Small change, big change

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When I was recently returning after a business trip to Hong Kong, a flight attendant gave me an envelope with the inscription “Change for Good.”

This initiative by Cathay Pacific airlines and UNICEF asks passengers to donate small change by putting them into the envelope on which is also printed the information “Just US$1 can buy pens and exercise books for eight children.”

After a trip abroad, most passengers do not want to keep foreign coins because exchanging them at home can be a bother. The cabin crew collects the leftover change they put in the envelope for charity.

Since 1991 Cathay Pacific has collected more than $10 million for UNICEF through this initiative to support underprivileged children in over 150 nations and territories.

I was astonished by this kind of fundraising partly because it requires just “a little kindness.” And it reminds me of other similar donations of coins I’ve seen.

Every time Vietnam’s central region is ravaged by floods and storms, people bring their children who come along with their piggy banks to Thanh Nien’s office to donate what they’ve saved for the unfortunate souls in the affected regions.

It is the result of parents educating their children to spend their money carefully and, more importantly, not to be indifferent to others’ pain and sorrow.

A Thanh Nien correspondent in Singapore reported earlier this year about the “One Coin One Brick” initiative by Vietnamese students at the National University of Singapore to raise enough money to build a classroom in central Quang Nam Province.

It raised 5,258 coins, adding up to some S$2,629 ($1,700) over a four-day period in March.

It also found a place in Singapore’s national book of records, beating an earlier mark set by a group of students from Nanyang Technological University who had collected 3,600 coins.

All these projects show another function of coins that is rarely mentioned â€" they can be used for charitable purposes, not just for buying drinks, using public phones, washing clothes [in laundromats], or traveling by bus.

Many deputies at a recent National Assembly session expressed concern about the possible disappearance of Vietnamese coins since people prefer not to keep the low-value, discolored coins.

But if coins disappear, so will the above projects and others like them.

By Ngoc Thinh

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