A meaningful life

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Frederikke Lindholm (middle) talks with students at Saigon Children's Charity vocational school

Vietnam is special to Frederikke Lindholm, a 27-year-old Dane in charge of fundraising for the Saigon Children's Charity.

After completing four years of social science, gender studies and women's development at Gold Smith University in London, Lindholm came to Vietnam in 2008 to work as an English teacher at Ton Duc Thang University in Ho Chi Minh City.

Nine months later, she went back to England to earn money so that she could get a master's degree. Then last year, she returned to HCMC for one month to research development and migration in Vietnam for her master's degree.

Lindholm is the only child in her family to travel so far afield. Besides studying in England, she has worked in Spain as a fashion journalist. Of course, she still calls Denmark home, and now HCMC too.

From the first, this city gave her much inspiration, reflection and good vibes. "The Saigonese ability to welcome foreigners and to accept cultural idiosyncrasies really makes me smile. Vietnam is so open to me as an expat but Denmark is not so open to foreigners," she said.

"I was studying in Europe where there is a lot of focus on immigration from the global South, and I was intrigued as to why nobody spoke of Western people moving abroad as migrants," said Lindholm, who came to HCMC to interview Vietnamese people on their views on expatriates for her master's degree.

"It was a long dissertation about the international relations of socioeconomic systems and the ways in which migration, in what we call a globalized and open world, is still very much a question of privilege," she said.

As a sociologist, she is fascinated by Vietnamese society, and more than that. Vietnam has taught her more about the different ways in which people practice inquisitiveness and openness to the world.

According to her, the way one approaches Saigon says a lot about the way one approaches life. "You have to take the bitter with the sweet; nowhere or nothing is perfect."

"There are things in Saigonese life that I find odd, brutal or illogical (I'm sure a Vietnamese person would say exactly the same about Denmark) but these things fade in comparison to the wonderful hospitality and openness of Saigonese people.

"When a child shyly wants to practice English with me as we share the elevator, when a coconut seller sweetly understands my incoherent Vietnamese, or when people at the market chuckle at my having to define herbs by smelling them," she said.

Lindholm came back to HCMC earlier this year and got a job heading up fundraising for the Saigon Children's Charity.

"I'm very lucky that at my age I can have a job like this here. Most of my friends in Europe are still studying, have an internship or are seeking a stable job. I'm not sure if I could have this job in Denmark," she said.

The Saigon Children's Charity was established 19 years ago to bring education for brighter future to disadvantaged children in HCMC and southern Vietnam generally.

Since then, the organization has kept 40,000 children in school, built 225 classrooms and enrolled 1,960 children in the Saigon Children's Charity vocational training courses.

"We also provide meals, rice, bikes, reading glasses and make it easier for children to go to school. And we have a vocational school in HCMC where 300 children are taught IT, hairdressing, and the hospitality trade," she said.

Together with two colleagues, Lindholm aims to raise US$1 million per year to support all the children who benefit from the Saigon Children's Charity.

"We raise funds or awareness with activities such as Saigon Cyclo Challenges," she said.

Her previous jobs, which included a stint in real estate in England, were not as patch on what she is doing now. Talking about her visits to the children who benefit from the organization to learn more of their needs, she said: "When I travel to Dong Nai and Tra Vinh, I am so happy with my job when I see the children smile. I am sure I am happier and feel at home in Vietnam than in real estate in England."

To Lindholm, the biggest reward is the thousands of children that the charity has helped.

"A story that really moved me was when some of the children in our scholarship program skipped breakfast one day to donate the money to people affected by the earthquake in Japan.

"When children use our support to grow, to help not only themselves but also others, I consider that a great achievement," she said.

Lindholm is fascinated by what she is doing. She deems it a privilege to work in a dynamic area that exposes one to the indomitable strength of the human spirit.

She thinks that it's important not to feel sorry for disadvantaged children, but instead be in awe of their strong will.

"The most significant reward about this job is the people to whom I'm accountable - the children we support."

"Fundraising is as much about money generation as other jobs, but the money we raise benefits many people who really need it. For us, $100 means a child can go to school for a year," she continued.

Talking about her life in HCMC, Lindholm said, "Here with my local salary I can always have lunch for a dollar (like the beef dish pho bo) yet it is better than any lunch in the world," she said.

Every time she looks through the window she feels summer is here. "In Denmark, people stay indoors more and it is more about your own life. Here I sit on the street and see life going past, learn from it, and share my life with others more."

Among her friends in Denmark, some are married, some have children, some are buying their first home. For this adventurous woman, life is much more unpredictable.

"I want to do something different before reaching the same destination," she said.

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