Project after project, she's helped Vietnam's poor and sick for decades
Ly Le Hayslip says she was born a child of war, but has returned home as a woman of peace.
Born Phung Thi Le Ly in 1949 in the central province of Quang Nam, the memoirist and humanitarian lived through the heart of the Vietnam War before moving to the US in 1970.
She returned in 1986, eight years before the US lifted the trade embargo on Vietnam in 1994, and found a still war-torn country.
Deeply affected by the poor living conditions and war devastation she saw in the rural central provinces, Hayslip founded the East Meets West Foundation (EMW) in 1988 to promote education and healthcare in Vietnam.
Focusing on the central city of Da Nang and its neighbor Quang Nam, which were together Quang Nam-Da Nang Province when she lived here, the foundation's work is based on the belief that everyone should have safe water, effective medical care and good education.
After opening the Mothers Love Pediatric Clinic and the Peace Village Medical Center in Da Nang, the foundation obtained a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the early 1990s to construct Da Nang's Village of Hope, a live-in center that provides career skills training to some 150 at-risk children.
It takes a global village
Hayslip left EMW when she founded the Global Village Foundation (GVF), which has established clean water projects, vocational centers, schools, orphanages, and other charity and community projects in Quang Nam and Da Nang.
Hayslip said her foundation's many projects in Vietnam, "are worth little money but are very significant."
GVF's portable library program is just one example.
Since 2005, GVF has built more than 200 portable libraries, home to a total of over 55,000 books, at primary schools in four Quang Nam and Da Nang districts.
The portable libraries concept, in which regional libraries work together to supply each other with books to lend, was created by Thai professor Somboon Singkamanman. Hayslip brought the model to Vietnam after her trip to help rebuild Thai schools destroyed in the 2005 tsunami.
When Hayslip and a group of Singaporean volunteers first visited Quang Nam's Hai Chau District Association for the Blind, the association was making brooms and toothpicks for next to nothing.
"They worked in dusty and hot room making brooms all day for some VND 1,000 (6 US cents) each," said Hayslip.
"In another room on the second floor, they were making toothpicks, which cost even less," she said.
But the charity workers, from the non-profit Singapore International Foundation, have since turned those rooms into a massage center where locals earn far more money, said Hayslip, who first invited the group in 2003.
The giving continues
Hayslip, now 60, keeps herself busy managing the Vietnam Village on the Hoai River in Hoi An Town.
The village, a replica of an old traditional Vietnamese hamlet, aims to educate people about local culture and older traditions.
After achieving worldwide fame working with Oliver Stone to transform her memoir "When Heaven and Earth Changed Places" into the 1993 film "Heaven and Earth," Hayslip still focuses on her charity work.
GVF is now working with Osamu Araki, president of the Rotary International branch in Hiroshima, to bring 85 secondhand computers to 10 schools and raise money for several hospitals in Quang Nam's Que Son and Dai Loc districts.
This year, GVF will provide US$20,000 in funding to a Quang Nam kindergarten, $2,000 to a local orphanage, $5,000 in tools for medical centers as well as $12,500 toward the establishment of 51 portable libraries in the area.
The group will provide the city of Da Nang with $5,000 to build a massage center at the Cam Le District Association for Blind People.
Born in the year of the buffalo, Hayslip said she'd have to work even harder this year, as outlined by her sign.
She doesn't remember how many projects she's taken part in and says she has never intended to count.
"The left hand shouldn't know what the right hand is doing," she says.
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