Thao is Living Water Global Initiative's contact in Vietnam. She serves as our interpreter, travel guide and she is also our eyes and ears while we are in country. But she also acts as our representative and Girl Friday when I'm not able to be there in person to take care of important items of business.
For example, before we travel to work on site, the government, police, and the facility where we plan to work must be notified of the exact dates we will be there and paperwork must be filled out stating exactly who will be at what facility on behalf of Living Water. Copies of each passport must be provided, as well, and Thao handles all of this for us.
She is passionate about helping her people and Living Water is very fortunate that she’s agreed to be a part of LWGI as our representative. She acts as the liasion for us in Vietnam in so many ways that is absolutely remarkable. I find myself constantly amazed at her ability to think 3 steps ahead of me, to never miss a beat anticipating my needs as she makes our travel plans and food arrangements (more on that later!). And she always makes sure the money we have to work with goes as far as possible in Vietnam. Her business and finance skills are second to none. She plans every detail down to the hour when she is working and sticks to her plan. The 2 weeks I spent in Vietnam took months to plan! And once I stepped off of the plane, neither of us stopped the whole time I was there. In order to insure our donors' funds were used to the fullest, I took the cash with me to purchase the items the Street Children's Home needed there, because it would have been far too cost prohibitive to have shipped anything and it woud have wasted the precious funds we did have. In addition, I crammed as much as I could in 2 suitcases for the boys and the Housemother (and as little for myself, as you could tell if you looked at the pictures of my clothes!) and I watched Thao make that money bend and stretch in ways that were downright mindblowing. In the end, and as a result of God showing up like He always does, we had a fishes and loaves situation on our hands of sorts and were able to do more than I thought we'd be able to. Thao's ability to calculate and anticipate expenditures, coupled with her ability to communicate effectively with the Housemother at the Street Children's Home also made sure we didn't go over budget when we took the boys out shopping for some new clothes as part of our organization's gift to them.
As a graduate of Da Nang University of Economics with a degree in International Business Management, who is also very fluent in English after years of study, Thao has an excellent skillset. Our organization is very proud and fortunate to have Thao volunteering her time to help us. Her experience with charity work through the job she's in at the large company she works for has benefitted us tremendously as she advises us about types of projects that might fit our organization's size and the goals we have in our mission statement.
Thao lives and works full-time in Da Nang and I actually met her for the first time last year when I went there to see about doing charity work in Vietnam. Her cousin here in the U.S. found out I had started a non-profit and told me I should go to her country because a lot of people there needed help and she loved her country. She told me, "My country very beautiful." And she was absolutely right. Vietnam is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen in my life. I tell everyone I know that if they ever go there one time, they'll want to go back again and again. And there IS a need there, one I believe where we can really make a difference.
So, after exchanging a month or so of emails with this young woman I'd never met, Thao picked me up at the airport on a very HOT Vietnamese September night. And as we have become better and better friends over these last 9 months, I have learned so many things about her...one of which is that she, too, loves her country very much, just like her cousin Kelly. She does regular charity work through her company, but she also does work with her friends. Periodically during the week they will go to area hospitals in Da Nang in the morning and prepare porridge for the patients and families who can't afford to buy food while they are being treated. She also works during typhoon season providing much needed items like mosquito netting, cooking oil, rice, and other disaster relief items to those who get flooded out of their homes because of the heavy winds and rains.
When she isn't working, she loves traveling. She's been to Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, South Korea, and all around the Laos-Thailand border. She paints beautiful paintings, a result of several years of art classes. She is proficient in English and her favorite book is The Little Prince. And she loves all kinds of food, which is a great thing because I make her eat about every 20 minutes when I'm in country! Vietnamese food is so, so good! And Thao is a wonderful food guide for our team members who want to try new things but have no idea what to ask for. She takes me to some of the best street vendors for some of the most authentic, amazing Vietnamese food you could imagine.
Most her favorite food items are Vietnamese. They include snails (I had some of these at the beach with her family and loved them!They are very small and you eat them with a chili sauce.), seafood (which is plentiful and fresh on the coast of Da Nang where she lives), and desserts (The one American dessert she really likes is cheesecake). One of the snack foods she likes is dried squid. Vietnamese eat this snack like Americans would eat popcorn, except it's a lot healthier and has a lot fewer calories. She also likes fish with hot chili sauce, grilled rice paper, green mango with shrimp paste, and stir fried snails with lemongrass, ginger and chili.
Our organization only travels to Vietnam once a year right now and since our next Project in country is set for Feb./March 2016, that means I won't return for almost 8 months. But Thao continues to stay busy for Living Water -- recently, in May, serving as our representative in Da Nang for a project we completed while I was not in country for International Children's Day at the Women & Children's Hospital in Da Nang and now as our liaison in Hanoi while we navigate the very complex and difficult process of obtaining PACCOM Certification, something required by every NGO (non-govermental organization) before it is able to operate in all provinces of Vietnam. Thao has been instrumental throughout this process by communicating for me in both Da Nang and Hanoi, speaking to people on behalf of Living Water, making sure I understand what is required by the government, translating forms for me, making phone calls when it is the middle of the night in the U.S. (there is a 12 hour time difference), and saving me untold amounts of money on telephone calls. Not to mention the fact that she speaks Vietnamese, which takes away the language barrier completely, and makes it so much easier for the person in Vietnam she's talking to for us (usually in a government office) to help us. When I'm there in Da Nang, she is an ctive ember of Living Water's Staff, helping me to plan our real-time agenda, going to project sites wherever necessary, serving as my interpreter at all of our meetings, helping me to choose which available projects might best fit in with our mission statement and be ones we can accomplish with 100% success. Her valuable input about potential future projects is something I'm always glad to share when it's time for our Board of Directors to make decisions about which projects to choose for the following year.
I am so grateful to have such wonderful people in place in the countries we are in. Both Thao and Natasha are amazing, dedicated, compassionate, women whom I know I can trust to assist me in handling our donors' money with responsibility and accountability. I know that because I trust each of them with my own money. Thao remembers every penny I've spent -- in US Dollars and Vietnamese Dong -- how much money I exchanged and what rate I got when I exchanged it. She will barter over a $4 greeting card and walk away over a $1. Whenever I made a purchase, she would follow the vendor from the front of the store to the back of the store with my credit card, watch them swipe it, see what came up on the machine, watch what wrote down on my invoice, then what printed out on the receipt, then check the exchange rate, compare everything, and make sure I had my credit card in the proper place, with everything zipped and locked up before we took one step to leave. With the Street Children's Project we worked on, there was not one missing receipt. At the end of every day, Thao would make sure everything for Living Water was organized, labeled and accounted for...then she would usually double check it.
This is exactly the kind of organization I set out to run. With people exactly like Thao, who understand what it means to be transparent and honest.