It was harder than we thought. We needed to buy pieces of lands by ourselves and grant it for the local educational authority. The distance from our office in Hanoi (5 hours for nearly 300 kilometers) was one of the biggest challenges we had to face because lots of journeys were required to fix administration or building problems. However the investment and efforts, we felt ecstatic to bring happiness and better working conditions to the kids.

At the beginning, the idea was to build one school and follow the evolution of the students in their new environment, but the project grew and got a bigger impact.

From 2004 to 2008 Exotic Voyages constructed 5 kindergarten schools in the area, each time with the same energy and the same envy to change lives.
This passionate investment improved the education of about 250 children in Ba Be District:
2004 : Pac Ngoi Village.
2005: Nam Mau Village
2006: Na Hai Na Vai Village
2007: Dong Phu Village
2008: Lom Village

Exotic Voyages team followed this initiative by a great number of trips in Ba Be district to bring necessary studying tools for the children: pens, papers, books, clothes and blankets as well to protect the families against the cold winter times.  

On the first day of school we could hear the laughs reasoning in the classrooms. The emotion of the children was spreading around and got us as well. This was a great chance for them to gather in a safe and equipped environment, to learn in good conditions and be inspired for a great future.

Helping children has been Exotic Voyage’s motto since the company was founded. As a responsible travel agency we like to be close to the communities, know them, their issues and participate to make their life better. We are mostly engaged for the children as they represent the future, the new generations. We want them to grow happy and with all the necessary tools to be able to realize their dreams.

 Exotic Voyages wants to carry on with other projects in Ba Be district. We are seeking for new and vivid ideas to bring hope in the communities and lighten those children’s lives. Don’t hesitate to contact us to share any idea you might have, or any support you could bring.

Marion Nourrisson

Monday, 24 March 2014

Ha Giang Charity Trip

Exotic Voyages also help improve communities by direct contact with local people. Every year, we collect and buy warm clothes for the local children in Ha Giang and other rural surrounding areas, organize our own trips to bring to them directly with the hope to “keep the winter warmer.”

Ha Giang is a mountainous province in North Vietnam, close to the border of China. The local inhabitants are the Black Hmong; most of them don't have many ressources and work hard in the rice fields. Tourism there is becoming more and more important and in the future it will probably permit the communities to get higher revenue and send the children to school.

On the Charity trip last year, we carefully planned to visit local houses, we listened to the situations of each local family and brought them bags of gifts such as clothes, books and pens. We had the great chance to talk with them and to learn about their way of living and expectations in life, for their children and community. It was also the opportunity, as a responsible travel agency, to know about their vision of tourism, and know what would be the best way for tourists to travel there, the best advices to enjoy the trip, respecting the environment and the inhabitants.

These 4 days were very enriching: we shared a lot, laughed, learnt and discovered. We had friendly and open minded conversations. Their warm welcoming, generosity and smile made us definitely want to go back with a clearer idea of how we can help.

If you wish to join us to bring happiness to the communities in Northern Vietnam, please support us for our next trip this coming winter. You also make your donations to Exotic Voyages or give any clothes you might not need or dislike.

No help is too small!

Marion Nourrisson

Friday, 21 March 2014

Sun in my Heart: The Hope Float

Exotic Voyages collaboration and friendship with Sun in my Heart began through this idea, when Exotic Voyages’ founder and Kim McCluskey decided to work together to help 3 sisters get a shelter and a new life. Exotic Voyages’ team not only helped in financing the project, but also in finding the workers and materials to build the house.


Everything started in April 2003, while paddling with tourists in the fishing village of Vung Vieng in Vietnam, Kim McCluskey and Exotic Voyages' founder discovered three orphans living in an unkempt house. Their raft was very fragile with gaps on the raw timber floor. The two older girls, Lan, 15, and Xuan, 13, were struggling to survive by harvesting shellfishes: a though job, that implies scrambling over jagged limestone, holding on to slippery rocks and hand bleeding from breaking open shells.
On a good day, a girl might gather 50 pounds of oysters, yielding four pounds of meat — and earn 30 cents. This couldn’t afford the $1 a month it would cost to send Mai, their little sister, to the one-room schoolhouse.  Kim folded some money, about $80, and pressed it into Mai’s hand. That modest amount would feed them for three months.

Five months after that first visit to Vung Vieng, they returned with another tour group. As the village came into view, McCluskey’s saw the plastic and plank shelter was still there.  

This time they had to take action. They decided to build a house for those three little girls!

They consulted the village chief who estimated a simple house could be built for the equivalent of $3,000. Then and there the two men made a pact. McCluskey would provide the money; Huy would manage logistics of building the houseboat. Exotic Voyages Team get things started. Back in the US, Kim McCluskey started the fund-raising.

Exotic Voyages team had lined up workers and the building materials for the little house, but a problem rose. The legal age for owning a property in Vietnam was 18 and we didn’t want the girls’ father to show up and lay claim for the building. As we were not resident of the village, we couldn’t put ourselves down as caretaker owners either.
After some time contacting people and trying to find a solution, the Red Cross agreed in becoming the legal caretaker of the house until Mai was 18. The joint property would then turn over to all three of them.

By the end of the month, the house was done.

On a sunny fall afternoon on November 3, 2003, Lan, Xuan and Mai were summoned to the front porch of a 12-by-12-foot floating cottage, where a local official presented their new home. Mai called out “It’s my house! It’s my house!”

Marion Nourrisson