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!”